Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart – Finding Unoka in the Mirror

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart – Finding Unoka in the Mirror

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Things Fall Apart – Finding Unoka in the Mirror


I wish I could say that the character Okonkwo, in the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is very similar to myself, but I would be lying. Okonkwo is filled with many admirable traits: drive, ambition, goals, and his ability to overcome through his constant productivity. Okonkwo had the determination to become a great man, and even with the odds against him, he succeeded.

“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, or 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” (18). Most of his accomplishments were despite his father, whom Okonkwo loathed, but with whom I connected. In the novel, I relate more to Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, a much more laid back character. Like Unoka, I am in love with life, lazy, not worried about tomorrow, and deeply in debt.

Unoka had a great appreciation for the moment. For instance, “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…” (5). Such a description makes me want to lay down drowsy in the grass and enjoy the beauty of the day, for as Unoka “loved it all” (5), I too love it all (5)! What I would give for another summer day to simply nap, sprawled on my stomach in the grass of my back yard, feeling the warmth of the sun and security of a newborn napping in its mother’s arms. How deeply do I love these moments of drowsiness and warmth nature supplies her children. I imagine Unoka had similar experiences through playing the flute. “He was very good on his flute, and his happiest moments were the two or three moons after the harvest when the village musicians brought down their instruments, hung above the fireplace. Unoka would play with them, his face beaming with blessedness and peace” (4). Unoka and I enjoy the simple things life has to offer. Perhaps this appreciation is rooted in our struggle against society, one which demands the focus of our lives to lie beyond the setting sun. However, there must come a day when you ask yourself, will I even be alive tomorrow?

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Will the work I do now help me in any way if I am six feet under? In which case I can’t help but ask myself “what’s the point of living in tomorrow if I solely exist in today?” Therefore, I don’t assume there will be a tomorrow, but appreciate the moments the present bring, loving every second of feeling, either pain or joy, love or hate, which life has so graciously given me, for there is little feeling when you are dead.

Like Unoka, I, too, am improvident. Unoka “was poor and his wife and children barely had enough to eat” (5). This shows how little he thought about the future. In order to feed his family, he would have to work hard on the farm without seeing the benefits at first, to prosper later and have food for his family. Similar to his improvidence is Unoka’s incapability to think about tomorrow.

“If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine, called round his neighbors and made merry” (4). He could have saved this money to pay off his debts, but the thought probably never crossed his mind. Instead, Unoka celebrates the gift with the people he cares about and lets tomorrow worry about itself. What a wonderful way to live. My improvidence is seen through scholastic tests. For instance, I don’t study as hard as I could the night before a test.

Only when I get the grade back do I think about what I could have done, if so motivated, to prepare for my future. For I was told that grades only mattered to get into the college of my choice–which would then affect the job I wanted to get for the family I wanted to support in the house I would want to buy and for the food which I would want to supply for my children. This is what my parents have done for me. Whatever. As I said before, I’d rather be relaxing outside in the fresh air with people I care about than studying for some test to prepare for some future I’d rather not think about at the moment. Perhaps it is easier to take life as it comes rather than preparing yourself constantly, securing a healthy, happy life for the future. However, as I have come to realize, even those who prepare themselves so thoroughly are not always the most healthy or happy. Instead of planning my life, I find it so much more appealing to let the spontaneity of living lead me in the direction best for me, as even in my young age I have realized that I don’t always know what is best for me, and this way I will be much less likely to ignore the roads which may be more entertaining, yet did not seem to follow my narrow minded path. So this may be the lazy way of living, but it is also more care free and allows more appreciation for the impulsiveness of living.

I am a very lazy person, just like Unoka. “In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow” (4). When Unoka asked the oracle why his farms were so poor, she replied that the other farmers would “cross seven rivers to make their farms; you stay at home and offer sacrifices to a reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man.” I, too, am this lazy.

After being encouraged to get a summer job instead of sit around all day, I chose the latter, and what a wonderful summer it was! I did what I pleased, went where I wanted to go, and visited those who I felt like visiting. I couldn’t even muster the effort to appear as though I were trying to get a job, considering I only applied to two places, both of which were not hiring. However, I wonder, why don’t I have any money? This approach to living is most certainly the result of letting tomorrow worry about itself, for why wear yourself out doing things you don’t want to do if everything will be all right in the end? The farm isn’t that important, somehow you won’t starve. Getting a job doesn’t matter, my parents will still look after me if I am broke. Which leads me to my next unfavorable characteristic.

Unoka and I share the great ability to accumulate debts. Unlike Unoka, my debts are not of money, but of love. I am in debt to my parents, in more than money or love. They’ve given me life, care, love, worry, nourishment, fear, protection, love, money, opportunity, and love, among many other things which I never could repay. I could try to reimburse them, but where could I possibly begin? I could never be their definition of a perfect child, so no matter what, I will fall short of paying off my debt and only create more. Similar to Unoka, “such a man that he always succeeded in borrowing more, and piling up his debts” (5) I, too, am capable of piling up my debts and causing my parents to take sympathy on me. Of course, I would be happy to repay the debts I have accumulated, but I would never be able to repay them all, just like Unoka could never repay all of his debts. If my parents asked me to do a chore for them, I would do it, but how could that possibly compensate for all that they have done for me? When the neighbor, Okoye asked Unoka to repay a debt, Unoka laughed and agreed. He was happy to give Okoye his money. Pointing to some lines on a wall Unoka said, “I owe that man a thousand cowries. But he has not come to wake me up in the morning for it. I shall pay you, but not today” (7). It wasn’t that he wouldn’t repay people, which Okoye was afraid of, but that no one ever asked him to. Unoka realized that money just isn’t that important. He was unashamed of his accumulation, as I am also unashamed, as I give back what I can, and let the rest worry about itself. Perhaps in time I will be able to return all the love that is given me, but who is measuring anyways?

Unoka was considered a failure, not only to his tribe but to his son Okonkwo. Unoka “had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt” (8). Unfortunately he was also “an ill-fated man. He had a bad chi or personal god, and evil fortune followed him to… his death... He died of the swelling which was an abomination to the earth goddess…He was carried to the Evil Forest and left there to die… he took with him his flute” (18). I hope that I do not have such a chi, but one that takes pity on my laziness, for I would rather not end up in the Evil Forest. However, as Unoka had made his decisions and lived with them, I too, have made my decisions and have to live with them. I have chosen my path, against the flow of my society, and I will forever have to deal with that choice in the future. I will not complain, but only love the moments I have left to live, keeping my flute near when there is nothing else.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann, 1996.
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