Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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How does Unoka die in Things Fall Apart?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Unoka is Okonkwo's father, who is depicted as a lazy, irresponsible man. Okonkwo despises his father and is embarrassed to be related to him. Unoka is continually in debt and drinks excessively while playing his flute. Unoka's primary desire is to live life to the fullest, and he is a relatively peaceful man, who refuses to labor or attempt to earn titles.

Okonkwo is ashamed of his father and is determined to not follow in his footsteps. Okonkwo grows up to be a hardworking man, who is courageous but has an affinity for violence. Okonkwo's tough exterior and callous personality stem from his fear of becoming an unaccomplished man like his father. Unoka is not respected by his neighbors, and Achebe writes that he was an ill-fated man. In chapter 3, Achebe mentions that Unoka had a bad chi and died of "swelling of the stomach," which was considered an abomination to the earth goddess. Unoka was carried to the Evil Forest and left there to die.

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Unoka dies of old age and sickness from swelling bowels, and symbolically of complacency.

The beginning of the book mentions that Unoka has died.

In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking of tomorrow. (ch 1)

Okonkwo's father Unoka is more interested in playing music and drinking than in farming.  Okonkwo considers him lazy, and fears turning into him more than anything.  Since Unoka never does any work, he borrows money from anyone who will give it to him and then laughs if they ask for it back.  He owes so many people; he will never pay his debts.

When Unoka died he had taken to title at all and he was heavily in debt. (ch 1)

He is described as an “ill-fated” man.  He died of “swelling in the stomach and the limbs” (ch 3), like the legend, and was not allowed to die inside the house.  He dies with his flute.

Okonkwo’s goal in life is to be as little like his father as possible.  He is ashamed of him, and hates him. He feels no pity.  He blames his father for his own fate.

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