How do minor characters in ‘Things Fall Apart’ help us to understand Okonkwo?

I argue that there are two minor characters in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” that enable readers to better understand Okonkwo and his distinct personality traits. The first is his lazy father Unoka. Unoka intentionally avoids working hard, and thus leaves his young son destitute. He never obtains titles and ends up dying in the Evil Forest. Unoka enables us to better make sense of Okonkwo’s personality because Okonkwo strives to be the opposite of his agbala father:

“With a father like Unoka, Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men had. He neither inherited a barn nor a title, nor even a young wife. But in spite of these disadvantages, he had begun even in his father’s lifetime to lay the foundations of a prosperous future. It was slow and painful. But he threw himself into it like one possessed. And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death”.

Another character who helps us understand Okonkwo is his best friend and confidant, Obierika. Obierika is an effective foil for Okonkwo; indeed, he is of a similar rank as Okonkwo, but he is not so rigid in his beliefs. Obierika is a thoughtful man who considers the ramifications of actions in a way that Okonkwo cannot without worrying about his perception as a masculine entity. After Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, Obierika questions his participation in the event:

“If I were you I would have stayed at home. What you have done will not please the Earth. It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families…. If the Oracle said that my son should be killed I would neither dispute it nor be the one to do it”.

Thus, these two minor characters give readers a glimpse of Okonkwo’s personality, and serve as interesting foils for his brutal masculine identity.

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