Last Updated on January 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466
Nwoye is the son of Okonkwo’s first wife. Within the family hierarchy, this positions Nwoye as the highest ranking and eldest son. Nwoye, like Unoka, serves as a foil to Okonkwo’s character. Nwoye often does not exhibit the supposedly manly qualities that his father values. Instead, he shares similarities with the kinder, gentler Unoka. He is sensitive, troubled by some Umuofian practices, and drawn to music, hope, and the poetry of the new religion, Christianity.
As a young boy, Nwoye is frequently a target for Okonkwo’s harsh criticism. He tries to please his father but often fails. His behavior and interests, which Okonkwo considers feminine, remind Okonkwo of his own father. Nwoye, then, represents Okonkwo’s failings as a father. This bothers Okonkwo, and he tries to teach Nwoye and Ikemefuna about yams, which are a symbol for manliness, prestige, and respect. When Nwoye does not quickly understand how to farm yams, Okonkwo becomes frustrated and disappointed in Nwoye. He lashes out at Nwoye verbally, even while understanding how difficult it is to farm yams.
Nwoye also exemplifies the familial aspect of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In contrast to Okonkwo, Nwoye creates bonds with his family, especially with Ikemefuna. Nwoye also prefers his mother’s folktales to Okonkwo’s violent war stories. Although Nwoye is negatively affected by Okonkwo’s rough treatment of him growing up, Ikemefuna, whom Nwoye develops a close relationship with, helps him. It is Nwoye’s brotherhood with Ikemefuna that helps Nwoye emulate the masculine traits that Okonkwo prefers.
However, Nwoye is on the brink of separation from not only his father but also his culture. Nwoye is disturbed by some of the practices of his clan, specifically the casting off of infant twins into the Evil Forest. He feels something “snapping” inside of him when he hears the twins crying in the forest, and he again feels a “snapping” when he sees Okonkwo return home after killing Ikemefuna. These two instances are the start of Nwoye’s separation from his father and his clan.
After moving to his father’s motherland, Mbanta, Nwoye is influenced by the kindness the Christian missionaries display. He leaves his father and family to be a part of the new religion, and he promises himself that he will go back to his mother and siblings, convert them, and take them away from Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s lack of hesitation in disowning Nowye highlights how poor their relationship is. When Okonkwo reflects on Nwoye’s actions, he views himself as “living fire” and Nwoye as “ash,” a metaphor that exemplifies his belief that Nwoye is weak. Near the end of Things Fall Apart, Nwoye takes on the name Isaac as a symbol of his conversion to Christianity and goes to study in Umuru.