Things Fall Apart
How we cite our quotes:
That was the kind of story that Nwoye loved. But he now knew that they were for foolish women and children, and he knew that his father wanted him to be a man. And so he feigned that he no longer cared for women’s stories. And when he did this he saw that his father was pleased, and no longer rebuked him or beat him. So Nwoye and Ikemefuna would listen to Okonkwo’s stories about tribal wars, or how, years ago, he had stalked his victim, overpowered him and obtained his first human head. (7.4)
Prescribed gender roles force Nwoye to hide his true self from his father. By forcing his son to act like “man’s man,” Okonkwo isn’t teaching Nwoye to be a hard worker or a valuable community member or a good husband, he only teaches his son to use trickery to avoid a beating.
“When did you become a shivering old woman,” Okonkwo asked himself, “you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed.” (8.9)
Okonkwo’s guilt over killing his adopted son haunts him. Okonkwo, who shuns all emotion, thinks that feeling compassion and guilt for the boy is a sign of weakness and femininity – two characteristics that are despicable to him. Clearly, Okonkwo sees valor and compassion as incompatible.
“He [Maduka] will do great things,” Okonkwo said. “If I had a son like him I should be happy. I am worried about Nwoye. A bowl of pounded yams can throw him in a wrestling match. His two younger brothers are more promising. But I can tell you, Obierika, that my children do not resemble me […] If Ezinma had been a boy I would have been happier. She has the right spirit.” (8.17)
Okonkwo is disappointed in his sons – especially Nwoye. The reason Okonkwo specifically cites is that his son is a poor wrestler and isn’t at all like Okonkwo. Ironically, he wishes his daughter were a son because her “spirit” is “right” for a man.