How are the concepts of "strength" and "weakness" defined in their culture in Things Fall Apart?
In the Ibo culture, men that cannot provide for their families are considered weak. Okonkwo's tribe disrespects weak, effeminate men. Okonkwo is morbidly obsessed with not turning out like his own father, who could not provide for his family, who was constantly borrowing money from others, and who did not worry about paying back his loans. Instead, he played his music and went about his merry way, happy, but weak. Okonkwo is determined not to wind up like this, but he goes too far the other way. He turns into a man that people fear, but do not love. He is an angry, brutish man who beats his wives and his children. He has physical strength, but not mental strength. His character is out of balance.
Other men in the Ibo tribe are strong and respected and they do not beat their wives. They control their tempers and do not kill people by accident like Okonkwo does. In the beginning, the other men respect what Okonkwo has accomplished, but when he refuses to listen to advice from the tribal elders, when he continues to beat his wives and when he participates in the killing of his adopted son Ikemefuna, the other men begin to lose respect for him. Okonkwo's life begins to fall apart because his stubborness and obsession with appearing strong leads him to make impulsive and foolish decisions. As the novel progresses, Okonkwo's life continues to unravel as he desperately tries to hold on to his image of strength, which gets harder and harder to maintain as he gets older and as the Ibo society itself changes by the introduction of the white man's values and by a new religion that teaches that "the meek shall inherit the earth" not the strong.