Jessenia Gutierrez is a writer at BHSEC, Cleveland-West. She is the recipient of the 2017 Achievement Award in Literature.
The relationship between Okonkwo and Nwoye is important in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, because it shows how a deep fear can interfere with the way a man lives his life. Okonkwo is afraid of being a failure like his father Unoka. Because Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, shows similar characteristics of Unoka, Okonkwo tries to correct his son so that he can be seen as a man and not as effeminate and lazy like Okonkwo’s father, Unoka. Okonkwo’s preoccupation in a closed version of masculinity causes Nwoye to distance himself from his father. By forcing Nwoye to become the kind of man he is not, Okonkwo’s relationship with his son falls apart.
Okonkwo does not want to appear similar to Unoka, as he has no patience for his father’s failure. Okonkwo, talking with his friend Obierika, recalls memories of his father. When the thought of his father’s “weakness and failure” come to mind he “expels” them by “thinking of his own strength and success” (40). Okonkwo does not want to remember his father’s failure, but would rather show his own success and stray away from being like Unoka. Okonkwo is “not a cruel man” but lets “the fear of failure and weakness dominate his life” (10). No matter how successful Okonkwo becomes, he will always have a constant fear of becoming like Unoka, causing him to project his own fears onto his son, Nwoye.
Okonkwo sees similar characteristics between Nwoye and Unoka. He wants Nwoye to be “a great farmer and a great man” (21). Even though Okonkwo realizes Nwoye is still young, Okonkwo “would stomp out the disquieting signs of laziness which he thought he already saw” (21). Okonkwo lets the fear of failure affect his relationship with his son. Nwoye knows that being “masculine and violent” is the “right” way to be according to his father; however, Nwoye prefers listening to his mother’s stories, although his father hates this (33). Nwoye pretends to despise these stories and be “pleased” when he is sent by his mother or one his father’s wives to do “one of those difficult masculine tasks” (33). Nwoye, while performing these so-called masculine tasks, pleases his father heavily. In those moments Okonkwo is “happy” and proud of his son. Okonkwo tells himself that “in no time” Nwoye “would be able to control his women-folk” (32). Okonkwo believes that if a man is “unable to rule his women and his children he was not really a man” and that’s what his own father Unoka is unable to do. Unoka was “poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat” (5).
Overall Okonkwo lets his fear get in between his relationship with Nwoye. Okonkwo knows that his son isn’t as manly or as violent as he wants him to be, and this causes him to project his fear onto his son. Okonkwo wants to correct Nwoye before he takes after his grandfather Unoka and becomes perceived as lazy and effeminate. This pressure to behave according to a small concept of masculinity pushes Nwoye away from Okonkwo; Nwoye is “happy to leave his father” and be his own person (88). Nwoye is happy to leave his father because he will no longer have to conform to his father’s ideals. Now Nwoye will live his own life with his own desires being accepted. Nwoye is his own person who defines his own manliness in a different way. The relationship between Okonkwo and Nwoye falls apart to the degree that Nwoye rebuilds his life.