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Inwardly Okonkwo knew that the boys were still too young to understand fully the difficult art of preparing seed-yams. But he thought that one could not begin too early. Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one gravest to another was a very great man indeed. Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer and a great man. He would stamp out the disquieting signs of laziness which he thought he already saw in him. (4.32)
Okonkwo associates yams with manliness. The more yams a man is able to grow, the more respected he is in his community. This shows that men are judged in part by their ability to provide for their families. Since yams are a hard crop to grow, being a good provider is directly tied to being a hard worker. Okonkwo, having suffered embarrassment and poverty from his rather effeminate father (by his standards), will stop at nothing to keep his sons from the same fate – even if it means breaking their hearts as little boys.
[Okonkwo]: “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan. I would sooner strangle him with my own hands.” (4.33)
Okonkwo would rather kill his son than live with an effeminate one. Basically, Okonkwo is thinking of his own reputation as a man, which he doesn’t want tarnished by a soft son.
As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument, Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping. Neither of the other wives dared to interfere beyond an occasional and tentative, “It is enough, Okonkwo,” pleaded from a reasonable distance. (5.10)
Okonkwo is plain old irrationally angry and takes it out on his wife, beating her even though he isn’t truly angry about the banana tree. Part of what enrages Okonkwo is that his second wife, Ekwefi, stands up to him and tells him that she didn’t kill the darn banana tree. Okonkwo can’t handle a woman contradicting him. Okonkwo doesn’t even respect Ekwefi enough to engage in a debate with her -- he just smacks her “without further argument.”