The Assassination of Self Identified Manhood

Though much of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart features a focus on the daily life of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria, as the novel develops it becomes a story of one’s attempt to maintain manhood in the face of adversity. Throughout the first part of the novel, Okonkwo attempts to remain the man that he has worked so hard to become while simultaneously resisting weak methods of living. For Okonkwo, he constantly feels the need to fight off the unpredictable occurrences of life that attempt to affect his manhood and personal being. Throughout the novel each decision he makes reflects that of his ability to maintain his status as a powerful man in society. To seem weak is to admit failure. When Ikemefuna, the surrogate son of Okonkwo, is sentenced to death, Okonkwo’s manhood is tested when he is given the option in participating the young man’s death. In an attempt to distance himself from an association with inadequacy, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna. Achebe writes that, “Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (61). Though for Okonkwo, killing Ikemefuna was a moment deep despair, his immense desire to remain a man of powerful standing overpowers his personal confliction. The first part of the novel focuses on Okonkwo’s struggle to maintain his manhood within the constraints of daily life, but as his world begins to drastically change, his manhood is ultimately tested by the religion seeking invaders.

 

When Okonkwo returns to his village after exile, he finds that his clan that he once viewed with admiration has now become susceptible to the influence of European missionaries. The modification of the clan affects Okonkwo deeply. For him, the tribe’s allowance for the missionaries to stay is a sign of weakness, therefore causing shame. This shame attacks Okonkwo’s manhood and brings forth an everlasting need for personal approval. Achebe states that, “Okonkwo was deeply grieved. And it was not just a personal grief. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountable become soft like women” (183). The connection between Okonkwo’s personal manhood and his identification with the tribe is tested by the presence of the missionaries. His ultimate decision to end his life is due to the unwavering attacks at his self identity. Achebe connects Okonkwo’s constant desire for manhood with the multitude of ways in which his society and the arrival of the missionaries counteracts his efforts to resist weakness.

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About Maya Fernandez

My name is Maya Fernandez. I am a senior at American University studying Literature and Sociology. My pronouns are her, hers, and she.

Posted on September 4, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. When people talk about different culture of people from different culture, we mostly focus on how different ‘we’ are compare to ‘them’. However, when reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, I thought about how similar we are with Ibo tribe. You have mentioned how Okonkwo is afraid of being seen as weak person and how he cared about how he might be seen to others. I could connect this to my personal life. This sounds familiar to what my father have told me. He told me that he does not want to show him being frustrated with work to other family members(like me) because he didn’t want us to awe him and stay strong. He was not necessarily saying that as a “father” but just as a family member, he did not want to bring others down. I felt that both Okonkwo and my father felt responsibility as a member or a group called family(as tribe/clan can be seen as a form of big family group). Even though their feeling are not exactly the same, This suggests me that everyone has similar ultimate goals in their life-have a life that is safe and healthy but as everyone is raised in a different set of circumstances, just process that individuals take to reach that goal is different. I know what I have commented is not directly related to your point but your post made me thing of what I have written here so thank you for your post!

  2. The theme of manhood within not only Ibo culture, but in Okonkwo’s life ing general is tested at several points throughout Things Fall Apart. The first point you see this is in Achebe’s mentioning of Okonkwo’s father as a weak member of the Ibo tribe, to the point which Okonkwo is appalled at any thought of him. Okonkwo reiterates this deeply rooted sentiment throughout the novel, for example in discussions with his sons and when he constantly professes his wish for his sharpest daughter to be a boy. A critical point I think is when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland, and the leader of his motherland’s tribe humbles Okonkwo by explaining the comforting role of the motherland and how it is, in some ways, a stronger and more important role than that of the father. I would argue that this perception of manhood is largely what leads to the demise of Ibo culture in the face of a more conscious and moral culture, typically thought of in Ibo culture as the lower role of women. In the final scene, when Okonkwo hangs himself as a result of having lost control of his culture, which he liked in its “masculine” pre-colonial state. Okonkwo is at last put in the position of committing an act of effeminacy, suicide. I believe this was symbolic of Okonkwo’s inability to realize the benefits of his perception of effeminacy and modernity in general. In this way, he was truly weak.

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