How does colonization change Nwoye in Things Fall Apart?
Nwoye changes radically as a result of colonization, namely because he converts to Christianity. He is certainly not the only villager to whom the preaching of the missionaries appeals, but he is the most important because he is the son of the protagonist Okonkwo.
Okonkwo is a village leader who values masculinity above all else. He fully buys into the idea that his prowess in wrestling and growing yams earns him a position of authority in his tribe. He avoids showing emotion even in situations that warrant such a reaction. Okonkwo's personality was shaped in large part by his father, who was a poor musician. Okonkwo wants to be as unlike his father as possible, so he goes to the extreme and only pursues activities and attitudes that can be construed as hypermasculine. His son Nwoye, on the other hand, is not the manly man Okonkwo hopes for in a son. Okonkwo's daughter Ezinma is closer to his ideal child, but she is a girl, so Okonkwo feels he has been deprived of a true offspring of whom he can be proud. One key moment in Okonkwo's tense relationship with Nwoye occurs when Ikemefuna is led out of the village and killed. Ikemefuna was a hostage in the town after a conflict, but he was taken in by Okonkwo's family and became close friends with Nwoye. When the town determines it must put Ikemefuna to death, Okonkwo not only goes on the journey but is also the one who brings the machete down on the boy. Other village leaders agree that Okonkwo should not have done so and that his emotional attachment to Ikemefuna is appropriate and understandable. However, Okonkwo feels he cannot betray any weakness, so he kills the boy to prove he has no feelings for him. Since Nwoye and Ikemefuna had a close bond, his father's actions naturally widen the rift between them.
Later, when Okonkwo returns from his seven-year exile in the motherland, Christian missionaries have infiltrated the village and have begun their colonizing project by converting some of the villagers. Nwoye eventually converts, and obviously, as a staunch traditionalist, Okonkwo does not approve. This is the last straw that finally ends any hope of a reconciliation or relationship between father and son.
In Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, Nwoye is the son of the protagonist Okonkwo. Nwoye initially idolizes his father, who is perceived as the height of Igbo masculinity. This idolatry is compounded by the fact that Okonkwo is extremely derisive of Nwoye, dismissing him as weak and effeminate. Okonkwo's violent rejection of Nwoye makes Nwoye simply love him more and work harder for his approval.
This relationship is undermined by Okonkwo's role in the death of Ikemefuna, his adoptive son. Unlike Nwoye, Ikemefuna was developing into a promising young man, and he and Nwoye became very close. Okonkwo himself remarks on the positive effects that Ikemefuna has on Nwoye's masculine development.
With Ikemefuna's death, Nwoye is sent reeling without either role model. He cannot model his own growth on Ikemefuna's, and so retreats into his status as an outlier of Igbo society. He also can no longer truly model himself after his father, whose actions he finds so deplorable.
As such, with the arrival of the missionaries and European colonization, Nwoye takes advantage of an opportunity to belong to a community. He fully embraces Christianity, a society in which many of his characteristics, perceived as weaknesses by the Igbo, are strengths. He goes so far as to change his name, reject his culture, and leave his home. As strongly as Okonkwo fights against colonization, Nwoye embraces it.
In chapter 17, Achebe describes Nwoye's religious conversion as he chooses to join Mr. Brown's Christian church. Achebe mentions that Nwoye was initially attracted to the poetry of the new religion and the hymns influence his soul. When Nwoye contemplates the unjust murders of the twin infants and Ikemefuna's unfortunate death, he begins to question the traditional customs of his tribe and finds relief in the new religion. When Okonkwo loses his temper after receiving the news that Nwoye was listening to the missionaries preach, Nwoye leaves his home to join the Christian church.
In the novel, Achebe illustrates the systematic approach Europeans took to colonizing Africa. Under the guise of religion, Europeans began to influence the native tribes, which created discord between the citizens. Achebe also depicts how Europeans opened stores and schools alongside churches, which economically and academically benefitted the native citizens. These institutions indirectly influenced the natives to convert to Christianity. Through religion, Europeans were able to gradually influence the natives while simultaneously establishing bureaucracies. Nwoye's conversion correlates to the Europeans' approach to colonizing Africa and illustrates how jaded, marginalized natives sought refuge in the new Christian church.