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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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How does Okonkwo's sense of masculinity and male and female roles compare with the rest of the tribe in Things Fall Apart? Is he a typical man in his society?

Okonkwo is a smart, talented, and respected man in his society. Although he possesses the traditional masculine traits of Igbo society, Okonkwo is significantly more violent than his peers. He confronts people directly and lashes out violently when he does not get his way or feels disrespected. Despite this flaw, Okonkwo is still a respected warrior and leader in Umuofia because he works hard to improve his village by building roads and bridges along with the other elders of Umuofia.

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Okonkwo subscribes to the traditional gender roles of Igbo society, where men possess authority and status while women are considered subservient, docile, and obedient. In Igbo society, masculinity is defined by one's performance on the battlefield or in a wrestling match. Physical prowess is admired and respected in Igbo society, along with one's success as a farmer. Accomplished men earn titles, are respected throughout their village, and possess the authority to make political decisions. In Igbo society, polygamy is also commonplace and masculinity is defined by the number of wives a man possesses. Women are objectified in Umuofia, treated as possessions, and are physically and verbally abused by their husbands.

Although Okonkwo embodies the Igbo perception of masculinity, he is significantly more violent, callous, and aggressive than most men. Growing up, Okonkwo resented his father Unoka for being a lazy debtor and went out of his way to become a completely different person than him. Okonkwo develops into a hostile, rigid man, who fears being viewed as effeminate. Despite his cold, domineering personality, Okonkwo is respected and admired throughout Umuofia and even holds two titles. Unlike Obierika or the other respected elders of Umuofia, Okonkwo is extremely insecure and offends people by lashing out and acting violent, which eventually leads to his demise. While Okonkwo embodies the traditional masculine traits of Igbo society, his overbearing, aggressive personality makes him different from his peers.

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