Things Fall Apart

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Nwoye Character Analysis

Nwoye is Okonkwo's eldest son. Nwoye resembles his grandfather Unoka, in that he's drawn to gentleness and music, even though he recognizes that his father disapproves. This tension between Okonkwo and Nwoye leads to an eventual split when Nwoye becomes one of the clan members who leave the clan to join the Christians.

Nwoye Quotes in Things Fall Apart

The Things Fall Apart quotes below are all either spoken by Nwoye or refer to Nwoye. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Things Fall Apart published in 1994.
Chapter 7 Quotes

Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell…

Related Characters: Nwoye
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Nwoye has begun to take on more masculine tasks in Okonkwo’s household, he still retains a preference for the more stereotypically “feminine” pursuits.

This passage corroborates the strict divide between masculine and feminine in Umuofia society: certain chores and behaviors are deemed one or the other, and various characters are categorized according to which actions they perform. It is notable that biological sex does not necessarily correlate to the gender of the tasks that one prefers: Nwoye is a boy, but his preference for “the stories that his mother used to tell” reveals a feminine tendency that Okonkwo hates.

We should not forget, however, that the labeling of storytelling as feminine occurs in a novel—and indeed in a novel that constantly prizes proverbs and the way that Umuofia citizens (men and women alike) place a high value on language. Thus the reader should be cautious not to take the supposedly feminine quality of storytelling as negative, or even inappropriate for Nwoye. Indeed, the lasting power of the novel to have encapsulated the tale of Okonkwo indicates that storytelling has a longevity that will outlast the temporary masculine exertion of force.

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Chapter 16 Quotes

But there was a young lad who had been captivated. His name was Nwoye, Okonkwo's first son. It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him…It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow. The hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul – the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed.

Related Characters: Okonkwo, Nwoye
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

As Obierika continues to recount the arrival of the missionaries, he notes that Nwoye has been brought into their fold. Nwoye is, we learn, fascinated by the aesthetics of Christianity, as well as by the way their doctrine may resolve his own spiritual doubts.

A sharp differentiation occurs here between the spiritual beliefs of Christianity and the religion’s artistic creations: the first is deemed “the mad logic of the Trinity,” for it seems inherently self-contradictory, and directly conflicts with Igbo beliefs. Yet the second is “the poetry of the new religion” and “the hymn”: both neutral or positive terms. They highlight a universal artistic quality that can cross different systems of cultural belief. Achebe thus stresses how it is this more aesthetic material brought by the missionaries that aids them in their evangelizing endeavors, more than simple dogma or preaching.

Yet Nwoye also shows an attraction to some actual facets of Christian belief. That the religion offers an “answer” to the “question that haunted his young soul” indicates that it brings a quality Nwoye has found lacking in Ibo society: Specifically, it gives a model in which the abandoned twins would be treated with compassion instead of neglect. Achebe thus presents the missionaries’ beliefs as attractive to locals because they gave those who felt out-of-step or at-odds with certain practices an alternative framework with which to make sense of the world.

Chapter 17 Quotes

Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.

Related Characters: Okonkwo (speaker), Nwoye
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Okonkwo thinks of this phrase as he reflects on the way Nwoye has converted to Christianity. Its image encapsulates how Okonkwo’s potent, ardent personality could give rise to a son deemed extremely weak.

This line marks a turning point in the text because it is the first instance of Okonkwo using metaphorical language—indeed, he seems to have invented his own proverb—indicating a source of genuine linguistic creativity. One might thus interpret this line as an indication that Okonkwo has embraced the softer, "feminine" characteristics associated with storytelling and language—yet the phrase itself implies just the opposite. Rather, it reinstates the hierarchy between Okonkwo’s masculine personality as “living fire” versus the weak, feminine Nwoye, who is “cold, impotent ash.” Though Okonkwo may have finally engaged in the game of imagistic language valued throughout the text, the way he does so only reaffirms his harsh and divisive views on the world.

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Nwoye Character Timeline in Things Fall Apart

The timeline below shows where the character Nwoye appears in Things Fall Apart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Tradition vs. Change Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
...wives and young children suffer, however, and are afraid to complain openly. Okonkwo's first son, Nwoye, is twelve years old and already worries Okonkwo with his laziness, which Okonkwo seeks to... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Masculinity Theme Icon
...with him, which ends up taking three years. Ikemefuna is afraid at first, even though Nwoye's mother treats him kindly. When Okonkwo hears that Ikemefuna is refusing to eat, he stands... (full context)
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Ikemefuna becomes popular in the household, and he grows very close with Nwoye in particular. Even Okonkwo grows fond of Ikemefuna, though he refuses to show it, since... (full context)
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After the Week of Peace, Okonkwo begins preparing his seed-yams for planting. Nwoye and Ikemefuna help by counting, and occasionally Okonkwo allows them to prepare a few yams... (full context)
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...like a member of the family, telling his own folktales from the Mbaino. He and Nwoye have become very close. Nwoye looks back on this period fondly. As the rain lightens... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...in Okonkwo's household, becoming a part of his new family. He is especially close to Nwoye, who begins to enjoy performing more masculine tasks around the house, pleasing his father. Okonkwo... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...leave, Okonkwo calls Ikemefuna to tell him that he'll be taken home the next day. Nwoye bursts into tears upon hearing the news, and Okonkwo beats him heavily. The rest of... (full context)
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When Okonkwo walks into the house at night, Nwoye knows that Ikemefuna has been killed, and he feels something give way inside him—the same... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Okonkwo doesn't eat for two days, drinking only palm-wine instead. He calls Nwoye to sit with him in his obi, but Nwoye is afraid of him and slips... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Okonkwo's first wife cooks dinner and Nwoye brings the wine. After dinner, Obierika mentions that the money in the bags is for... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...that the white missionaries have come to Umuofia. Furthermore, he reports that Okonkwo's eldest son, Nwoye, is among them, which is why Obierika has come to see Okonkwo. Okonkwo refuses to... (full context)
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...dialect of Igbo makes him sound like he's saying “my buttocks” instead of “myself.” However, Nwoye was captivated by the hymn he heard about brothers who sat in darkness and in... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Nwoye keeps his attraction to the new faith a secret, not wishing to anger his father,... (full context)
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One morning, Okonkwo's cousin, Amikwu, passes by the church and sees Nwoye among the Christians. He tells Okonkwo what he's seen, and when Nwoye returns to the... (full context)
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...as the “Roaring Flame,” and wonders how he could have borne a weak son like Nwoye. Then, as he gazes into the fire, he realizes that “living fire begets cold, impotent... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Masculinity Theme Icon
...two new wives. He also plans to initiate his sons into the ozo society. After Nwoye joined the Christians, he told his other sons that they could follow in Nwoye's steps... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...Umuofia shortly after Okonkwo's return. He attempts to greet Okonkwo with news of his son Nwoye upon Okonkwo's return, but Okonkwo drives him out with threats. (full context)