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Manliness in Things Fall Aprt by Chinua Achebe

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Manliness in Things Fall Aprt by Chinua Achebe

In Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, it is immediately evident to the reader that Okonkwo, the hero of the story, is obsessed with manliness. His concern manifests itself in almost every chapter. The story begins with an account of his success as a wrestler - a "manly" competition - and ends with his murder of the court messenger, another "manly" act. In every action and every choice he makes, Okonkwo is determined to show that he is masculine. It is powerful irony, then, that the evidence of the novel shows that Okonkwo is actually a latent homosexual.

First, we should examine what is meant by the term "latent homosexual." The meaning of homosexual in this context is obvious: Okonkwo is sexually attracted to other men. The adjective "latent," however, is vitally significant: literally, it means that Okonkwo's homosexuality is hidden, not just from the world but also from himself. In other words, Okonkwo is strongly driven towards men as sexual objects, but he is not conscious of those feelings, and denies them. Indeed, if anyone tried to tell Okonkwo that he is gay, he would be offended (and probably beat them up).

According to the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, a key aspect of male homosexuality is hostility towards women. It is clear from the novel that Okonkwo has no affection for women. He treats his wives like servants, and there is no suggestion that he is attracted to them romantically or sexually. There is only one direct reference to sex in the book, when at the end of Chapter Eleven, Ekwefi remembers her first sexual encounter with Okonkwo, when he "just carried her into the his bed and in the darkness began to feel around her waist for the loose...

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...iety. When members of his tribe convert to Christianity, he considers them "unmanly." When the tribe does not take forceful action to expel the Christians, Okonkwo condemns them as effeminate. In psychological terms, he wants the tribe to do what he has done himself: to suppress homosexual impulses. His rage stems from the fact that he has done this himself, at a considerable cost, but they will not do the same. (Of course, Christianity is not evidence of homosexuality; Okonkwo is "projecting" his fears onto the community.)

In the end, then, Things Fall Apart may seem like a straightforward condemnation of imperialism and exploitation., It is, however, far more complex than that: it is an examination of the impossibility of normal homosexual functioning in a conservative and homophobic tribal society.

Bibliography:

Achebe, Things Fall Apart
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