Things Fall Apart and Masculinity

When reading this novel one of the first things that really stuck me was the blatant integration of gender roles into the Igbo culture. Whether it’s the crops specific to each gender (coco-yams, beans and cassava vs. yams), or even the characterization of varying crimes, essentially all aspects of daily life are gendered. Additionally, sexist stereotypes and ideals of hyper-masculinity are heavily emphasized and ingrained into the culture.  Okonokwo spends a majority of his time attempting to rise above his father’s legacy and his perceived “weak” image, by overcompensating and acting out in increasingly violent manners. Although Okonokwo does go on a seven-year exile in order to get in touch with his feminine side, this journey proves to be futile after it only reinforces his idea that men are stronger than women. Ignoring the inevitable harm that sexist stereotypes cause, Okonowo’s biggest fault exists in his inability to seen the value in feminine characteristics such as peace and the valuing of family. Okonowo’s various struggles and eventual downfall reveal not only the harm in gender stereotypes and gender role assignments, but also demonstrate the need for a balance within the culture between “masculine” and “feminine” qualities.


  1. Hi Amy, I agree with you. I think if Okonkwo had learned to appreciated “feminine” qualities he would not have gotten into most of the trouble he did. When I read that Nwoye had to pretend that he preferred masculinity just to please his father I felt that this was not the best father-son relationship. Although Okonkwo did stick with masculine qualities throughout the story, I think at points he did appreciate the ‘mother’. When he was leaving his motherland, he gave a big feast to show his gratitude and appreciation and he also named one of his children Nneka which means ‘mother is supreme’.

  2. Nice points here. I like how you’ve brought out that a big part of Okonkwo’s downfall may be due to his inability to value anything besides what he perceives as “masculine” qualities. We can see it as he does, that he doesn’t want to be like “a woman,” or we can see it more like him not being able to accept thinking and feeling in certain ways, valuing family and other relationships, etc., and say we don’t necessarily have to connect those to a gender even though he does (that’s how I look at it).

    I also like how you’ve pointed out that when he goes to his motherland, he has a chance to value what he thinks of as more “feminine” qualities, and Uchendu even suggests that a bit when he speaks of why “mother is supreme” (133-134). But it doesn’t work at all; Okonkwo, as you note here, just rejects his new home and its people and sticks to his old view, even getting upset when he finds that Umuofia has turned into “women” (183). I hadn’t really thought about it in quite this way before reading your post, so thank you!

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