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Uchendu in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

In ''Things Fall Apart,'' Uchendu mentors the main character of Okonkwo in Okonkwo's troubled times and, as a very old man, serves as a reminder of the past culture among the Ibo people. Read on for a description of the character.

Uchendu, Father Figure

When Okonkwo is exiled from his homeland of Umuofia for committing murder, he and his family take refuge in Mbanta, homeland of his mother's family. There, he is greeted by his uncle Uchendu. Okonkwo did not have a close relationship with his father, but Uchendu fills that role for Okonkwo by giving him advice and support.

Immediately, he helps Okonkwo become established in Mbanta, supplying the necessary huts for living, and land and seed-yams for farming. He also takes it upon himself to address Okonkwo's depression at having had to flee his homeland. Later in the story, he steps in when there is a strife between Okonkwo and his son Nwoye.

Uchendu's personality is in direct opposition to Okonkwo's. Uchendu is slow to anger and prefers to instead observe or think about a problem before tackling it. Okonkwo, on the other hand, believes that immediate action is the best way to solve any problem. Uchendu is also not prone to violent outbursts and is likely to defuse a tense situation; Okonkwo adds to tense situations by threatening violence, making things more likely to flare into confrontation. Uchendu's presence in the story can be compared to Okonkwo's to highlight Okonkwo's weaknesses.

Let's explore in more detail some of the moments when Uchendu served as a father figure and taught Okonkwo lessons about life.

Uchendu's Lessons on the Motherland

Uchendu sees that Okonkwo's spirit is crushed in Mbanta, and reminds Okonkwo that in Ibo culture, the mother figure (and the mother's family) is there to help shelter her children in times of need. He points out that a popular Ibo name is Nneka, which means 'Mother is Supreme,' because mothers have the power to embrace and protect their family. Uchendu urges Okonkwo to respect their cultural history and accept the help of his mother's family with more grace and appreciation than he has shown.

Uchendu not only reminds Okonkwo of how their culture works, but also looks beyond culture to talk generally about life. He admonishes Okonkwo for allowing himself to feel so much sorrow and points out that other people have hardships too, including himself, reminding Okonkwo that they sing a song with the line 'There is no one for whom it is well.'

Uchendu and the Colonizers

One of the main plot lines of the novel toward the end is the effect that the English colonizers who come to Nigeria have on the Ibo people who already live there. Uchendu, though he is an old man who values traditions, is also cautious.

For example, Uchendu hears a story about a village that, in panic, killed an English missionary who stopped to ask for directions, because the village's religious leaders told them that the missionary would destroy the clan. This action led to the death of many of the villagers after the English found out and retaliated.

Uchendu responds by calling the villagers foolish; the missionary said little except for the name of a town that he was trying to find, and Uchendu believes that the villagers did not have enough information about the man to kill him, regardless of what the religious leaders of the village said.

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