Does Failure Make a Man?: Manhood in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
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, and because Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, shows similar characteristics of Unoka, Okonkwo tries to correct him so that he can be a man and not be seen as effeminate and lazy like Okonkwo’s father, Unoka. This fear causes Nwoye to stray from his father, Okonkwo. 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 be similar to Unoka, as he has no patience for his father’s failure. When Okonkwo and his friend Obierika are talking, he 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). It is shown here that he 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 he 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 the relationship between him and his son. Nwoye knows that being “masculine and violent” is the “right” way to be according to his father; however, he prefers listening to his mother’s stories, although his father hates this. (33) He will pretend 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 doing these things pleases his father heavily and 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 was 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. He 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. He wants to correct him before he takes after his grandfather Unoka, and is seen as lazy and effeminate. Nwoye strays away from Okonkwo and he 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 take actions according to his father. Now he 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, away from where things fall apart and Okonkwo only sees that things are falling apart.