In Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart” a clan in Africa lives a simple life based on tradition, and we are introduced to a man named Okonkwo, who has a successful farm and lives a life based on being a man and is notorious in his village. Okonkwo develops toxic masculinity and displays it due to a hard upbringing. He wants to take control of his family and be a strong man which his father Unoka, could never be as he was lazy and shown as weak throughout the village. Because of this, he feels he needs to prove his masculinity, and he ended up never getting to be a normal person, constantly feeling pressured by this. In our society, we have the same problem with young men feeling they have to prove their masculinity by using violence or not showing emotion, when we are just human. If Okonkwo had a upbringing in which he didn’t have the need to prove himself or not be hyper masculine in his village, as the village saw them as weak or as a agbala, which is the word for woman or a man who is a womanly man.
As the book begins, the narrator explains the kind of man Okonkwo, and goes into detail about his father, Unoka. He is shown as weak and not a provider, which is supposed to explain why Okonkwo is the way he is now. I think Okonkwo feels worried about how the villagers looked at his father and see him to repeat it, so he must feel like he has to prove himself and not be weak all the time. “That was years ago when he was young. Unoka, the grown-up was a failure. He was poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat. People laughed at him because he was a loafer, and swear to never lend him any more money because he never paid back” (2). Here okonkwo’s father is represented as a freeloader, who dosent work and provide for his family.
Specifically where he is called a failure, that shows that his father was worth nothing to the other people, and so this leads into my next point. Since his father was laughed at and so weak, he wanted to prove himself as a man, so he constantly is trying to show everyone he is not the man his father was. Because he resented his father for being weak, and did not want the villagers to think that of him, he made sure to take control of his family no matter what.
Okonkwo shows his toxic masculinity by the way he treats his family as well. He beat his wife when she didn’t cook him a afternoon meal and instead went to get her hair done and abandoned the kids. This is especially notable considering this was during the week of peace, in which traditionally everyone is supposed to not be violent and make peace with fellow villagers. He also beats his kids for the slightest of acts including nwoye, his first son. He even goes to the length of killing his own loved one, ikemefuna, as the village elders said he must be killed, but they said he did not have to do it and could stay home, and would not think any less of him.
However, He decides to do it anyway to not be seen as weak.“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 47). He was scared of being afraid so he would rather kill his beloved son? He worshiped this idea of being manly that he would do anything to uphold it, refusing to show any feelings which doesn’t make him strong, it made him a monster. He was no longer a normal person, which he had put on himself. He had seen basic morality and reasoning as a weakness instead of a wakeup call and he ended up never being a normal person.
Every aspect of okonkwo’s life is based on 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. He talks about his farming as some sort of clear divide between the genders and how they should be.”His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like cocoyams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop” (Achebe 19).
These believe caused him to seek yams seeds at a young age to try to help grow crops for his family, and also finding something like a crop as masculine, he seems to tend to his crops more then he cares for his own family. He dismisses women and sees them as weaker and treats the yam as his own form of masculinity. He says it in a very stern way that his thinking process seems to be set already, he has made up his mind about who he is and how he views other people and his own masculinity.
Now some say that okonkwo is actually a soft person, a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and that he is just misunderstood by the villagers and someone from another culture can’t possibly judge someone who was brought up in that culture. Some point to this as a turning point in his character when he gives ikemenufa special treatment letting him come to the market with him or when he shows favoritism to his second wife. It could be true that he may be a good person with that interpretation, but I disagree. That seems no more meaningful then having a favorite student as a teacher or a favorite pet.
This just is not evidence for this true emotions. We know people who kill themselves not really out of depression but out of conviction must truly believe what they die for. This is evidence christians use when arguing that the disciples must have seen christ rise as they were willing to throw their lives away to fight for that said cause. Whether what someone believes in is wrong or right is not relevant to how strong they belief it, so I belief okonkwo lived as a man and died as a man, and was not putting on a act or a personality. He must have believed in it which is what the next point is.
People throughout history have died for what they believed in, and that seems to be the ultimate proof to me that it is true, at least the time. Okonkwo had a lot of conflict with white christians who entered his village, preaching there ludicrous ideas of god and lifestyles. His first son, nwoya, ended up abandoning his home to join them, This made okonkwo hate them. He wanted revenge, he wanted his village to step up and be a man and stop them from allowing this. In a act of defiance he killed a christian messenger with a machete, so they all came after him. Instead of accepting his punishment, allowing them to kill him, he decides to kill himself instead. “Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape.
They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: ‘Why did he do it?’ (Achebe 160). When he says that Umuofia would not go to war he sees weakness in his village and he has proved that he’s stronger than them, but he also knows he can’t kill them all, there’s only so much 1 man could do. Throughout his life he had proven himself time and time again, from war, to his family, to how he raised his children, and how he dealt with disrespect in a manly way. He never had a reality check even after killing his beloved “son” ikemenufa he still wouldn’t give it up, and he ended up killing himself instead of Okonkwo could never show weakness, even upon death, and this is how masculinity shaped who he was.
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 Ikemefuna 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.
So what? If okonkwo wants to try to be a strong person all the time, and teaches that to his kids and family, then who does he really harm by doing so? Is it wrong to show no emotion? Well when we look at the character okonkwo it seemed to change him in ways not for the better. He became almost afraid of the man he could be, afraid his image could be tarnished. When we look at when he killed his beloved ikemenufa, he ended up regretting it and became emotionally damaged. No one should have to kill someone that is close to them for reasons such as that. And yet, he did it anyways. When he fired his gun at his second wife to show his dominance, he was happy he had missed.
All of this for an image and an idea of masculinity just isn’t worth killing other people for the sake of strength. And we probably will never know if okonkwo truly felt that way, maybe he might have a soft spot in his heart somewhere, but what we do know is that the way he lived, the way he died, represented this image. Humans aren’t machines, or monsters, truly no one can be tough and strong all the time, but the question is how do you approach this, do you put this act up and hope others believe it, or do you be the person you feel, not an image that you have glorified.
- Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart