Out of awe and respect, the Ibo tribe refers to Okonkwo as “Roaring Flame.” Fiery of temper with a blazing appearance, Okonkwo strikes fear in the hearts of his clan members as well as his own family unit. Okonkwo’s huge build topped by bushy eyebrows and a very broad nose give him the look of a tornado on the warpath. His whole demeanor reeks of controlled fury; he even breathes heavily, like a dragon ready to explode. He always appears to be wound for fierce action.
While Okonkwo’s appearance portrays a man people fear, it belies the terror Okonkwo hides within himself. For his entire life, Okonkwo has had to deal with having a father who is considered weak and lazy-“agabala” in the tribe’s terms. The tribe detests weak, effeminate men. Okonkwo is terrified to think that the tribe will liken him to his father. He is even more afraid of recognizing in himself some semblance of weakness that he sees in his father. Thus, he despises gentleness, idleness, and demonstrations of sensitivity. He will not allow himself to show love, to enjoy the fruits of hard work, or to demonstrate concern for others, nor can he tolerate these in other men. He rules his family unit with an iron fist and expects everyone to act on his commands. He speaks curtly to those he considers less successful than himself and dismisses them as unimportant. An extremely proud man, Okonkwo continually pushes to overcome the image his heredity might have given him.
The tribe sees Okonkwo as powerful. They respect him for his many achievements. Not only has he overcome his father’s weaknesses, but also he has accomplished more than the average tribesman. As a young man, he wrestles and beats one of the fiercest fighters in the land. Next, Okonkwo goes on to amass three wives and two barns full of yams. Then, he acquires two titles and is considered the greatest warrior alive.
Unoka is Okonkwo’s father, the root of Okonkwo’s fear and problems. Unoka represents all that the Ibo abhor-gentleness, lack of ambition, and sensitivity to people and nature. He is a gifted musician who loves fellowship, the change of the seasons, and children. Although Unoka is tall, his stooped posture bears the weight of the tribe’s scorn.
Unoka is happy only when he is playing his flute and drinking palm wine. Tribal customs frighten, sicken, and bore him. He hates war and is nauseated by the sight of blood. He would rather make music than grow crops. As a result, his family is more often hungry than not, and he borrows constantly from fellow tribesmen to maintain his household. He dies in disgrace, owing everyone and holding no titles.
Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, disappoints him. Nwoye shows all the signs of his grandfather’s sensitivity and laziness, and Okonkwo fears that Nwoye will shame the reputable name Okonkwo has worked so hard to achieve. Nwoye knows that he should enjoy the masculine rites of his fellow tribesmen, but he prefers his mother’s company and the stories she tells. He Questions and is disturbed by many of the tribe’s customs. Okonkwo beats and nags Nwoye, making Nwoye more unhappy and further distancing him from the ways of the clan.
When Ikemefuna comes to live with Okonkwo’s family, Nwoye grows to admire his knowledge and to love him like a real brother. Out of his respect for Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins to associate more with the men of the family and tribe, and to act more like the man that his father wants him to become.
After Ikemefuna’s death, Nwoye feels an emptiness that cannot be filled by the clan’s traditions. He is plagued by old Questions for which the clan has no answers.
Ikemefuna comes to live with Okonkwo’s family as a peace offering from Ikemefuna’s home tribe to the Ibo for the killing of a Umuofian daughter. From the beginning, Ikemefuna fills the void in Okonkwo’s life that Okonkwo’s own son cannot.
Ikemefuna adjusts quickly to his new family and tribe and energetically participates in activities. He earns everyone’s love and respect because he is so lively and talented. Only two years older than Nwoye, Ikemefuna already knows much about the world and can do almost anything. He can identify birds, trap rodents, and make flutes. He knows which trees make the best bows and tells delightful folk stories. Okonkwo appreciates Ikemefuna for the example he sets for Nwoye.
Ikemefuna lives with Okonkwo for three years. The tribe then agrees to kill Ikemefuna because the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has requested it. Ikemefuna’s death brings far-reaching consequences.
Ekwefi, forty-five years old, is Okonkwo’s second wife. Although she fell in love with Okonkwo when he won the famous wrestling match, she did not move in with him until she left her husband three years after the contest. Ekwefi had been lovely in her youth, referred to as “Crystal of Beauty.” The years have been hard on her. She has become a courageous and strong-willed woman, overcoming disappointment and bitterness in her life. She has borne ten children, only one of which has lived. She stands up to Okonkwo and lives for her daughter, Ezinma.
Ekwefi lives for Ezinma, her only living child, her pride and joy. Okonkwo favors his daughter, who is not only as beautiful as her mother once was, but who grows to understand her father and his moods as no one else does. Father and daughter form a special bond. Okonkwo and Ekwefi treat Ezinma like she is their equal rather than their child. They permit her privileges that other family and tribal children are not granted. Okonkwo’s only regret towards Ezinma is that she is not a boy.
G Nwoye’s mother
Nwoye’s mother is wise to the ways of the tribe. While she knows that her sons will never be able to display such emotions, she tells her children wonderful stories that describe feelings like pity and forgiveness. She attempts to keep peace in the family by lying at times to Okonkwo to help the other wives avoid punishment. She tries to adhere to sacred tribal customs. She shows compassion at the message that Ikemefuna is to return to his family. In her own way, Nwoye’s mother displays the courage of a tribesman.
Ojiugo evokes Okonkwo’s anger through thoughtless acts and prompts him to break the sacred Week of Peace. As a result, the priest of the earth goddess punishes Okonkwo.
Obierika is Okonkwo’s best friend. Unlike Okonkwo, he is a thinking man. He Questions the circumstances that are sending his friend into exile, even while trying to console Okonkwo and taking care of Okonkwo’s preparation for departure. Obierika is the one who visits Okonkwo while Okonkwo is exiled and brings him the first news of the missionaries’ arrival, knowing that Okonkwo’s son has joined them. At the end of the seven-year exile, Obierika builds Okonkwo two huts and sends for him. Finally, a sad and weary Obierika bids a last tribute to his friend when he leads the diminishing clansmen through the rituals required to cleanse the land Okonkwo has desecrated.
J Ogbuefi Ezeudu
A noble warrior and the oldest man in all the village, Ogbuefi Ezeudu has achieved a rare three titles. He is the one to tell Okonkwo that the tribe has decided to kill Ikemefuna. Ezeudu warns Okonkwo not to be a part of Ikemefuna’s death.
At Ezeudu’s death, the clan gathers to bid a final sacred tribute to a man who has nearly attained the highest tribal honor-lord of the land. When Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son during the ceremony, the clan is horrified. Okonkwo can think only of Ezeudu’s warning.
K Ogbuefi Ugonna
A worthy tribesman of two titles, Ogbuefi Ugonna is one of the first of the village men to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion offered by the Christian missionaries.
L Mr. Brown
The first white missionary to come to Umuofia, Mr. Brown gains the clan’s respect through his calm nature and patience. He neither attacks the tribe’s customs nor badgers them to join him. He restrains his overzealous members from harsh tactics. He simply offers education to the Umuofians and their children. The mission is flourishing when Mr. Brown has to leave for health reasons.
M The District Commissioner
The District Commissioner arrives in Umuofia at the same time as the missionaries. He and his court messengers-called “Ashy-Buttocks” for the ash-colored shorts they wear-try clansmen for breaking the white man’s law. These white men are greatly hated for their arrogance and disrespect for tribal customs.
N Reverend James Smith
Mr. Smith replaces Mr. Brown when Mr. Brown has to leave the mission. The Reverend Smith leads the overzealous with a passion. Where Mr. Brown was mild-mannered and quiet, Mr. Smith is angry and flamboyant. He denounces the tribe’s customs and bans from his church clan members who must be, according to him, filled with the devil’s spirit to want to continue tribal tradition.
Enoch is an overzealous member of Mr. Brown’s mission. While Mr. Brown restrains Enoch from taking his faith to extremes, Mr. Smith does not. Mr. Smith not only condones Enoch’s excessive actions, he encourages them. Enoch instigates the battle between Umuofia and the church by unmasking an egwugwu, or ancestor spirit, during a public ceremony. This is one of the greatest crimes a man could commit.