In Things Fall Apart, the roles of masculinity and femininity affect all of the tribe’s people in their day to day life. Women are supposed to act with characteristics the tribe feels are feminine, and men are supposed to act with characteristics the tribe deems as masculine. There are strict rules on certain actions and feelings only being for one gender, and a man who is too feminine is not respect. This quest for respect takes over the life of one of the main characters, Okonkwo, and eventually leads to his death.
A man’s masculine behavior is what makes that man highly respected in the tribe. Bravery is one of the most masculine traits a man in the tribe can have. Men like Okonkwo are well respected, because of their bravery in war. A man who is not willing to kill is looked upon as being womanly. Okonkwo even went to the killing of his adopted son, because it would have been cowardly not to, and when he feels bad about doing it he scolds himself by saying “you have become a woman indeed” (Achebe 65). Okonkwo even views a whole tribe, his mother’s, as feminine when they allow a group of missionaries to stay in the village, instead of confronting them.
There are strict guidelines to what roles a man and woman should play in everyday life. In meetings when wine is brought for a meeting even though the women are not a part of the meeting they come to drink the wine and then leave. Although both genders do farming, there are man’s crops, and then there are woman’s crops. The whole society is patriarchal, and a man is his father’s son more than he is his mother’s. Even how a woman sits is different from a man. Being masculine and a thought of as man is extremely important to the tribe. Okonkwo constantly wishes his favorite daughter, although he rarely shows his affection for her, was male constantly thinking “she should have been a boy” (Achebe 64).
Okonkwo was constantly trying to be more masculine, and avoid feminine behaviors. Because it would have been womanly not to he attended the killing of his son, even when an elder advised him against it. He also killed a man, because he thought that the tribe should fight against the missionaries, instead of be more passive like his mother’s feminine family. He needed everyone to know just how masculine he was and that he was not at all feminine like his father who “was in fact a coward and could not bear the sight of blood” (Achebe 6). His whole life was about becoming what his father wasn’t; every thought and action was devoted to this pursuit. He losses focus of anything else, and didn’t care about the consequences.
In Things Fall Apart the roles of men and women are very clear. Men are looked down on for being too feminine and only the men with masculine qualities are respected. Although women are not looked down particularly looked down upon is clearly a very patriarchal society. Because of Okonkwo’s goal to be different from his father he magnifies the importance of these qualities. The pursuit of being more masculine and having people know that he is a man consumes Okonkwo, leading to his eventual death.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York City: First Anchor Books ,1994.Print.