(Click the character infographic to download.)
Nwoye is Okonkwo’s eldest son who Okonkwo considers irredeemably effeminate and very much like his father, Unoka. As a child, Nwoye is the frequent object of his father’s criticism and remains emotionally unfulfilled. Eventually, Ikemefuna comes to fill that void and Nwoye, in his adoration of his adoptive brother, begins to emulate him. In a strange way, Ikemefuna fills the role of both father and brother for Nwoye, providing him with a peer to share his thoughts and a role model.
More than any other character, Nwoye encapsulates an innocent child who is very sensitive to his surroundings and is baffled by the seemingly arbitrary cruelties being committed around him. His dominant characteristic is his incredible ability to feel and sympathize, even more so than some of the female characters. Though considered positive traits by modern women looking for a “sensitive man,” Okonkwo isn’t impressed and aggressively tries to keep his son from acting like “a woman.”
After Ikemefuna’s unjust murder, Nwoye grows increasingly alienated from his father and seems to lose respect for him. Without Ikemefuna’s companionship and influence, and with a loss of faith in his father, Nwoye reverts to his former gentle nature, instead of adhering to the false masculine one he pretended to have in Ikemefuna’s presence. Increasingly, Okonkwo comes to view Nwoye as a disappointment and extremely effeminate. Neither father nor son is unable to see and understand the other on his own terms.
Ultimately, Nwoye is unable to forgive Okonkwo for his betrayal in killing his adopted brother. Nwoye’s betrayal of his father by converting to Christianity can be read as an attempt to get back at his father for his crime. Christianity, too, has its appeal for Nwoye. The missionaries’ hymn about brothers living in “darkness and fear, ignorant of the love of God” touches Nwoye deeply. This missionaries’ message seems to speak of another way to live that Nwoye never knew about – a way of life in which fathers don’t kill their adoptive sons and twins are not abandoned to die in the Evil Forest.