Character Analyses


The protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is also considered a tragic hero. A tragic hero holds a position of power and prestige, chooses his course of action, possesses a tragic flaw, and gains awareness of circumstances that lead to his fall. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw is his fear of weakness and failure.

In his thirties, Okonkwo is a leader of the Igbo community of Umuofia. Achebe describes him as “tall and huge” with “bushy eyebrows and [a] wide nose [that gives] him a very severe look.” When Okonkwo walks, his heels barely touch the ground, like he walks on springs, “as if he [is] going to pounce on somebody.” Okonkwo “stammers slightly” and his breathing is heavy.

Okonkwo is renowned as a wrestler, a fierce warrior, and a successful farmer of yams (a “manly” crop). He has three wives and many children who live in huts on his compound. Throughout his life, he wages a never ending battle for status; his life is dominated by the fear of weakness and failure. He is quick to anger, especially when dealing with men who are weak, lazy debtors like his father. However, Okonkwo overcompensates for his father’s womanly (weak) ways, of which he is ashamed, because he does not tolerate idleness or gentleness. Even though he feels inward affection at times, he never portrays affection toward anyone. Instead, he isolates himself by exhibiting anger through violent, stubborn, irrational behavior. Okonkwo demands that his family work long hours despite their age or limited physical stamina, and he nags and beats his wives and son, Nwoye, who Okonkwo believes is womanly like his father, Unoka.

Okonkwo is impulsive; he acts before he thinks. Consequently, Okonkwo offends the Igbo people and their traditions as well as the gods of his clan. Okonkwo is advised not to participate in the murder of Ikefemuna, but he actually kills Ikefemuna because he is “afraid of being thought weak.” When the white man brings Christianity to Umuofia, Okonkwo is opposed to the new ways. He feels that the changes are destroying the Igbo culture, changes that require compromise and accommodation—two qualities that Okonkwo finds intolerable. Too proud and inflexible, he clings to traditional beliefs and mourns the loss of the past.

When Okonkwa rashly kills a messenger from the British district office, his clansmen back away in fear; he realizes that none of them support him and that he can’t save his village from the British colonists. Okonkwo is defeated. He commits suicide, a shameful and disgraceful death like his father’s.



A tall, thin man with a slight stoop, Unoka was Okonkwo’s father. He appeared “haggard and mournful . . . except when he was drinking or playing his flute.” His favorite time of year was after the harvest when he joined with village musicians to make music and feast; Unoka’s priority was to enjoy life to the fullest. An excellent flutist, he was happy and peaceful when he was playing his flute, in spite of the sorrow and grief that was evident in his music.

Unoka lacked responsibility. He was poor, lazy, and neglectful of his wife, and he did not plan for the future. During his life, he never took a title and, therefore, never gained status or respect from the villagers. Instead, they called him a loafer, and he was the laughingstock of the community. Whenever he managed to get his hands on money, “he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine.” Unoka was a debtor and a failure. Also a coward, he never became a warrior—wars made him unhappy because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Unoka’s behavior was contrary to typical Igbo tradition, so he was not taken seriously and was treated in a demeaning manner by Igbo clansmen and, later, by Okonkwo, his son.

Evil fortune seemed to follow Unoka to his grave. He died of a horrible illness—a swelling of the stomach and limbs—and was left to die above ground in the Evil Forest.



Okonkwo’s best friend, Obierika serves as a foil for Okonkwo. That is, Obierika’s personality contrasts with and enhances the distinctive characteristics of Okonkwo’s personality. Obierika is a reasonable person who thinks before he acts, unlike Okonkwo, who is impulsive. Obierika does not advocate the use of violence to get revenge against the British colonizers—Okonkwo does. Obierika is open-minded; he understands and appreciates the changing values and foreign culture that is infiltrating the Igbo traditions. Obierika is receptive to new ideas and is willing to adapt to change, whereas Okonkwo is narrow-minded, unable to accept any change to traditional Igbo culture and beliefs.

Even though the personalities of Obierika and Okonkwo are vastly different, Obierika supports Okonkwo as a friend. He comforts Okonkwo when Okonkwo is depressed over Ikemefuna’s death, despite the fact that he disapproves of Okonkwo’s role in Ikemefuna’s murder. When Okonkwo goes into exile, Obierika sells Okonkwo’s yams and seed-yams and gives Okonkwo the profits.

Unlike Okonkwo, Obierika questions the Igbo traditions and ritual, as well as their tribal law. He thinks that change may improve the Igbo society. Whereas Okonkwo’s solution is to use violence against the British, Obierika understands that rising up against the British is too late. He comments that the white man “has put a knife on the things that have held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Mr. Brown


Mr. Brown is the first white Christian missionary in Umuofia and Mbanta. He is a patient, kind, and understanding man. He is also open-minded and willing to make an effort to respect and understand the Igbo beliefs. Mr. Brown restrains overeager members of his church from provoking clan members; evidence that supports his shared belief with the Igbo people in the value of peaceful relations. He befriends many great men of the clan who begin to listen to and understand his message. He also discusses religious beliefs with Akunna, a clan leader of Umuofia. Neither man gives up his belief, but they learn about each other’s faith and gain respect for one another.

Mr. Brown builds a school and a hospital in Umuofia. He urges the Igbo people to send their children to school and makes a point of giving gifts, such as singlets and towels to the children (and later to adults) who attend school. Mr. Brown tells the Igbo people that their future leaders will have to know how to read and write. He knows the British way—to do away with the traditional government of the Igbo people and instate their own form of government. Mr. Brown informs the Igbo people that they will need to adapt so they will not lose all their autonomy—and their traditional beliefs.

Reverend James Smith


Reverend Smith is a missionary who replaces Mr. Brown as the new head of the Christian church. Reverend Smith is strict and uncompromising, the opposite of Mr. Brown who was kind, compassionate, and accommodating.

Reverend Smith is a stereotypical fire-and-brimstone preacher: “He [sees] things as black and white. And black [is] evil.” He is intolerant and disrespectful of Igbo beliefs and customs and likens Igbo religion to the pagan prophets of Baal of the Old Testament; he considers their beliefs to be the work of the devil. Reverend Smith demands that Igbo clansmen who convert to Christianity reject all indigenous beliefs. He is determined to follow a strict interpretation of the scriptures. Mr. Smith demonstrates his intolerance of Igbo beliefs when he suspends a woman convert from the Christian church who followed traditional custom regarding her dead ogbanje child.

Because Reverend Smith expects converts to adhere to all Christian scripture and dogma in a very narrow-minded manner, he incites converts to become overzealous, even fanatical, about their newfound belief. After Enoch, a zealous convert, creates a conflict during an Igbo ceremony, the egwugwu, or ancestral spirits of the clan, burn Enoch’s compound and then proceed to the church compound. Reverend Smith, who has no idea why the egwugwu are upset (nor does he care), is unharmed only because of Mr. Brown’s preceding compassion toward the Igbo people and his understanding of their beliefs. The egwugwu destroy Reverend Smith’s church.