How is the father-son relationship portrayed in Achebe's Things Fall Apart?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two father-son relationships we get the most information on in Things Fall Apart are those between Okonkwo and his own father, Unoka, and between Okonkwo and his son, Nwoye. Both of these relationships reveal tensions between father and son and in both cases, Okonkwo is not satisfied with the way Unoka and Nwoye play the role of father and of son, respectively.

The novel begins with many details about Okonkwo's opinion of Unoka and how his father has shaped Okonkwo as a person. Unoka is described as lazy and always indebted to others. Okonkwo is ashamed of him and does not want to take after him; instead, he tries to be the opposite of Unoka: powerful, hard-working, domineering. Okonkwo's shame at his father's reputation in the community leads Okonkwo to aspire to be something at the other end of the spectrum. Okonkwo subsequently becomes extreme in his values and perspectives, which ultimately contributes to his downfall.

Okonkwo is likewise disappointed in his oldest son Nwoye who he sees as not masculine enough, when Okonkwo has made it a point to cultivate his own masculinity. Eventually, Nwoye joins the white missionaries and converts to Christianity. This is the last straw for Okonkwo, to whom ancestors and tribal traditions are of paramount importance. He disowns his son as a result. Earlier in the novel, Okonkwo has, briefly, a more positive relationship with his adopted son, Ikemefuna, who is basically a hostage from another tribe. Once Okonkwo's tribe decides to kill Ikemefuna, though, Okonkwo participates in that killing and masks his own emotions through his outward show of power and masculinity. Okonkwo is closest to his daughter Ezinma, but he always laments that she is not a boy. In the tribe, males are the respected ones, given titles and power. Okonkwo is disappointed that he does not have a son who can follow in his footsteps as a leader of the tribe.

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Things Fall Apart

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