Table of Contents
Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is packed with many themes, with masculinity taking center stage in the novel. Achebe uses the protagonist, Okonkwo, to demonstrate the pre-colonial Igbo people’s definition of a man (DeRousse, 2019). Specifically, Achebe showcases masculinity through Okonkwo as aggression, characterized by three main features: physical power, wealth, and violence, and full of male egoism and hegemony. This aggressive nature of the celebrated masculinity is made more evident by having other characters like Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, whose trial of demonstrating his father’s aggression pleases him. Achebe keeps aggressive masculinity as his focal theme in the novel, with Okonkwo the embodiment of the theme.
The novel opens with the macho personality of Okonkwo by showing his physical features believed to be manly by the people. Achebe creates a detailed image of the physical characteristics of Okonkwo, taking centrality in the fierce features that portray him as a man. Achebe mentions that Okonkwo “…was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look” (Chinua, 2021). These descriptions of Okonkwo’s body show the celebrated physic of a masculine man among the Igbo people. Achebe’s description of Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, who was a weak man, and the source of Okonkwo’s loathe for failure, also further shows how a masculine physical feature is essential for one to be called a man. Unoka is described as “…very thin and had a slight stoop…” which contrasts Okonkwo’s huge body (Chinua, 2021). Achebe also compares men’s and women’s physic when he says that Okonkwo “…was a very strong man…But his wives and young children were not as strong” (Chinua, 2021). This comparison shows that physical features typify masculinity, the bedrock of other masculine traits.
Also, masculinity in Achebe’s novel is linked to wealth and prosperity, as seen through Okonkwo and the men he celebrates. First, Okonkwo is very wealthy regarding property, wives, and children. His motivation source is the fear of becoming as unsuccessful as his father, which to him was not manly. Also, the men Okonkwo celebrates, like Nwakibie, the man he borrows yam seeds from to plant, demonstrates his masculine desire to be as wealthy as him. Also, Obierika, his friend, is wealthy, a man whom Okonkwo also accords as masculine by associating with him. Achebe also mentions how Okonkwo had no patience with unsuccessful men, which accords wealth to masculinity. The Igbo society requires male children to acquire material possession to be considered men.
your paper for you
Violence, Male Egoism and Hegemony
Besides physic and wealth, Okonkwo demonstrates toxic male hegemony through violence and commanding authority, which is his definition of masculinity. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo is cold, unaffectionate, and violent, which is the only language of masculinity he understands. In fact, Achebe says that whenever he could not get his words out, he used his fists. In Igbo culture during the pre-colonial period, wife beating was not an action that attracted criticism, as seen by the nearly zero consequences Okonkwo gets for beating his wives (Nwabunike & Tenkorang, 2017). Okonkwo is happy with his son Nwoye, grumbling about women. He also believes that a man is one when he rules over his wife and children. Okonkwo further sees morally-filled stories as weak and effeminate, unlike his masculine stories of violence and bloodshed. He does not listen to his wife to avoid receiving orders from women, demonstrating male egoism. In other words, Achebe’s novel shows masculinity among the Igbo as complete only when aggression, hegemony, and egoism characterize the man.
As shown above, Achebe demonstrates aggressive masculinity through his physic, wealth, and hegemonic male egoism. The African society is patriarchal and celebrates this kind of masculinity, as seen by the fame and praises Okonkwo gains for his manliness. His macho personality is evident through his cold and domineering attitude toward his wives and children. In sum, Achebe effectively fulfills his thematic purpose of demonstrating masculinity in the Igbo cultural context.
- Chinua, A. (2021). Things Fall Apart 1st ed. Anchor Books.
- DeRousse, N. (2019). Masculinity in relation to” Things Fall Apart.” Scholars Week: Literature Research Presentations. https://digitalcommons.murraystate.edu/scholarsweek/Fall2019/LitResearch/1/
- Nwabunike, C., & Tenkorang, E. Y. (2017). Domestic and marital violence among three ethnic groups in Nigeria. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(18), 2751-2776.