The forces of tradition and ancestry in Things Fall Apart become increasingly conflicted in Okonkwo’s family from generation to generation. Beginning with his father, Unoka, Okonkwo is only able to become motivated through contempt for his father’s laziness and lack of success in his life. They are the fuel for Okonkwo’s ambition and are the root of the hyperbolic manliness that he so highly treasures. Unoka treasures merriment and good times, rejecting ambition for titles and good fortune. And yet, from the few scenes containing Unoka, it is difficult to see any disconnect with traditions or respect for ancestors, as displayed even simply by his attention to such ceremonial acts as breaking the kola nut when conversing with Okoye. Though he is lazy and behaves regrettably, particularly in affecting the fortunes of his son, Okonkwo, Unoka remains free of guilt for disrespecting tradition.
No, this conflict with tradition truly does not arise until Okonkwo becomes the patriarch for his bloodline. Though Okonkwo swears to “stamp out the disquieting signs of laziness” (p. 28) from Nwoye, his first son, his allegiance to manliness and power ultimately showcases greater irreverence toward tradition and ancestry in his character than in any other’s. This becomes apparent very early when he breaks the Week of Peace by beating his wife when she has not prepared his dinner. Okonkwo repeatedly struggles to abide tradition in fits of rage, all in the name of asserting dominance and manliness over others. And even in attempting to instill respect for such traditions in Nwoye, Okonkwo only perpetuates this discordant path of family heritage in being at odds with his son, who becomes forever embittered toward his father and what he stands for following Ikemefuna’s death. It becomes apparent in the first half of the novel that despite all of Okonkwo’s family’s good fortune and success during the ambitious patriarch’s lifetime, the lack of respect for the clan’s ancestors is born of generational discordance between father and son.