Chapter 1 to Chapter 4
The novel begins with a depiction of Okonkwo’s athletic prowess. He is described as a fierce fighter who bested the previously unbeaten wrestler Amalinze the Cat. This win brings fame for Okonkwo. It also establishes Okonkwo as a fighter—a man of action whose reputation is built on the act of “overthrowing.” Okonkwo’s overthrow of the Cat foreshadows Okonkwo’s desire later in the novel to overthrow the colonizers.
Okonkwo is also described as an impatient man, quick to use his fists when words fail him. He is a big man, and his fame is spread far and wide among the nine villages of Nigeria. Still, it has been 20 years since his victory over the Cat. Much has happened to illustrate Okonkwo’s faults—as in his perpetual dislike of his father, for example.
Okonkwo’s father, Unoka (dead some ten years) is described as having been an easygoing man, content to be idle and in debt to his neighbors, and to make merry for himself and his neighbors when money did come into his hands. Unoka is the opposite of Okonkwo—more a lover (of music and life) than a fighter. He laughs when Okoye comes to collect his debt. Unoka is unapologetic in his refusal to pay it when it is asked for.
The author asserts that it is no surprise that Okonkwo was ashamed of his father. Okonkwo took two titles, whereas his father took none. Okonkwo distinguished himself in two inter-tribal wars, whereas his father disliked bloodshed. Okonkwo was a successful farmer, whereas Unoka had been negligent and impoverished. Okonkwo is respected, whereas Unoka had been mocked (but apparently pitied, too).
The chapter ends with the mention of the ill-fated Ikemefuna, a boy who came under Okonkwo’s care after being sacrificed to the village of Umuofia as a peace offering. This brief mention closes the opening of the novel with a touch of foreboding. After beginning the tale with a description of Okonkwo’s abilities in comparison to his father’s, the chapter ends with a...
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