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Now that he had time to think of it, his son’s crime stood out in its stark enormity. To abandon the gods of one’s father and go about with a lot of effeminate men clucking like old hens was the very depth of abomination. Suppose when he died all his male children decided to follow Nwoye’s steps and abandon their ancestors. Okonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect, like the prospect of annihilation. (17.25)
Okonkwo considers the Christians effeminate because they preach and sing more than they take action. However, he sees how successful the missionaries’ recruitment has been and he fears annihilation of his bloodline. But to Okonkwo, he sees annihilation as the loss of all of his male offspring; his daughters carrying his blood isn’t enough for him.
Okonkwo was popularly called the ‘Roaring Flame.’ As he looked into the log fire he recalled the name. He was a flaming fire. How then could he have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? Perhaps he was not his son. No! he could not be. His wife had played him false. He would teach her! But Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo’s father. He pushed the thought out of his mind. He, Okonkwo, was called a flaming fire. How could he have begotten a woman for a son? (17.26)
Okonkwo compares himself to a flame – a symbol of masculinity for its incessant movement, its virile heat, its flaming temper, and its destructiveness. He also equates cold dead ash with femininity. Okonkwo is extremely disappointed in Nwoye because he isn’t fire-like – essentially, Okonkwo wants sons that are just like him. He’s so disappointed in Nwoye that he goes so far as to think that maybe his wife slept with another man. It hurts Okonkwo’s own sense of masculinity to see that his own progeny is not fire-like.
“Let us not reason like cowards,” said Okonkwo. “If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. That is what a man does. These people are daily pouring filth over us, and Okeke says we should pretend not to see.” Okonkwo made a sound full of disgust. This was a womanly clan, he thought. Such a thing could never happen in his fatherland, Umuofia. (18.22)
Okonkwo associates cowardice with femininity and thus calls the Mbanta tribe womanly for their refusal to violently resist the Christians. He equates action and violence with masculinity and his warlike Umuofia clan.