Nwoye Changing Chi in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
As a man of hubris, Okonkwo takes every opportunity he obtains to boast, but when it comes to his son, Nwoye, he cannot manage to praise him.
His inability to take pride in Nwoye is revealed through the compliments he passes to other sons and is the eventual cause of Okonkwo’s realization that his force of will is weaker than what he thinks. When it comes to sensitive topics, like his son resembling his lazy father, Unoka, Okonkwo’s arrogance disappears, arousing him to be aware of the lack of control he has on Nwoye; on the other hand, Nwoye starts caring more for himself by betraying Okonkwo and finding a new father and home. Okonkwo is looked upon as a powerful figure, and his greedy desire to maintain that status is portrayed through his boasts. Everyone in the village knows that “he [i]s not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he [i]s in error” (Achebe 31). At the beginning of the novel, he believes that if he “sa[ys] yes very strongly..
.his chi agree[s]” (Achebe 27). Chi is one’s personal god and has more authority in that person’s life than the individual himself, but in Okonkwo’s case, his arrogance leads him to think that he controls his chi rather than the opposite. Okonkwo is so focused on keeping his high-status image that he kills his most beloved son, Ikemefuna, thinking that the other villagers will continue to view him as a courageous man. In contrast to Nwoye, his real son, Ikemefuna is his ideal son, and Okonkwo’s impulsiveness, caused by his hubris, leaves him with one son: Nwoye, the one “who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan” (Achebe 33), the most important place to act like a leader. Nwoye’s conversion by Christian missionaries is the final stretch of Okonkwo’s tolerance for a son who resembles his lazy father, Unoka.
He describes Nwoye as “impotent ash” (Achebe 153) and himself as “flaming fire,” which comes from his well-known nickname “Roaring Flame.” The alliteration of “flaming fire” emphasizes the potent power that Okonkwo has and the reason why he sees Nwoye as his foil. Fire is vibrant red, the color of boldness, strength, blood, violence, all characteristics that make up a manly leader, however, Nwoye is portrayed as a dismal gray illustrating a weak and womanly figure that has no role in society. Gray is right in between black and white, two direct colors, displaying its misplaced identity, but after Nwoye discovers that Christianity is a home to him, Okonkwo and Nwoye switch roles of the ash and fire; Nwoye symbolizes the fire as he fits in with Christians whose prominent colors are black, white, and red. Okonkwo’s hubris deflates as he becomes the lost one stuck in the middle of the gray smoke. As Okonkwo listens to fathers describe their sons who are much more accomplished than Nwoye, Okonkwo remains confused in the foggy smoke and cannot resist complimenting other boys, something he never does.
Despite Maduka’s success in the wrestling match, his father, Obierika disregards the value of his son’s achievement. Becoming a renowned wrestler is the ultimate way of demonstrating one’s masculinity, a major aspect of how others view one, yet Obierika points out Maduka’s flaws instead of praising him: “I sometimes think he is too sharp…He hardly ever walks.
He is always in a hurry” (Achebe 70). In response, Okonkwo thoroughly compliments Maduka; unless the topic of conversation is sons, he never admits that anyone or anything is better than anything he is affiliated with. Similar to Obierika’s actions, Ukegbu, the father of Ibe, “a good tapper,” neglects Ibe’s talent. Instead of congratulating Ibe, he complains by telling stories about how he has used his skill to ruin items of significance: “[h]e tapped three of by best palm trees to death” (Achebe 72). While perhaps thinking about the absence of Nwoye’s skill, Okonkwo passes some more of his rare praises to Ibe. Okonkwo never acknowledges when someone is better than him, but he endlessly compliments other sons, demonstrating his notion of Nwoye being unpraiseworthy and useless to him and the society.
After losing all of his patience for Nwoye after his conversion, Okonkwo undergoes a change along with his chi. He is not his old self anymore; his “chi sa[ys] nay despite his own affirmation” (Achebe 131). He realizes that his will is impotent like ash and that it will not always go the way he wants it to go. Okonkwo’s hubris disintegrates into dreary ash, whereas Nwoye starts to live a spirited new, peaceful life as a Christian.