Masculinity in Things Fall Apart

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Is masculinity inevitable in any societal system? Every society depicts an interaction between masculinity and femininity, which forms the ground for assigning gender roles and the behavior of individuals. Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe brings to light the theme of masculinity in Umuofia society. Okonkwo, as the main character and protagonist, best depicts masculinity in the novel. Okonkwo strongly believes in gender roles and affirms his masculinity by resisting any move that likens him to softness in society. In the novel, Okonkwo’s active participation in war and his hate for gentleness and weakness are excellent illustrations of the theme of masculinity.

Okonkwo’s Active Participation in War

Okonkwo’s active participation in war is a perfect demonstration of masculinity. During a battle, protagonists must fight each other aggressively and mercilessly. In society, bravery is associated with manhood (Siddique, 2020). Thus, men in war must have strong hearts and physiques to face an enemy. In the novel, Achebe (1995) notes:

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He was not afraid of war. He was a man of action, a man of war. Unlike his father, he could stand the look of blood. In Umuofia’s latest war, he was the first to bring home a human head. That was his fifth head, and he was not an old man yet. (p.3)

The passage shows Okonkwo’s character in war. He shows his courageousness by withstanding the horribleness that human blood causes. He goes the extra mile to behead people and hold their heads, still at a young age. In the story, Okonkwo is depicted as a great wrestler. The twilight of Okonkwo’s masculinity ascends when he defeats Amalinze the Cat in a fight. In the novel, Achebe (1995) describes the fight, noting, “every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end, Okonkwo threw the Cat” (p.1). The entanglement with Amalinze required courageousness and strength, which Okonkwo showed the spectators by defeating the renowned Amalinze. Certainly, Okonkwo’s physique and resilience in wars and wrestling is an undoubted depiction of masculinity in the novel.

Okonkwo’s Hate for Gentleness and Weakness

In the novel, Okonkwo disassociates from any form of gentleness and weakness. He believes that men must stand against failure and work towards success, no matter the situation. In the novel, Okonkwo comes to hate his father for his gentleness. Achebe (1995) highlights:

That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion – to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness. (p.4)

In this passage, Okonkwo is pissed off by his father’s alignment towards gentleness, which to him, is a representation of feminism. Okonkwo affirms that men should represent manhood by showing strength and resilience and must work to gain titles. He hates anyone whose behaviors contradict his beliefs, showing his orientation to masculinity in society. Surprisingly, Okonkwo colonizes his son Nwoye into masculinity through violence and instilling fear (Ngendahayo, 2021). The fear and intimidation make Nwoye behave aggressively. These scenarios show that Okonkwo is a determined masculine character who believes men in the Umuofia society must suppress femininity.

Undoubtedly, Okonkwo’s courage and braveness in war and his hate for gentleness and weakness in men show his masculinity. Okonkwo has beheaded five people and defeated Amalinze, a recognized wrestler, showing his masculinity in society. He hates his father for his feminism and forces his sons to suppress any behaviors of femininity. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo believes that a man should represent manhood in his life.

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  1. Achebe, C. (1995). Things Fall Apart. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
  2. Ngendahayo, J. D. (2021). The protagonist’s masculine perceptions in things fall apart as the sign of Igbo society breakup. Journal of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, 75, 5–10. https://doi.org/10.7176/jlll/75-02
  3. Siddique, Md. H. (2020). Portrayal of masculinity in Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart. SMART MOVES JOURNAL IJELLH, 8(2), 8. https://doi.org/10.24113/ijellh.v8i2.10378
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