Read an in-depth analysis of Okonkwo.
Read an in-depth analysis of Nwoye.
Read an in-depth analysis of Ezinma.
Ikemefuna - A boy given to Okonkwo by a neighboring village. Ikemefuna lives in the hut of Okonkwo’s first wife and quickly becomes popular with Okonkwo’s children. He develops an especially close relationship with Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son, who looks up to him. Okonkwo too becomes very fond of Ikemefuna, who calls him “father” and is a perfect clansman, but Okonkwo does not demonstrate his affection because he fears that doing so would make him look weak.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mr. Brown.
Reverend James Smith - The missionary who replaces Mr. Brown. Unlike Mr. Brown, Reverend Smith is uncompromising and strict. He demands that his converts reject all of their indigenous beliefs, and he shows no respect for indigenous customs or culture. He is the stereotypical white colonialist, and his behavior epitomizes the problems of colonialism. He intentionally provokes his congregation, inciting it to anger and even indirectly, through Enoch, encouraging some fairly serious transgressions.
The District Commissioner - An authority figure in the white colonial government in Nigeria. The prototypical racist colonialist, the District Commissioner thinks that he understands everything about native African customs and cultures and he has no respect for them. He plans to work his experiences into an ethnographic study on local African tribes, the idea of which embodies his dehumanizing and reductive attitude toward race relations.
Unoka - Okonkwo’s father, of whom Okonkwo has been ashamed since childhood. By the standards of the clan, Unoka was a coward and a spendthrift. He never took a title in his life, he borrowed money from his clansmen, and he rarely repaid his debts. He never became a warrior because he feared the sight of blood. Moreover, he died of an abominable illness. On the positive side, Unoka appears to have been a talented musician and gentle, if idle. He may well have been a dreamer, ill-suited to the chauvinistic culture into which he was born. The novel opens ten years after his death.
Obierika - Okonkwo’s close friend, whose daughter’s wedding provides cause for festivity early in the novel. Obierika looks out for his friend, selling Okonkwo’s yams to ensure that Okonkwo won’t suffer financial ruin while in exile and comforting Okonkwo when he is depressed. Like Nwoye, Obierika questions some of the tribe’s traditional strictures.
Ekwefi - Okonkwo’s second wife, once the village beauty. Ekwefi ran away from her first husband to live with Okonkwo. Ezinma is her only surviving child, her other nine having died in infancy, and Ekwefi constantly fears that she will lose Ezinma as well. Ekwefi is good friends with Chielo, the priestess of the goddess Agbala.
Enoch - A fanatical convert to the Christian church in Umuofia. Enoch’s disrespectful act of ripping the mask off an egwugwu during an annual ceremony to honor the earth deity leads to the climactic clash between the indigenous and colonial justice systems. While Mr. Brown, early on, keeps Enoch in check in the interest of community harmony, Reverend Smith approves of his zealotry.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu - The oldest man in the village and one of the most important clan elders and leaders. Ogbuefi Ezeudu was a great warrior in his youth and now delivers messages from the Oracle.
Chielo - A priestess in Umuofia who is dedicated to the Oracle of the goddess Agbala. Chielo is a widow with two children. She is good friends with Ekwefi and is fond of Ezinma, whom she calls “my daughter.” At one point, she carries Ezinma on her back for miles in order to help purify her and appease the gods.
Akunna - A clan leader of Umuofia. Akunna and Mr. Brown discuss their religious beliefs peacefully, and Akunna’s influence on the missionary advances Mr. Brown’s strategy for converting the largest number of clansmen by working with, rather than against, their belief system. In so doing, however, Akunna formulates an articulate and rational defense of his religious system and draws some striking parallels between his style of worship and that of the Christian missionaries.
Nwakibie - A wealthy clansmen who takes a chance on Okonkwo by lending him 800 seed yams—twice the number for which Okonkwo asks. Nwakibie thereby helps Okonkwo build up the beginnings of his personal wealth, status, and independence.
Mr. Kiaga - The native-turned-Christian missionary who arrives in Mbanta and converts Nwoye and many others.
Okagbue Uyanwa - A famous medicine man whom Okonkwo summons for help in dealing with Ezinma’s health problems.
Maduka - Obierika’s son. Maduka wins a wrestling contest in his mid-teens. Okonkwo wishes he had promising, manly sons like Maduka.
Obiageli - The daughter of Okonkwo’s first wife. Although Obiageli is close to Ezinma in age, Ezinma has a great deal of influence over her.
Ojiugo - Okonkwo’s third and youngest wife, and the mother of Nkechi. Okonkwo beats Ojiugo during the Week of Peace.
Okonkwo is a self-made, well-respected member of the Umuofia clan. Though outwardly stern and powerful, much of his life is dictated by internal fear. His greatest, overwhelming worry is that he will become like his father – lazy, unable to support his family, and cowardly. Okonkwo considers many of his father’s characteristics to be feminine. Much of Okonkwo’s behavior results from a reactionary desire to be completely unlike his father. This means that Okonkwo attempts to work hard, provide for his family materially, be brave, and be masculine in every possible way. As a result, Okonkwo’s becomes successful in many ways – he becomes very wealthy, holds a high-ranked position in the community, has three wives, and is known for his skill as a wrestler and warrior. But he also tends toward emotions that are extreme, and his fear motivates him to take actions which are often unnecessary and ultimately destructive. His fear of being feminine leads him to assist in the murder of Ikemefuna whom he loved, to beat his wives, be emotionally distant from his children, and to disown his oldest son.
As an uncompromising man’s man, Okonkwo’s relationship towards his family is one of complete dictatorship. His three wives are there to serve him his food and raise his children. By seeing them as his subjects, Okonkwo can justify his brutal behavior against them. He can beat his wives without guilt. He can threaten Ekwefi with a gun when she talks back. He can rebuke Nwoye for listening to old wives’ tales. This sense of ownership is exemplified when Okonkwo takes Ikemefuna’s life. Though he does have qualms about killing Ikemefuna, they are not qualms about whether or not he has the right to do it. Okonkwo feels complete ownership over his family.
There is, however, the problem of love and intimacy. Okonkwo rarely shows these aspects of himself since he considers emotion soft and feminine – but the emotions are there nonetheless. The fact that he lies to Ikemefuna to protect the boy from fear and later feels guilty about killing him are proof of that Okonkwo isn’t devoid of positive human emotions. But, whenever there is a clash between showing true emotion and maintaining the show of his strength, Okonkwo will always go with the latter.
This doesn't mean that Okonkwo never admits he is wrong; more than anything, Okonkwo tries to follow the laws of the clan. Whenever he breaks them – either deliberately through a loss of temper or inadvertently as in shooting the boy – he never questions the punishments brought upon him. Okonkwo abides by his punishment whether or not he thinks they are fair. This is one way of maintaining his honor and reputation. He reads the laws literally, unlike his father who bent the rules and tried to circumvent certain aspects of the law.
Thus we come to one of the central conflicts in the novel: the divide between Okonkwo’s personal pride and the actions forced on him by the external social laws of the Umuofia. His final act of suicide is the ultimate demonstration of things falling apart because it is the first and only time that Okonkwo purposefully and calculatedly breaks the clan laws. As a character, Okonkwo remains pretty consistent throughout the book. We see no sudden changes in behavior or mindset; in fact, that may be Okonkwo’s problem – his inability to adapt or compromise his ethics to changing situations that call for more tolerance or compassion. Okonkwo, whose sense of pride and dignity continues until the end, chooses to live and die on his own terms rather than submit to the white man. For Okonkwo, giving in would be against so much of what he has stood for – courage, tradition, and manliness.