Our lives are influenced by our peers and there believes. For instances, Ibo tribes in Africa believe in male masculinity and dominance, such that all individuals are conditioned from a young age to understand the concept of male superiority. Anyone who strays away from this believe is shunned by the community or considered weak. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart the main character Okonkwo’s life is based upon the believe of male masculinity and hard work. He prides himself on his masculinity and does not accept failure or weakness of any kind including any from his family members.
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An example of an individual that Okonkwo despised and does not accept was Okwonko’s father Unoka. To the community he was weak and considered to not be a true man. He was a failure in the eyes of society and constantly burrowed money. Unoka had only taken one wife and was unable to support his family. This inability to support his family stemmed from his bad work ethic and laziness. “When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt” (pg. 5). Due to his failure Unoka was frequently called an Agbala, which is a word that means a woman or an insult that describes a man that has taken no titles. Seeing his father inability to provide for the family Okwonko devoted his life to hard work and to hate everything his father loved. Unoka’s failures sculpted Okwonko to the man he was in the novel he became hard working and despised laziness. He was the complete opposite of Unoka, earning many titles, having many wives and being a successful man.
All aspects of Okonkwo’s life were devoted to masculinity. Even when farming he was conditioned by his clansmen that yams their staple crop is the king of crops. This is further the male dominance in the Ibo culture because males will be the only people able to provide for the family. When his family was working hard to provide food he thought it would not help because they could not grow yams. He thought that” His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava.”(pg. 19) and that “Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop” (pg. 19). These believe caused him to seek yams seeds at a young age to try to help grow crops for his family.
Masculinity is so important to Okonkwo that he would have done everything he could to prevent anyone from questioning his masculinity. This is due to his father failure and position in the Ibo community. Every time he felt weak Okonkwo was reminded of his father failure and how he was not able to provide for his family. Which lead Okonkwo to even participated in the killing of his adoptive son Ikemefuna because “he was afraid of being thought weak” (pg. 53). Afterward he slumped into a period of depression because of his actions. “Okonkwo did not taste any food for two days after the death of Ikemefuna” (pg.55). His view of masculinity is so high that he was even willing to kill his loved ones.
One of the main traits of masculinity that Okonkwo believed in was the ability to control everyone in his household. He believed that all people must obey what he says in house and do what they were told. Whenever any of his wives talked back or tried to argue with him he would beat them. Okonkwo “ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper” (pg. 10). In addition he believed that “no matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man” (pg.46). This is why he would always talk down to his children and wives to show that he is the authority figure in the house and if anyone one would question this he would beat them.
Overall Okonkwo refused to accept any signs of someone challenging his authority as the leader of his house hold. During The New Yam Festival, a holiday that is celebrated by feasting an argument arises between Okonkwo and his second wife Ekwefi. The New Yam Festival was a time of relaxation but in the eyes of Okonkwo it is a sign of laziness which he hates so very much. This causes him to become angry and in a fit he complains about a banana tree which Ekwefi cut some leaves form. “Without further argument Okwonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping” (pg. 33). Okwonko became even more enraged when he heard her “murmured something about guns that never shot” (pg. 33), an insult on his poor hunting skills and shot at her with his gun. Luckily for Ekwefi he missed, but this proved how any sign of defiance or challenge to his masculinity is unacceptable to him in anyway.
Throughout the novel Okonkwo does not show any signs of compassion for his children. In his perspective it is effeminate and a sign of weakness. This is also the reason why he never shows any love for his daughter Enzima. He even stated “that he will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan” (pg. 28) and that he would rather “strangle him with his own hands.” (pg.28). At one point he scolded Nyowe his eldest son and Ikemefuna his adoptive son about how to grow yams properly. “Inwardly Okonkwo knew that the boys were still too young to understand fully the difficult art of preparing seed-yams. But he thought that one could not begin too early. Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one gravest to another was a very great man indeed” (pg. 28). This shows how important being a man is and how being effeminate will not be tolerated in his household while he is alive.
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Okwonko even put his favorite child in danger because of his masculinity. When Ezinma fell sick Ekwefi wanted to take action, but the Oracle would not let her. Okwonko did not try to stop the Oracle even thought he loved Ezinma. He was afraid that if he showed any compassion he would be thought of as less of a man. Ekwefi could not even take any action for her own daughter’s sake for it was against the tradition and culture of their village Umofia. Ekwefi already lost five other children at young ages but now that Ezinma had come to ten years of age she refuse to let anything hurt her. She did everything she could to protect her. Even before Ezinma was born Okonkwo hired a medicine man to help get rid of the bad spirit that was haunting her. The doctor ordered that “there should be no more mourning for the dead child. Then he took it away to bury in the Evil Forest, holding it by the ankle and dragging it on the ground behind him.” (pg. 69). Yet Okwonko let the Oracle take Enzima away and only went looking for her after a while because it was the manly thing to do.
Okwonko’s belief in the Ibo masculine lifestyle eventually leads him to his death. He wanted to take action and kill everyone who was trying to change his way of life that he grew up with. When the messengers came to stop the gathering “Okonkwo drew his machete”(pg. 176) and cut the lead messenger down. “The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.” (pg. 176). Then everyone started to panic and question why he killed the messengers. That was when he realized his way of life was over because they let the other messengers escape. Later on he committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. This shows that he was so ingrained in his cultures lifestyle that when it was taken away he had nothing left to live for.
Okonkwo’s believe of masculinity lead him to beat his own children and wife. In addition it also lead him to kill one of his loved ones. Even thought he loved Ikemfuna like a son he hated weakness so much because of his father laziness and inability to support his family. Okonkwo’s also believes that yams are the king of all crops like all his clansmen does because it is the staple crop of the Ibo people of Africa. He is so ingrained in the belief of masculinity that he commits suicide when he discovered his way of life that he lived his entire life had been taken away from him. We live our lives based on the ideas of people around us and when it is gone we are gone with it such in the case of Okonkwo.
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