What causes Okonkwo to view himself as weak and womanly in Things Fall Apart?

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dashing-danny-dillinger eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, the warrior Okonkwo considers any kind of failure or shortcoming as a weak or womanly. He is a man driven by a crippling fear of being viewed as weak or ineffectual, a fear which derives from his own father's gentleness and lack of titles. One of the most striking instances of Okonkwo questioning his masculinity is after he kills his adopted son Ikemefuna. Okonkwo is warned against participating in the act, but he murders Ikemefuna in order to prove his manliness. After slaying the young man, however, Okonkwo is deeply shaken by Ikemefuna's death. He is confused by his reaction:

"When did you become a shivering old woman... you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed" (65).

He views this empathetic reaction as a black mark against his manliness, despite the fact that his response is appropriate considering the depth of the relationship he built with Ikemefuna before he betrayed his adopted son's trust. Okonkwo has essentially slain a son, but he still worries that he will be perceived as weak and feminine.