Masculinity can be defined as a set of qualities or characteristics that is found generally in men, although some women may acquire this trait in certain conditions. Some qualities that attribute to masculinity are strength, boldness, wisdom, honor, and courage. The traits of masculinity are often passed down from father to son, but in some cases fathers may not possess this trait and the son will either acquire it on his own or from another paternal figure. Two literary works that portray the theme of masculinity is “Things Fall Apart”, a novel by Chinua Achebe, and “Who Will Stop the Dark” a short story by Charles Mungoshi. Achebe uses the theme of masculinity to describe Okonkwo’s characteristics and actions. Mungoshi also uses the same theme to describe Zakeo. The father and son relation plays in important role in both stories because that is what develops their character.
Chinua Achebe uses the theme of masculinity to describe the rise of Okonkwo’s social standing. In the novel, Okonkwo is very obsessed with masculinity, and he defines quite scarcely. According to him any kind of sensitivity is a sign of weakness. Okonkwo believes in authority and brute force. His pride and masculinity is very correlated. According to Okonkwo his father lacks ambition, is lazy, weak, and feminine. In the novel its states that “Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title.”1 Growing up Okonkwo did everything possible not to resemble his father because his father resembled a woman with no title. Another example of how masculinity is depicted in the novel is the society’s view on farming.
In the third chapter it says, “His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grow women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans, and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop”2. In the society of Igbo, the importance of growing yams is associated with manliness because it allows men to maintain a position in being the main provider for the family and respect from others. Also in the fourth chapter it says, “Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed. Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer and a great man”3. Okonkwo associates masculinity with yams. According to him the more yams a man can grow determines his position in society. This quote also explains how men are judged on how they are able to provide for their family. Another aspect of male relationship aside from his father is Okonkwo’s relation with his son Nwoye. Okonkwo fears that his son will turn out like his father Unoka: lazy, weak, debtor and hold no title.
Nwoye serves as an opposite to being masculine as describe by his father. “Okonkwo was popularly called the Roaring Flame… How then could he have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? Perhaps he was not his son… But Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo’s father…. How could he have begotten a woman for a son?”4. Okonkwo compares himself to fire, a symbol of masculinity. Okonkwo is extremely frustrated with Nwoye because he is not fire-like as him. He is so frustrated that he thinks his wife slept with another man and that Nwoye is not his son. After Okonkwo’s exile, Nwoye took this chance to follow his own path and converted to Christianity. After Nwoye conversion, Okonkwo tells his other sons, “You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people”5.
Okonkwo believes that Nwoye lost his masculinity after he converted. Okonkwo also disowns him after his actions and does not consider Nwoye part of his family. Charles Mungoshi uses the theme of masculinity to describe the relationship of Zakeo and his grandfather Sekuru. In Zakeo’s household the mother possesses more masculinity trait than the father. The father’s role as a masculine figure was shattered when had a paralyzing accident. After the accident the mother seemed to take up the role of the father. In one example we can see the mother having more masculine trait than the father. The father was saying, “A man’s back is the man. Once his back is broken…” only to be interrupted by the look of the mothers eyes6. Zakeo seeks the characteristics of a masculine boy through his grandfather Sekuru. Since Zakeo’s father cant provide the father figure to him, Sekuru was the main father figure to Zakeo.
In the story Sekuru says, “We were born hunters, stayed hunters all our life and most of us died hunters” and then goes on to say “they become tillers of land and some weavers of bamboo basket”7. The grandfather explained how men in his days were hunters but those who didn’t hunt were farmers and basket weavers. This also shows that masculinity is associated with hunting. Zakeo assumes that Sekuru was implying that his father was not manly because he basket weaves. Zakeo insisted his grandfather to teach him the art of hunting by setting traps, and fishing. Sekuru symbolizes tying a knot with masculinity. Sekuru says, “There were women knots and men knots. A woman knot is the kind that comes apart when you tug the line. A knot worth the name of whoever makes it shouldn’t all apart…a real man’s knot should stay there”8. While Sekuru was teaching Zakeo how to fish he explains the difference a man and a woman when it comes to tying knots. Sekuru also distinguishes a man’s masculinity with his ability to tie a knot.
Zakeo’s masculinity builds up after spending time with his grandfather. While spending time with him, Zakeo learned how to fish, set mousetraps, and start a fire. The time he spends with his grandfather encourages Zakeo to disobey his mother and not go to school. Another example of how masculinity is depicted in the short story is when Sekuru has a confrontation with the mother. Zakeo’s mother said, “He won’t eat, he won’t listen to me, and he doesn’t want to go to school”9. Zakeo believes that going to school restrains you from becoming a real man. The grandfather states, “children belong to the man”10 in response to the mother. This shows that the culture of Zakeo is very paternal and shows more importance to the masculinity of a man.
In both stories the theme masculinity shapes the character. Masculinity and male relationship is very similar in both stories as well. In “Things Fall Apart”, masculinity plays an important role in the culture of the Igbo society and Okonkwo’s family. As I stated earlier masculinity passes down from father to son. Okonkwo however gained his masculinity traits on his own because his father lacked these traits. Similarly in the story “Who Will Stop the Dark”, Zakeo seeks to be manlier and cannot learn from his father because he is paralyzed. In Zakeo’s case his mother took the role of a masculine figure in his household. Unlike Okonkwo, Zakeo builds a strong relationship with his grandfather to be more masculine. From both stories we learn that masculinity can be attained without a father figure.