Which characteristics of Unoka are brought out in the story ‘Things Fall Apart’?

Ironically for Okonkwo his father Unoka foreshadows Okonkwo’s son Nwoye in many ways. Much to the chagrin of Okonkwo, both his father and son love music, art and songs. Both wish to live in the lap of nature. Ironically again Okonkwo dies without a burial like his father despite all his bravery, hard toil and fame. So in Unoka we see a perfect foil for Okonkwo. Okonkwo works hard and leads an austere life, yet dies an ignominious death. Unoka takes life easy, lives off the money of others and dies in ignominy. What’s more he carries his flute with him when he is put in the forbidden forest!

He was tall but very thin and had stooped slightly. He looked tired and sad except when he was drinking or playing on his flute. He was very good on his flute, and his happiest moments came after the harvest when the village musicians brought down their instruments, hung above the fireplace. Unoka would play with them, his face shining with blessedness and peace. Sometimes another village would ask Unoka’s band and their dancing egwugwu to come and stay with them and teach them their tunes. They would go to such hosts for as long as three or four weeks, making music and feasting.

Unoka loved being hired in this way and the good fellowship, and he loved this season of the year, when the rains had stopped and the sun rose every morning with dazzling beauty. And it was not too hot either, because the cold and dry harmattan wind was blowing down from the north. Some years the harmattan was very severe and a dense haze hung on the atmosphere. Old men and children would then sit round log fires, warming their bodies. Unoka loved it all, and he loved the first kites that returned with the dry season, and the children who sang songs of welcome to them. He would often wistfully remember his own childhood, how he had often wandered around looking for a kite sailing leisurely against the blue sky. As soon as he found one he would sing with his whole being, welcoming it back from its long, long journey, and asking it if it had brought home any lengths of cloth.

Even in his youth, he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. If any money came his way, and it hardly did, he at once bought gourds of palm-wine, invited his neighbours and made merry. He always said that whenever he saw a dead man’s mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one’s lifetime.

So naturally Unoka became a complete failure as he grew up. He was poor and could hardly afford enough for his wife and children to eat. People loathed him because he was a loafer, and they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back. But Unoka was such a man that he always succeeded in borrowing more, and piling up his debts.

Thus he became a proclaimed debtor and defaulter who owed every neighbour some money, from a few cowries to quite substantial amounts. He was incorrigible in his habit of borrowing and unabashed in not paying it. One day a neighbor called Okoye came in to see him. When asked to pay up, Unoka reacted by laughing hilariously, showing Okoye the lines he had drawn to indicate all his debts. The line showing Okoye’s debt was the smallest. Between peals of laughter Unoka told him that he would pay Okoye after he had paid larger loans! Okoye left without another word! It is hardly surprising for us to know that such a man was not given a decent burial and was left to die on his own in the forbidden forest.

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