Unoka in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Chinua Achebe's novel, ''Things Fall Apart'' introduces readers to fascinating characters like Unoka. Learn about Unoka in this lesson and test yourself with a quiz.

Intro to Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe's famous postcolonial novel was published in 1958 to great acclaim. It's still read and studied today because it deals with the effects of colonialism in Nigeria in the 1800s under British rule. It's well-known for its frank and honest portrayal of the situation Nigerians were in under this rule.

The novel follows Okonkwo, the violent and hardheaded protagonist, who is a member of the Igbo tribe, as he struggles with his village's changing traditions. He never truly comes to terms with the British colonists and refuses to give up his Igbo traditions and religion, and he suffers dearly for it.

Igbo territory in Nigeria
Igbo land

Who is Unoka?

Unoka is Okonkwo's father, and since he's passed away before the novel begins, he's only present in Okonkwo's memories. Unoka always brought a great deal of shame to Okonkwo and to his family as a whole, due to his constant laziness and refusal to work. Though Unoka was always a passionate and talented musician (even Okonkwo had to admit this), and enjoyed playing the flute at festivals, he could never seem to make himself passionate about anything else, even providing for his family. Because of this, Unoka still has a poor reputation throughout the village of Umuofia that Okonkwo must struggle to cast off, even after his father's death.

Unoka, in life, drank a lot of palm wine, and the villagers all laughed at him for his incompetence and laziness, plus the fact that he never earned a title or a leadership role. Unoka was always deeply in debt, which happens when you don't do any work and constantly borrow money. Because of this, he never had an inheritance to pass on to Okonkwo. Okonkwo must work to make all of his money on his own, and he never forgives his father for this indignity.

Unoka and His Son

As you can imagine, Okonkwo resents his father a great deal for the lack of work ethic when he was alive, as well as his overall refusal to provide for his family. He also fears becoming his father, because Unoka had no interest in wrestling, fighting, or general bloodshed. In short, Okonkwo believes his father was always less than a man, and this still embarrasses Okonkwo to no end, although his father has been dead for several years. Okonkwo is also embarrassed that he had such a lazy, deadbeat (in his eyes) father, a dad who never really even tried to earn a living or provide some type of inheritance for his son. This means Okonkwo basically has to beg, borrow, and steal to make it on his own when he comes of age - and this is made even harder by his father's terrible reputation as a layabout.

Perhaps what embarrasses Okonkwo most about his father is the lack of manhood and virility he showed throughout his life, in Okonkwo's eyes. As previously stated, Okonkwo thinks there's only one way for a man to be in Umuofia: violent, passionate, and willing to fight. His father was obviously none of these things. In fact, you could even say Unoka feared blood and warfare. A more reasonable person than Okonkwo might say, ''Eh, blood's not for everyone and being afraid of battle just makes sense, if you want to live to old age.'' But if you think this, Okonkwo would probably hate you, too.

Okonkwo must build his own house and make his own money
Igbo thatch house

Unoka's Lasting Effects

As you might guess, Unoka haunts his son throughout the novel. Okonkwo feels a desperate, even damaging, need to escape his father and to be the opposite of Unoka. True, nobody wants to become his or her parents. That's a universal thing. But so badly does Okonkwo want to never become his father that it actually leads him to kill, and to wind up killing himself.

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