In September 1997, in Oslo, Norway, a meeting was organized in co-operation with the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO where international observer B. Mustakim said, “Highlighting masculinity may be seen as a way of excusing violent men, since their behavior is attributed to a masculinity which many believe to be ;natural; and unchangeable.” Georg Tillner, author of Men and Masculinities, responded, “Power is the one aspect all variants of masculinity have in common, not necessarily as the real possession of power, but rather as a ;demand for dominance; or an ;entitlement to power;. Masculinity is an identity” (Mustakim). Throughout Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, masculinity takes an impressive role in molding the clan’s male-dominated society, and plays a vital part in influencing characters’ decisions. In the novel, Achebe reveals the definition of what it means to be a man in Nigerian society; he should be masculine and protect his family and friends in that he is willing to fight, earn his good reputation, and preserve and expand the honor of his family.In Nigerian society, a man was responsible for the protection of his family and friends in that he was willing to fight.
No character in Things Fall Apart demonstrated this ideal better than that of Okonkwo. This was apparent in the very beginning of the novel when it is brought to the reader’s attention that Okonkwo had, at such a young age, already taken two titles and demonstrated undivided skill in two inter-tribal wars. At the closing stages of the novel, Okonkwo yet again attempted to protect his clansmen when five court messengers arrive at one of the clan’s meetings. Without any hesitation, Okonkwo pulled out his machete and killed the head messenger.
Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, however, did not fit the same mold of masculinity as that of his high-achieved son. While Unoka and his neighbor, Okoye, were sharing a kola nut (a symbol of life and vitality) one day, they talked about several things including that of the impending war with the village of Mbaino. Unoka did not condone war, but not because he believed that it was barbaric.
He was simply a coward and could not stand the sight of blood. Thomas Alva Edison, a great inventor, businessman, and true Renaissance man, once said, “The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn;t like to do” (Woopidoo!). Okonkwo became an important and successful asset to his clan by achieving things in which his father refused to partake. Another important characteristic of a man in Nigerian society that Achebe makes a point to convey is to build a strong reputation for one’s self by earning it through hard work. This ideal was apparent through that of Okonkwo because his strengths and achievements laid solely in his tenacity towards his disgrace of a father, Unoka.
Okonkwo’s resiliency was very influential in the way he lived his life. Unoka was a complete and utter failure in life in general and was never respected. He was lazy and irresponsible in relation to money; which was wasted almost immediately on gourds of palm-wine and was therefore in a constant state of debt and could not support his family. When Unoka died, he was heavily in debt and had earned no title at all. It was no wonder Okonkwo was ashamed of his deadbeat father. “Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father,” (Achebe 8), surely a benefit for Okonkwo.
Okonkwo consciously adopted opposite ideals of his father and became a wealthy farmer with two barns full of yams, won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages, had three wives and many children, and had taken two titles and shown incredible skill in two inter-tribal wars. “Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands with his father’s shortcomings and so he ate with kings and elders,” (Achebe 8), further proof of his success amongst the clan.To preserve and expand the honor of one’s family is very important to that of the characteristics expected of the men in Nigerian society. Okonkwo both complied and defied this ideal.
Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. Despite his young age, Okonkwo had built up such an honorable prestige in such a short amount of time. Okonkwo achieved great social and financial success by embracing the ideals that were the opposite of his father’s. Nevertheless, he was unable to outrun his tragic flaw of the society’s strong emphasis on masculinity, which as a result brought about his own destruction.
Towards the conclusion of the novel, a meeting was held with men from all of the clan’s nine villages to discuss what to do in relation to the damage of the clan.