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Okonkwo plays a major role in the novel and is projected as a heroic figure and a wrestler who is constantly at war with others, with his ‘chi’, his legacy of his father whom he despises, his own character and finally, with the white man. Okonkwo’s world consists of the nine villages from Umuofia to Mbaino and areas outside of these boundaries have little significance to him, belonging simply to that vague realm “beyond.” He gives a lot of importance to personal achievements as he believes that these achievements bring honor to the village which in turn emphasizes the close tie between the individual and society.
Yet Okonkwo has his weakness and it is these weaknesses that ultimately destroy the life he has created for himself. His self-determination is not only controlled by interneral but external forces as well. His impulsive and rash nature makes him break the rules of the sacred week of peace. It is his carelessness that results in his banishment from his village for seven years, and finally, it is again his fiery and rash temper which pushes him to kill a white man and consequently pushes him to take his own life.
Okonkwo is a man who has grown up in a community, that, because of its passionate desire for survival, places its faith in the individual quality of ‘manliness.’ And it is an irony of fate that makes him start off with a disadvantage, on this score - the failure of his own father. It is the need for him to live down the shame of his father that compels him to an excessive adherence of the social code. This transforms every positive value that he has to into a weakness. Also, he pursues achievement with an obsessive single-mindedness that eventually degenerates into egocentricity. He thus, virtually flounders through his life, with the minor problems, which instead of strengthening him, carry him to a point of dissolution. The novel reflects this degeneration with respect to the traditional African way of life. Hence the title of the novel Things Fall Apart.
Nwoye is Okonkwo’s son from his first wife, and Okonkwo has a great deal of expectations for him. Okonkwo has kept a firm control on him, since he wants him to grow into a tough young man “capable of ruling his father’s household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors.” But the reader sees Nwoye’s inner confusion and turmoil at the beginning of the novel when he prefers listening to the more female-oriented stories such as the tortoise or the bird Eneke, rather than to the masculine stories of violence and bloodshed. With Ikemefuna to lead him, Nwoye seemed to be redirected onto the path of manhood, but Ikemefuna’s unexpected death leaves him friendless and emotionally devastated. It is then that Nwoye becomes attracted to the new faith of the missionaries much to his father’s chagrin.. His initial confusion about Igbo customs such as the killing of Ikemefuna and the condemned exile of the twins in the forest are all answered by this new faith that appears more tolerant and compassionate. Nwoye is thus presented as a sensitive young man who is against certain customs of the village. His defection to Christianity has a dual significance; it is an act of revolt against his father as well as a rejection of the society that he embodied. He thus stands as a symbolic negation of his father, the living denial of all that Okonkwo stands for and accepts.
Ezinma is the only child of Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, and the center of her mother’s world. Ekwefi had borne her daughter after a great deal of suffering. All her earlier children had died soon after birth. Ezinma was the only child who survived and so Ekwefi treated her with extreme love and caring. Such is the relationship that Ezinma does not call her mother Nne like other children, but calls her by her name, Ekwefi. Okonkwo too loves his daughter, but, typical to his character, he never expresses it and even more Okonkwo, who always worried about his son Nwoye, wishes Ezinma to be a son because she had more strength of character than Nwoye.
Ezinma had always been a sickly child and the parents hoped that she would recover when her iye - uwa was discovered. But Ezinma fell sick again and it took Chielo the priestess to make her well again. Ezinma is not a major character for the development of the novel, or the fall of Okonkwo, but her presence, helps the reader understand the protagonist better and see a softer side of him.