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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What are some differences and similarities between Nwoye and Okonkwo?

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Okonkwo and his son Nwoye have very few similarities, and they are all superficial. We could say that their similarities include being part of the same family, tribe, and village. The only other similarity the two share is that they both form a bond with Ikemefuna when he lives with the family. Ikemefuna is basically a hostage, turned over to Okonkwo's tribe after losing a battle to Umuofia. The boy lives with Okonkwo's family for three years, so naturally, he becomes like a son to Okonkwo and a brother to Nwoye. Both grow fond of their young hostage. The narrator says that "Ikemefuna called [Okonkwo] father" (28) and "he and Nwoye had become so deeply attached to each other" that Nwoye's inherent sadness begins to fade (34). Okonkwo actually begins to approve of Nwoye, a son with whom he has had a fraught relationship:

Okonwko was inwardly pleased at his son's development, and he know it was due to Ikemefuna. He wanted Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his father's household... (52)

Tragically, however, the Oracle eventually reveals that Ikemefuna must be killed. Ezeudu tells Okonkwo not to participate in this sacrifice because of his close relationship with the boy. To prove how unemotional and masculine he is, however, Okonkwo is the one to bring the machete down on his foster son.

This is the point where Nwoye and Okonkwo grow further apart. Nwoye's positive influence is gone, and there is now no buffer between him and his father's expectations. Nwoye is a quiet, sensitive boy, and Okonkwo is the quintessential manly man. Later in the novel, once the Christian missionaries come to Umuofia, Nwoye ends up converting, sealing once and for all his separation from his father. Nwoye is open to this new belief system and finds it appealing. Okonkwo, on the other hand, reveres tradition above all and rails against this development, even though he is too late (after returning from a seven-year exile) to do anything to stop it.

Ultimately, though they become closer due to their respective relationships with Ikemefuna, Nwoye and Okonkwo are polar opposites.

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Okonkwo is Nwoye's father and has little in common with his son. Okonkwo is a masculine, aggressive person, who is callous and has an affinity for violence. He is respected throughout his tribe and holds several revered titles. Okonkwo is also a hard worker with an authoritative personality. He is known for his short temper and commands respect throughout the village. Okonkwo's aggressive and intense personality stems from his fear of becoming a debtor like his lazy father. In contrast to his father, Nwoye is an apathetic child who is rather sensitive. Nwoye is not athletic and has an affinity for stories and music similar to his grandfather. Nwoye does not share his father's affinity for violence and is depicted as a sympathetic individual. Okonkwo views Nwoye with contempt and wishes Nwoye acted more like his daughter, Ezinma. Eventually, Nwoye joins the Christian church and Okonkwo disowns him.

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From the start of the novel, Okonkwo, the protagonist, is described as very prideful and someone who adheres very closely to the customs and the traditions of his people, the Igbo. He is someone who “ruled his household with a heavy hand” (Achebe 13) and causes fear in his children and wives. Okonkwo thinks any kind of emotional weakness is womanly and measures his own worth by the success of his crops and the number of wives and children he has. His son, Nwoye, on the other hand, desires to break away from the traditions of the Igbo, including those that say manliness is the most important trait.

When the Christians come to bring their religion to the Igbo people, Okonkwo is very resistant and wants to convince the other tribal members to fight back (this resistance is part of what leads to his downfall). Nwoye, however, sees something in the message of the Christians and decides to convert. Because Nwoye questions certain traditions of the Igbo, such as the custom to kill twins because they are seen as an abomination, he is drawn to Christianity as an answer to some of his questions. Achebe writes that when Nwoye encounters the Christian missionaries, he was “captivated” by the “poetry of the new religion” (147). While the arrival of the Christians was a way for Nwoye to escape his father, for Okonkwo, it was the beginning of the end.

Perhaps the only similarity between the two is their fondness for Ikemefuna, who is forced to leave his own village and stay at Okonwko’s compound as compensation for a wrong done to the Igbo people by a man of another village. Ikemefuna’s fate is sealed from the beginning, but Okonwko cannot help become attached to him, regardless. Nwoye, too, “became quite inseparable” from Ikemefuna. This, again, might be the only similarity between Okonkwo and Nwoye.

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How does Nwoye's character compare/contrast to Okonkwo's character throughout the story?

From the very beginning of his life, Nwoye was not at all the manly type of son that Okonkwo wished he would be.  He was not as interested in wrestling, or as good at it.  He does not want to grow up to get titles and be the type of man that Okonkwo wishes he would be.  In some ways he reminds Okonkwo of his father, which is terribly disappointing.

As Ikemefuna and Nwoye get closer as time goes on, Nwoye actually tries to get more into the things that Okonkwo wants him to because he is so fond of Ikemefuna.

After Ikemefuna's death, Nwoye is angrier and angrier with his father and starts to push farther and farther away, eventually joining the Christians and basically putting an end to the relationship with his father.

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