One of the first ways that Things Fall Apart presents the idea of conflict as being complex is in its depiction of the relationships between Unoka and Okonkwo and between the individual and his culture.
In Unoka we have an example of a person who lives according to his own nature, which puts him at odds with his culture. In a society that honors hard work and self-reliance, Unoka is “a loafer” who dies having “taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt.”
Yet he was happy, it would seem, and is the one character in the novel associated with the words “love” and “happiness.” Despite his positive traits, Unoka’s status was a source of shame for his son. Okonkwo’s persona is directly shaped directly by Unoka in ways that serve to determine Okonkwo’s successes and failures.
The fact that we can see Okonkwo’s traumatic decision to kill Ikemefuna as a result of Unoka’s laziness suggests that external conflicts and events can be ascribed to deeply felt, psychological artifacts of personal history. Such an explanation for conflict is both complex and compelling as we see how an individual’s internal conflicts lead to outward behaviors.
The conflicts between Okonkwo and Nwoye are attributable to this source as well and can be seen in light of the larger issues of cultural dissolution that are explored in the last sections of the novel.
Okonkwo’s loss of his son, as much as it is his own fault, represents a greater loss for Okonkwo and for the village.
“Okonkwo was deeply grieved. And it was not just a personal grief. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who has so unaccountably become soft like women.”
In this passage, the traits exhibited by Nwoye are associated with the mechanisms that destroy the Igbo ability to repel the invasion of an alien culture.
The conflict between the Igbo and the British is not a straightforward conflict between the interests of one culture and the interests of another. Instead, the conflict is more complex and is generated from an internal shift in the people of the nine villages that to some degree coincides with the British arrival.
If the Igbo are a people divided between the values found in Unoka and those found in Okonkwo, this division is used to break down the whole society when the Christians come and, discovering the breech, take full advantage of the schism with a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Thus the intercultural conflict brought on by the British arrival is conducted in ways that are not entirely intercultural but can be seen as taking place within Igbo society itself.