In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s intolerance of unsuccessful and—in his mind—lazy, womanly, or otherwise unworthy men stems directly from his strained relationship with his ill-fated father Unoka. Unoka was lazy and imprudent, and his inactivity placed his entire family in a marginalized position. Unoka was agbala, which not only means an untitled man, but can also be used to refer to a woman:
“Even as a little boy he had resented his father's failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title” (13).
Okonkwo allows his resentment for unsuccessful men to show through in a clan meeting in which an agbala man contradicts him. Okonkwo is blunt with his response, and he disregards the man entirely:
“Only a week ago a man had contradicted him at a kindred meeting which they held to discuss the next ancestral feast. Without looking at the man Okonkwo had said: 'This meeting is for men.' The man who had contradicted him had no titles. That was why he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man's spirit” (26).
Okonkwo is immediately reprimanded for his brusque response, but this does not change his attitude toward less successful men. Indeed, throughout the novel, he attempts to beat what he perceives as womanly qualities out of his gentle oldest son Nwoye. He is concerned that Nwoye will end up like Unoka, and he detests anybody who has the same scruples as his late father. These are just a few instances that illustrate how Okonkwo is intolerant of less successful men.