A tall, thin man with a slight stoop, Unoka was Okonkwo's father. He appeared "haggard and mournful . . . except when he was drinking or playing his flute." His favorite time of year was after the harvest when he joined with village musicians to make music and feast; Unoka's priority was to enjoy life to the fullest. An excellent flutist, he was happy and peaceful when he was playing his flute, in spite of the sorrow and grief that was evident in his music.
Unoka lacked responsibility. He was poor, lazy, and neglectful of his wife, and he did not plan for the future. During his life, he never took a title and, therefore, never gained status or respect from the villagers. Instead, they called him a loafer, and he was the laughingstock of the community. Whenever he managed to get his hands on money, "he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine." Unoka was a debtor and a failure. Also a coward, he never became a warrior — wars made him unhappy because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. Unoka's behavior was contrary to typical Igbo tradition, so he was not taken seriously and was treated in a demeaning manner by Igbo clansmen and, later, by Okonkwo, his son.
Evil fortune seemed to follow Unoka to his grave. He died of a horrible illness — a swelling of the stomach and limbs — and was left to die above ground in the Evil Forest.