In the novel Things Fall Apart, why did Okonkwo feel masculine when he was drinking palm wine from the skull of someone he had killed?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo is driven in everything he does to not be identified with his father. Okonkwo believes that his father's gentleness was really weakness, and his idleness was failure. From the time he was very young, a rage has boiled within him, and though it makes him harsh with his family, it has earned him a reputation as a fierce warrior. In battle, he has taken a number of trophies in the form of human skulls. To do so, in any case, but perhaps especially for Okonkwo, is an act of dominance. Not only has the person been overcome in battle, but now their corpse is desecrated, and the primary identifying feature (the head and face) is taken by their killer. It is truly a symbol of one person dominating another, even after death.

Okonkwo has kept these head-trophies as evidence of his prowess in battle, and on special occasions, he drinks wine from the first skull. We've already addressed the head-trophies as a form of dominance, but the act of drinking from the skull really lends depth to Okonkwo's attitude. It is an act of conspicuous consumption—drinking from the skull of a fallen enemy is a sign to others, and perhaps a reminder to himself, of what Okonkwo is capable of.

To Okonkwo, being manly is all about action and dominance, so drinking from a skull is a passive way of reminding others that he is a "real man."

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo is his tribe's fiercest warrior, and during Umuofia's last battle, he was the first to bring back a human head. Bringing an enemy's head back from the battlefield is a sign of prowess and masculinity. On special occasions, Okonkwo would drink palm wine from the skull of his first human head. Okonkwo feels proud and manly while he sips from his enemy's skull. Other villagers take note of Okonkwo's skull and likely feel intimidated. Essentially, the skull is Okonkwo's message that reminds his tribe that he is a powerful man with many achievements on the field of battle. Achebe writes that Okonkwo was a "man of action, a man of war" (10). Okonkwo's obsession with portraying his masculinity stems from his fear of becoming like his father. Okonkwo viewed his father as weak because he was a debtor who could not stand the look of blood. Drinking from his enemy's skull reminds Okonkwo of his achievements on the battlefield which make him feel masculine. The skull is evidence that Okonkwo exercised his will over another man.