Masculinity in Societies in Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold explore the theme of violent masculinity through the actions of major characters such as Okonkwo and the Vicario twins. Achebe’s Okonkwo displays his masculinity by obtaining titles and accomplishments and hiding his emotions. Marquez’s Vicario twins validate their masculinity by murdering the man responsible for dishonoring their sister. While both authors make violent masculinity a core component of their characterization of Okonkwo and the Vicario twins as individuals, the broader societies in which these characters live encourage violent masculinity quite differently. Whereas Okonkwo’s society encourages his moments of masculine violence, the Vicario twins’ society discourages masculine violence by attempting to stop the story’s most violent act before it happens.
In Okonkwo’s society, when a man is feeling a strong emotion such as sadness, they can’t express it due to the pressure the society puts on them to maintain their masculinity. In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the characters in a society that encourages men to present themselves as strong and serious with no emotions. After killing his son Ikemefuna, “Okonkwo did not taste any food for two days after the death of Ikemefuna … His eyes were red and fierce … He did not sleep at night …” (Achebe 44). Okonkwo is feeling conflicted after killing Ikemefuna to maintain his masculinity. This action has affected him causing him to be emotionally broken. However, instead of succumbing to his feelings, Okonkwo attempts to hold his masculinity in check. He does this by spending time alone to make sure no one sees him. This suggests that the society Okonkwo lives in is very strict about how a man should present himself in public. It implies that any weakness after committing a violent act to maintain his masculinity is viewed as unacceptable.
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In this same society, men are encouraged to commit violent masculine acts as a way to avoid being called woman-like. After feeling a deep amount of sadness, Okonkwo is disappointed at himself for allowing to his emotions get the better of him. The novel has him wonder “‘When did you become a shivering old woman’ … ‘you 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’” (Achebe 45). In this scene, Okonkwo is disappointed in himself for not being able to get past the death of Ikemefuna and that he also expressed his emotions. In this story’s society, this is viewed as woman-like for a man to show any sort of emotion. If they were to show it, men would be looked down upon and not referred to as men. This idea motivates all men, including Okonkwo, that they must be viewed as strong and powerful. Any form of weakness is shameful to a man and is woman-like.
In Things Fall Apart, society pushes men to prove their violent masculinity by obtaining titles. The novel states that “His [Okonkwo’s] life had been ruled by a great passion – to become one of the lords of the clan. That had been his life-spring. And he had all but achieved it” (Achebe 92). Okonkwo believes that his masculinity is not only represented with strength but also through the titles he gains. Okonkwo devoted his time in doing so. However, when he was exiled, Okonkwo felt like he had nothing. Society puts such a big emphasis on titles and strength to obtain masculinity that any form of failure takes a huge toll on a man. To preserve their masculinity, men such as Okonkwo will do anything to prove it and failing is not an option for them.
The idea of having titles to prove one’s masculinity is reinforced when discussing Okonkwo’s father, Unoka. The novel describes Okonkwo’s relationship with Unoka as “With a father like Unoka, Okonkwo did not inherit the start in life which many young men had. He inherited neither a barn nor title and not even, a young wife” (Achebe 13). Unoka is viewed as weak and lacking masculinity. He had no title which affected Okonkwo’s status as a man after the death of Unoka. Due to this experience, Okonkwo now believes that society only accepts those who are strong and have titles and a respectable position in their community. Okonkwo had to make his own living and not rely on his father for any sort of help. After accomplishing this task, Okonkwo soon became “… a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams … to crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars” (Achebe 6). Okonkwo pushed to gain titles and strength due to society’s belief that this is an excellent way to uphold one’s masculinity. In this society, this accomplishment is viewed as masculine and is respected by other men who hold titles.
Like Things Fall Apart, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold details a society that demands a certain kind of masculinity from its male inhabitants. In the novella, the character Prudencia Cotes comments on her soon-to-be husband Pablo Vicario’s actions. “… ‘I never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do” (Marquez 62). Prudencia Cotes believes that Pablo was right in displaying his masculinity. If he had not done so, Prudencia would not have married him. This suggests that there is an expectation to be met. This expectation can be met through violence similar to the way that Okonkwo resorts to violence in Things Fall Apart. This consumes the male characters in the novel to meet the expectation of honor that they would even do something as dangerous as commit murder.
The society where the Vicario twins live encourages men to validate their masculinity by taking on violent tasks. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, there is a quote that discusses this idea. “… asked him jokingly why they had to kill Santiago Nasar … ‘Santiago Nasar knows why,’ Pedro Vicario answered him” (Marquez 53). After Santiago Nasar dishonored their sister, the Vicario twins Pedro and Pablo set out to do a man’s job. They do this by concluding that they must kill Santiago themselves. The twins believe that they must prove their masculinity through violence similar to Okonkwo. This way the twins believe they are satisfying what their society is asking them to accomplish.
However, the major difference between the society in Things Fall Apart and Chronicle of a Death Foretold is that the society that the twins live in discourage any form of violence that is meant to display masculinity. This is evidence from the moment when “Clotilde Armenta grabbed Pedro Vicario by the shirt and shouted to Santiago Nasar to run because they were going to kill him” (Marquez 115). This interaction shows an attempt to prevent violence. Another quote attempting to prevent violence is when “Cristo Bedoya asked several people he knew if they’d seen Santiago Nasar but no one had” (Marquez 109). These two quotes display that two characters have attempted to prevent the murder of Santiago Nasar which was going to be used as a way for the Vicario twins to show their masculinity. This contradicts what the twins wanted to accomplish: believing that killing a man was acceptable, the twins did not realize that the society that they lived in did not support violence.
Another example of the Vicario twins’ society not enforcing violent masculine is found when the mayor removes the weapons that the twins were planning to use to kill Santiago Nasar. The novella states “Pedro Vicario, according to his own declaration, was the one who made the decision to kill Santiago Nasar … But he was also the one who considered his duty fulfilled when the mayor disarmed them …” (Marquez 60). This passage shows that while it was his idea in the first place, Pedro Vicario did not pursue restoring his family’s honor when the mayor took away the weapons the twins planned to use to kill Santiago Nasar. During this time, Pedro was having a hard time deciding whether or not he wanted to still pursue violent masculinity. This suggests that society did not pressure the twins to come to the decision to kill a man. In fact, that decision was a choice for the twins, and that society was not encouraging the twins to commit this act of violent masculinity.
Both Okonkwo and the Vicario twins live in a society that believes in the importance of violent masculinity. Okonkwo’s society enforces it so pushes this idea that it controls Okonkwo’s actions and motivates him to achieve better things in life. On the other hand, the Vicario twins live in a society where violent masculinity isn’t as enforced as it is within Okonkwo’s society and discourages it when violence is involved. Okonkwo’s society puts so much pressure on men to keep their masculinity that it makes Okonkwo act out violently or aggressively to accomplish his goals but also makes it too difficult for him to express any emotion. The social expectation that men display aggression instead of sensitivity also makes it too difficult for Okonkwo to show emotion publicly. The Vicario’s society does encourage masculinity but discourages any violent masculinity. The violent masculinity in both stories impacts Okonkwo and the Vicario twins since it serves as a motivator for the characters to pursue their individual goals.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1996. Print.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage International, 2003. Print.