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Pimpisuth Sakulrungsap


Mr. Matthew Bishop

December 4, 2018

The Definition of Masculinity in ​Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart is a famous book even the novelists in the same categories say that it is

a good book. One of the novelists is Toni Morrison. She says that “African literature is

incomplete and unthinkable without the works of Chinua Achebe”. One of the topic in this book

is masculinity. In many years, a majority of family and people always say that born to be a man

is better than to be a woman. However, in each culture, they have a different pathway and

attitude to define what it means to be a man. From this novel, the author uses African culture as

the main culture in the society. It was called “Igbo” culture. Therefore, Chinua Achebe illustrates

the concept of a man in Igbo culture through Okonkwo.

First, Chinua Achebe wants to describe the expectation of the man in Igbo culture

through Okonkwo. Man in Igbo culture cannot be weak. They need to be strong and reliable

enough. If men show the weaknesses to the society or people nearby, they will look down upon

that people more than helping. From the Article “What It Means To 'Be A Man':... And Fail”.

Samantha Olson (Mar 22, 2015) state that “Be a man,” “suck it up,” and “don’t cry” are only a

few phrases handpicked from a plentiful basket of ego-damaging constructions built into today's

society. From this quote, it illustrates that not Okonkwo who see this point of view in society but

also her. She agrees with Okonkwo because when the boys are crying, the majority of people say

they need to be patient. Tears will not help but no one cares about their feeling. No one is on
their side. Another example, Unoka who is a father of Okonkwo. He is nice. On the other hand,

he is lazy and always borrow money from neighbors. He was managed as a failure in the novel.

People near him does not like him because of his laziness including Okonkwo who is a son of

Unoka. He does not hate his father much until somebody called him “agbala”. It means a man

who had taken no title and more than that it is a name for a woman. Okonkwo does not like that

name at all. For boys, they have their honor to be a man. Okonkwo thinks because of Unoka’s

failure make him be called like this. Therefore, when he grows up he won a wrestling and taken a

title and he lives with one passion. “To hate everything that his father Unoka had loved.”

Okonkwo state (​Things Fall Apart,​ p.13). From this quote, it shows that the man cannot be weak.

If they are weak, no one respects them. Moreover, the failure from parents will go to their sons

or daughters just like Unoka to Okonkwo.

Second, Chinua Achebe illustrates how the man should look like in Igbo culture through

Okonkwo. Man is stronger than female. It is basic knowledge from physical body that everyone

should know. However, in each culture, there are different ways to determine how the out

looking of men should look like. In Igbo, Achebe shows that the men should have a lot of

muscles, strong and tall just like Okonkwo. Moreover than that they need to show their strength

through the wrestling which is the festival of the Umuofia. The strength is another factor to

justify the concept of a man in Igbo culture. “He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and

wide nose gave him a very severe look.”(​Things Fall Apart,​ p.4) From the following quote, the

author tries to develop the idea the standard of the man in society. From DNA, the man was

expected to be taller and stronger than a woman from physical body and power that is the reason

why was being called a woman was disrespectful. Another example is

“Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame

as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns

full of yams, and had just married his third wife. To crown it all he had taken two titles

and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars.” (​Things Fall Apart​, p.8)

According to the quote, it illustrates that because of the victory in the Okonkwo’s wrestling he

gains two titles at the same time. From this point, it develops that the society in Igbo put the

importance on the strength of the man through the power and physical body. Anyone who strong

can take title easily. In the same way, the stronger they are, the more honor they get. This is what

Chinua Achebe tries to say in the novel that the strength is another factor to determine the level

of society that they are in. Not from their habit, but it is from the strength, physical body, and

power. This lead to the definition of masculinity in Igbo culture in ​Things Falls Apart.​

Finally, Chinua Achebe wants to contrast all of the points in the novel with inequality of

gender in Igbo culture. From the following in this essay, it says that man can get the title so

easily while the woman cannot. However, when woman or wife did something wrong, they only

get the punishment from their husband. Being a man is not always good because when they did

something wrong like a woman, their punishment is bigger because they are the head of the

family. They deserve for what they have done. Moreover, they need to take responsibility with

family. For example, when Okonkwo was an exile from the village. He does not mean to kill the

Ezeudu’s son but it is an accident. Everyone knows this but they cannot help. He needs to get

punishment and the quote that shows this point of view is

“The only course open to Okonkwo was flee from the clan. It was a crime against the

earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land.
The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female

because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years.”(​Things

Fall Apart​, p.124)

From the above, the most important that show the inequality of gender is that there are two kinds

of crime, male or female. Okonkwo was considered as female because it is an accident.

However, if it was considered as the male case, it will be worse than exile from the village. It is

unfair why the man needs to get the harder punishment. The solution, in this case, is to determine

the punishment in each case and same from everyone, so nobody can say that it is unfair or it is

not right on what they deserve.

In conclusion, Chinua Achebe wants to describe the definition of a man in Igbo culture

through Okonkwo with patience to deal with their weakness and strength from the physical body.

Moreover, the author puts some contrast in the end with gender inequality. In each culture, there

are different ways to determine the definition of the man. However, society is the controller that

controls how gender should act or should look like. It is not from themselves. All of these are in

one book. This is the reason why the famous novelist admires Chinua Achebe as a good writer.

Achebe. (1959). ​Things Fall Apart.​ New York: Penguin Books.

Olson. (2015). What It Means To 'Be A Man': How Male Gender Stereotypes Try To Fit

Growing Boys Into A Mold, And Fail. ​Medical Daily.​ Retrieved Mar 22, 2015, from