Nwoye functions as a foil for Okonkwo and as a major cause of the despair and disgust he feels at the changes that take place in Umuofia. He is a symbol of the way in which things have fallen apart. Okonkwo despised his father, Unoka—a lazy, unsuccessful man who cared only for playing the flute and drinking palm wine. Okonkwo becomes the exact opposite of his father in every way: wealthy, successful, industrious, highly respected, a renowned wrestler and warrior.
Nwoye already resembles his grandfather, Unoka, at the beginning of the book. He is passive and lazy, and it soon becomes clear that he will never be a success like Okonkwo. When he finally becomes a Christian like other outcasts and people of low status, Okonkwo cannot stand the shame Nwoye has brought upon him. He finally disowns Nwoye and tells his other sons:
I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people. If any one of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse him. If you turn against me when I am dead I will visit you and break your neck.
Ironically, while he insults Nwoye by calling him a woman, Okonkwo's favorite child is his daughter, Ezinma. His first words to her in the book are to tell her to stop sitting like a man, but he always regrets that she was not, in fact, a boy, since he loves her more than any of his sons and she is the one who most resembles him in character. Nwoye and Ezinma both demonstrate Okonkwo's bad luck. He works hard and strives against fate, but the legacy of his hated father returns in his eldest son while the child who shows the most manly virtue is a girl.