There are many recurring themes in the novel, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe; however, for the purpose of this paper a detailed analysis from a specific quote would be conducted. “The story of Okonkwo is in a way the story of our culture; he pays a price because he places too much emphasis on strength and manliness.” Strength and manliness can promote an array of translations in order to justify actions within the novel and within today’s American society. If it’s comparing an egotistical mindset of a character of this novel or certain beings that tend to portray these features, there are always certain characteristics that are consistent. It isn’t coincidental that strength is in association with manliness, however asserting these words in extreme forms of actions is far from powerful.
There are many phrases within this novel and within today’s society that are used to degrade a man’s ego. The similarities are resorting to some form of femininity one is displaying. “That was why he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit” (Achebe 32). This quote emphasizes on the word, “woman” in the degradation of “a man’s spirit,” and quite frankly in modern America, the phrase such as, “stop acting like a girl,” is used often as a form of a male not obtaining enough manliness in a situation. Later on in the novel Okonkwo believe that though his strength seems up to par, acquiring certain emotional feelings for another being has weakened his manliness. “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” (Achebe 71). This recurring comparison of weakness to women is Okonkwo’s way of showing vulnerability, which isn’t something he is fond of. In modern America, certain sport has been adopted to test the strength of the human being. One of the largest profitable sports in today’s society is men’s American football. The negative result one can become affiliated with under these circumstances is oppression, thus acquiring a mindset that the “man” needs to show authoritative power in order to show strength.
Inclination promotes fear and fear can been seen as someone who is losing strength. “Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external, but lay deep within himself,” (Achebe 19). Within the novel, Okonkwo’s fears the fact that others may see him as weak and such thoughts begin consuming him on a daily basis. The pressure that American society tends to convey is that men are to show little to no emotion. From a child into adulthood, over time if a man were to cry, were to be to “loving,” it is frown upon. These situations can cause the accused to act out adversely. “Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe 67). Okonkwo got to a point where his pride had took him passed its limitations and thus killing his own son. To show others that he was a man and had strength, he murdered his own son that he took under his wing. Society is constantly showing stories of men killing men because of an argument, or being involved in different gangs that have “conflict” with each other. This form of alpha male is far from any form of manliness, it is superficial courage rooted deep into fear.
Okonknwo was banished from his tribe once others found out about the murder he had done. Instead of acquiring more respect from others, he lost it all. His selfish mindset of not being able to show emotions fueled his actions until he became unstable. “Okonkwo’s gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boys heart” (Achebe 131). In modern America, such foolish actions also lead to punishment. From prison to death, there is nothing positive from an egotistical being that let pride consume the mind.
Overall, it was because Okonkwo “placed too much emphasis on strength and manliness” that he was the prime example of weakness and lack of manliness. Just like today’s society, a majority of Americans that much show how powerful they are, destroy those who are around them. “He waved at his sons and daughters. You think they are the greatest sufferers in the world?” (Achebe 140). If it is a culture from a tribe in a book or a culture that Americans have adopted to show superiority, nonetheless these forms of mindsets are of the greatest lethal weapons.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann Press, 1958.