In Things Fall Apart, why is Obierika a kind of foil to Okonkwo?

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Things Fall Apart, Obierika is a spokesman for the author, Chinua Achebe.  The author speaks through Obierika to comment on Okonkwo to the reader.  In this way, Obierika is reflective: he is critical of culture, and he adapts to and anticipates cultural change.

Okierika's role is evidenced first in Okonkwo's killing of Ikemefuna: he is a kind of prophet who forecasts Okonkwo's suffering.   Obierika refuses to even go along with the men, for he knows that only tragedy can come from the excursion.  In this way, Obierika is a foil to Okonkwo.  Obierika is the humble self-deprecator who adapts his actions to prevent suffering, and Okonkwo is the arrogant impostor who refuses to change or show feminine weakness.

So says one critic:

The conflicts between the modern and traditional, individual and community are highlighted in Obierika's conflict of loyalties: personal/tribal, human/ religious, particularly when he fathers twins but then has to leave them in the evil forest, comforting Okonkwo then having to destroy his house. The question of loyalties, and irreconcilable differences between public and private needs, are made more painful because one person is frequently asked to do both conflicting things.

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ctiller012307's profile pic

ctiller012307 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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First, let's begin with defining a foil.  Foils contrast with one another.  They define each other's characteristics by presenting their differences, essentially.

So, with that said, Obierka (a reasonable, rational character contrasts with Okonknwo (a hot-headed, quick to act character) in almost every aspect of their characterization.  In relation to the British settlers, Obierka understands that times are changing and he does not advocate the use violence to "get back at" the colonizers.  Okonkow, however, does whish to use violence to make his point to the colonizers.  Oknkow also never questions the traditions of the Ibo people; he takes them for the truth and, essentially, his everything.  Obierka begins questioning the Ibo traditions almost as soon as he is introduced to the reader.

Even though the two are quite different, Obierka continues to support Okonkow as a friend.  Obierka comforts Okonkow after the death of Ikemefuna (even though he did not support the ritual killing), and Ob. continues to sell Ok.'s seed yams while he is in prison.  So, even though the two characters are foils, their friendship runs deep.

fashionableb1's profile pic

fashionableb1 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Okonkwo is stubborn, impulsive, very aggresive, and un-accepting of change while Oberika is level-headed, reasonable, supportive, and adaptable. 

atyourservice's profile pic

atyourservice | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Obierka is very calm compared to okonkwo, he is not a brute and does not over use his manliness and strength. He also doesn't agree with some aspects of the Umuofia traditions, such as sacrifices. When Okonkwo came back from killing Ikemefuna obierka was not pleased, he even told Okonkwo that Ikemefuna saw him as a dad, and that if someone he saw as a son was ever chosen as a sacrifice by the gods he wouldn't be one to participate. He challenges the traditions while okonkwo just goes along with it without questioning, the good or the bads.

hannahhamblin97's profile pic

hannahhamblin97 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

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the entire story is flagged with foil pairs.

obrieka & okonkwo

Okonkwo & Nwoye

Okonkwo & unoka

they all hav  the definig quality in common.. they all reflect on Oonkwos fatal flaw of fear & anger.

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