The role of strength and gender in this novel is particularly important when it comes to considering the character of Okonkwo and what drives him to do everything he can to be considered a man by his people. The first few chapters provide crucial information about his background, and in particular about his relationship with his father, who was a lazy man, dependent on others and unable to support his own family. Okonkwo, deeply shamed by his father, did everything he could to be different, and to commit himself to work hard and not be considered "feminine" or unmanly. Note the following quote from Chapter 3 that gives the reader a clear indication of how Okonkwo committed himself to a very different kind of life:
But in spite of these disadvantages, he had begun even in his father's lifetime to lay the foundations of a prosperous future. It was slow and painful. But he threw himself into it like one possessed. And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death.
It is this "fear" that drives Okonkwo to be more masculine than the other men of the village, which can be seen in his participation of the slaughter of Ikemefuna, even though his friend counsels him to not go with the other elders as they lead the boy to his death. It is also this "fear" that leads to Okonkwo's own downfall, as he becomes dominated by anger and is unable to back down. Strength and gender are thus represented in the character of Okonkwo as leading him to excesses that result in significant trouble for him as he drives himself to be as masculine as he can possibly be.