Prescribed question: How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? Title of the text for analysis: Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe Part of the course to which the task refers: Part 3: Literature – text and context Key Points:
• Define masculinity in Okonkwo’s viewpoint
• Explore how Okonkwo never shows his emotions because of fear • Describe the struggle of Okonkwo’s strength
• Discuss the importance of Okonkwo’s reputation of Umuofia • Explain why Okonkwo emphasized on his masculinity
In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, interpretations of masculinity were challenged. Masculinity commonly means the characteristics related to men. Okonkwo, a strong wrestler and leader, had his own attributes of what manliness was. According to Okonkwo’s definition of masculinity, men were presented as strong. Anything that did not demonstrate strength was considered as weak, which was not in his definition of masculinity. While masculinity meant having qualities of a man, Okonkwo was represented to show how he perceived a man truly defined through the factor of fear and why he displayed manliness in this approach. Okonkwo was afraid of showing emotions, because revealing any sentiments showed flaws. Okonkwo liked Ikemefuna and treated him as if he was his own son.
However, Okonkwo did not show any emotions towards Ikemefuna. He thought showing affection was a sign of weakness. Due to his fear of imperfection, Okonkwo felt the emotions inwardly. The only real emotion he ever brought to life was anger. “The only thing worth demonstrating was strength.” (Achebe, 1994, p. 28) Showing emotions such as happiness or sadness was a portrayal of tenderness, which Okonkwo hated. If Okonkwo showed any emotion at all, it would be evidence that he was weak. In one scenario, Okonkwo had to choose his reputation of a strong male authority or his devotion to Ikemefuna, the one he thought of to be his son. This huge struggle to prove Okonkwo’s strength was questioned when he was forced to kill Ikemefuna. Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna when Ogbuefi Ezeudu ordered him to not touch the boy. (Achebe, 1994, p. 57) The man cleared his throat, drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow.
He heard Ikemefuna cry ‘my father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak. (Achebe, 1994, p. 61) Okonkwo was afraid people would think that if he did not kill Ikemefuna, whom he loved, he would seem weak. His character to show others that he was not weak was a greater importance than his attachment for the boy. He wanted to be brave and keep his reputation as a wrestler and a leader of Umuofia. There was one instance that Okonkwo went against his definition of being manly. This showed the vulnerability of Okonkwo, which showed why he was afraid of being weak.
Okonkwo became depressed after the death of Ikemefuna. He did not sleep and did not eat any food. (Achebe, 1994, p. 63) Okonkwo was compared to a “shivering old woman,” (Achebe, 1994, p. 65) showing that only woman showed their emotions. If a man could not get over the death of someone he loves, he was nothing more than a woman, who was generally the one that mourned the death of another. Being depressed over a death was a sign of gentleness, which Okonkwo did not desire. Shivering implies weakness because when people shiver, they shake, are unstable, and are not usually strong enough to hold themselves together. So, Okonkwo could not control himself in this situation.
It also showed fear and a loss of composure, two things that a man should never express. The use of the word ‘old’ also showed how fragile he was becoming in this instance. It was a similar idea when Okonkwo thought he was old because old people in general were weak; as people get older, their heart and muscles were degenerated, so the quality was not durable. There was a reason why Okonkwo emphasized his masculinity. Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was poor, weak, lazy, a failure and a coward. Unoka was in a lot of debt. He loved gentleness and idleness. He did not like the sight of blood. (Achebe, 1994, p. 6) In contrast, Okonkwo entered upon to be strong and hardworking, not wanting to be gentle or idle. The strong wrestler was not scared of blood at any moment, showing he was a strong individual that can deal with death of others. (Achebe, 1994, p. 67)
From then on, Okonkwo wanted to show Umuofia that he was not similar to his father in any way; he wanted to be better than his father because he did not want to be known as a son of a borrower who did not give money back to the lender. As a result, Okonkwo worked to not be a failure like his father. He changed how he behaved as a man to be successful. (Achebe, 1994, p. 4) Okonkwo worked hard to have a title in Umuofia and to supply money for his family.
Masculinity was shown in the fear of weakness because Okonkwo represented masculinity through his behavior. Masculinity was depicted in Okwonko’s fear of weakness. In some parts of this novel, Achebe showed the reader the wrong ways to be a man by showing what was weak, causing the readers to believe the complete opposite of how a man should truly act. Okonkwo was afraid of being weak because it would directly contradict his idea of how he should act as a man. He strived for strength and power. By showing his aversion of weakness to the readers, it gave Okonkwo’s definition of masculinity. Okonkwo viewed masculinity as strength, bravery, successful, and feelings of anger.
Achebe, C. (1994). Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books.