In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, cruelty is a driving factor in the main character Okonkwo’s life: whether it is cruelty towards his wives, cruelty towards his children, or cruelty towards his kinsman, Okonkwo exhibits a brutishness that in integral to his personality. His strong desire to be the complete opposite of his father, a man who was kind, lazy, and quiet, gives way to this cruelty, as Okonkwo sees his father’s characteristics as weak and feminine. Because of his relationship to his late father, Okonkwo associates cruelty with hypermasculinity, and adopts a cruel demeanor in his daily life to compensate for his “feminine” father and to try to create his own legacy. He uses violence and brutality to affirm and assure people of his masculinity, but too much cruelty in his life eventually leads to his downfall.
Because the Igbo society as depicted in Things Fall Apart is a very male-driven culture,
a lot of pressure is placed on the men of the society to be seen as “masculine”, or as a strong provider. For Okonkwo, this “strength” stems from cruelty and violence, using harsh words and beatings to convey machismo. He sees this strength in his daughter, and often affirms that she should have been born a son, as he believes it is unfitting for a female to possess “masculine” traits. On the other side of the coin, he sees his son as a very weak and lazy boy, who takes after his grandfather. Because of this, Okonkwo routinely beats his son, hoping to impose the masculinity from cruelty upon him. He often beats his wives as well if they do not do what he wants exactly how he wants it, demonstrating his superior masculine status to their weak and fragile femininity.
Okonkwo once again demonstrates the significance of his masculinity through cruelty with his adopted son. When the village takes a boy from a neighboring clan, Okonkwo takes him on as a son, whom he adores, however he does not show his affection because he believes that to do so would be emasculating. Although Okonkwo cares greatly for the boy, when the town elder tells him that the boy must be...