Things Fall Apart Essay, Research Paper Kellyn Gemma Ms. Lewis Gemma 1 Honors English Per. 6 31 May, 2001 The Effects that Masculinity Plays in Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart Essay, Research Paper
Ms. Lewis Gemma 1
Honors English Per. 6
31 May, 2001
The Effects that Masculinity Plays in Things Fall Apart
The novel, Things Fall Apart, takes place in the late 1800’s. It is set in a small tribal community called Umuofia, which is located in southeastern Nigeria. During this time, there was a major thrust from the British to expand their power economically, politically, and culturally. The Umuofia tribe has the reputation of being a wealthy and powerful tribe. A young leader of this tribe, Okonkwo, has to overcome the failures of his father’s past ventures to feel like a worthy member. His father, Unoka, had been known for his lack of responsibility and laziness, which is a serious claim to a tribe with such a solid reputation. Unoka dies a shameful death and leaves his family nothing but his debts. Okonkwo strives to overcome this shame by being a fierce warrior and a successful farmer. His attempts to right the wrongs of his father affect his entire tribe and ultimately contribute to his early death.
Okonkwo is introduced to the reader as a grown man who is already well established in his community. Unlike his father, he owns two barns filled with yams. He also has three wives and many children. Although he loves his family, he is unable to express this emotion, because he feels that this would be a sign of weakness. He treats the members of his family with a “heavy hand” and was known to have beaten his wives.
“Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children.” (p. 13)
A major revelation of Okonkwo’s masculinity is demonstrated in Chapter 2 when the Mbaino people murder a female member of Umuofia tribe. The Mbaino tribe was faced with a dilemma of choosing between war or paying restitution. Payment could be made by offering a young Mbaino boy, who is approximately 15 years old, and also by offering a virgin to the man whose wife had been killed. Knowing that the Umuofia tribe was very powerful, the choice of paying restitution was made. The young man, named Ikemfuna, was sent to live with Okonkwo, because he was considered a leader of the community. Ikemfuna remains with Okonkwo and his family for some time; and although Okonkwo refuses to admit it, he begins to feel fond of the boy. Ikemfuna becomes especially close with Okonkwo’s eldest son, Nwoye; and the two boys spend every moment together. As time passes, Ikemfuna is even considered to be one of the family; until one day, Okonkwo receives word that it is time for Ikemfuna to be brought back to Mbaino and killed. Although this is a time of strife for Okonkwo, he shows no emotion and leads Ikemfuna and the Umuofia people back to Mbaino to participate in this brutal ceremony. When they reach their destination, Ikemfuna is hit by a machete, and when he runs to Okonkwo for help, Okonkwo delivers the final blow that kills the young boy whom he considered a son. “He heard Ikemfuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!’, as he ran toward him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.” (p. 60) This causes great upset in his family, and especially traumatizes Nwoye; but Okonkwo still seems unfazed. It is at this point in the novel where one can see just how strong Okonkwo’s obsession with masculinity is.
The disguise of Okonkwo’s emotions also affects his status in the community. When the leader of the tribe, Ezeudu, dies, a great funeral is planned to honor him. The whole Umuofia tribe attends this elaborate ceremony, which is complete with drums and cannons. After a day of mourning, the ceremony begins to close. Drums are beaten and the cannon is fired. Engrossed in the ceremony, Okonkwo fires his own gun, which explodes, shooting a piece of iron into Ezeudu’s son’s heart. Since it is the law that any man who kills an innocent man be banished from his tribe for seven years, there is no other course open for Okonkwo to take. He immediately takes his family and several other belongings and heads for his homeland. “And before the cock crowed Okonkwo and his family were fleeing to his motherland. It was a little village called Mbanta, just beyond the borders of Mbaino.” (p. 124) A fire is set to his houses, not in punishment, but to cleanse the land of his mistake.
Seven long years slowly go by, and Okonkwo is forced to live off of his mother’s family’s wealth, a quality that he particularly despised in his own father. Later, Okonkwo was given a plot of land on which to farm, and with the help of his mother’s relatives, he builds himself an obi (a large living quarters for the head of the family) and three small huts for his wives. He spends his days and part of his nights working hard in his field, but his work is done half-heartedly, as his spirit was killed by the exile. While Okonkwo is in exile, six Christian missionaries arrive in Mbanta. Their preaching does not impress Okonkwo, but his son, Nwoye, decides to convert to Christianity. Okonkwo is upset by this because the people of Mbanta believe that those who join the missionaries are the weak and worthless men of the village.
When the seven years have passed, Okonkwo receives word that he can now come back to Umuofia. He accepts the offer and throws a large banquet to thank his relatives for allowing him to stay there. Then he heads back to Umuofia.
Upon his return to Umuofia, Okonkwo is faced with an unpleasant surprise. He realizes that he has lost his high place and titles, and the Christian missionaries have taken over their tribe. Many of the Umuofia people have joined the missionaries, including the worthy men with titles. “Such a man was Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians. The white missionaries were very proud of him and he was one of the first men in Umuofia to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion” (p. 174) Not everyone is happy about the changes and violence often erupts.
These changes overwhelm Okonkwo and cause him to become deranged. He rashly kills one of the missionaries by beheading him. When Okonkwo realizes that Umuofia will surrender its rights and privileges to the Christian groups, he can no longer deal with all of the changes in his life. The feeling of despair and failure cause him to hang himself.
It is unfortunate that a man such as Okonkwo, who attempts to portray such strength and masculinity, should constantly live in fear of his image to others and finally would succumb to such a cowardly death.
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