Wow, this book is hard to understand. I mean, it’s wonderful to read and imaginative like an old folk story, but when I look back on what I’ve read, it’s insanely complicated.
One of the main things I wanted to explore in this blog post was the different representations of gender roles in the novel, and the attitudes of different characters towards them. I would also like to ask where these attitudes fall in the context of what is traditional view of masculinity vs. femininity.
The first character we meet is of course Okonkwo, and it is pretty clear where he stands on the issue of gender. According to him, masculinity equals virtue, femininity equals weakness. Everything about him screams an obsession with being masculine – an obsession for power, reputation, wealth, and the ancient ways where men were men and women were women.
Okonkwo seems to have a certain contempt for the feminine, which is mostly due to his father, who had failed in his manly role and brought shame upon the whole family. This contempt is reciprocated onto his son Nwoye, whom Okonkwo thinks weak for spending too much time with his mother, and also for joining the Christian missionaries.
However, I do not think it is possible to say that Okonkwo’s views are exactly congruent with the views of the rest of the tribe. For example, he believes that to be manly, one must be aggressive and exert one’s power over others. He takes this view too far, though, on several occasions, namely beating his wife, almost killing her, killing his “adopted” son just to show he was not a coward, and killing someone at a funeral (albeit by accident). The other members of the tribe do not approve of this kind of behavior, and generally think that he is a violent and dangerous man. He also rarely thinks about things, and instead acts based on instinct and anger.
His exile provides him with an opportunity to “get in touch with his feminine side”, but instead, he reassures himself that his manliness is his virtue and that all his unmanly children are the ash from his roaring fire. He also grows contempt for the more diplomatic nature of his maternal tribe, and stubbornly refuses to accept the need to change his attitudes.
I’m stuck wondering whether there is some meaning in Okonkwo’s failure to change – what is Achebe trying to say about traditional (or ultra-traditional) attitudes?
And also, if the tribe’s attitudes are not quite as radical as Okonkwo’s, then is Okonkwo in some way defying tradition, or just overexaggerating it???
Is Achebe commenting on masculinity, or just drawing out a problem?
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE???
I think I’m losing my mind.