Solomon O. Iyasere reveals Okonkwo’s “obsession with proving and preserving his manliness” as “dominat[ing] [his] entire life, both public and private” (377). Informal interactions, like story-time, Okonkwo even monitored closely. Iyasere says: “[R]elaxed story-telling sessions, Okonkwo sees [as] a threat to himself and his ‘dynasty’” (377). Iyasere links the act of story-telling with Okonkwo’s display and management of masculinity. Okonkwo’s defining and defending of manliness represents dependent variables, according to Iyasere; story-telling, the act of relaying a story, stands as the independent variable Okonkwo attempts control. Whereas I agree with Iysasere’s observation of the relationship between story-telling and masculinity, I believe story-telling’s social influence needs greater consideration.
Story-telling (the act) alone didn’t challenge Okonkwo’s sense of manhood; stories that could “make women of his sons, make them like their grandfather rather than like their father,” equally threatened Okonkwo (377).
Oknonkwo has always been hell-bent on stories. Always remarking on the difference between a masculine and feminine story; always remarking on the impotence imposed on his sons by virtue of their mothers’ stories. So he “‘encourage[s] the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land—masculine stories of violence and bloodshed’” (377).
Okonkwo’s anxieties around story-telling implies its social power. A power that masks itself in “relaxed” settings and mingles with men and women. A power that is easily conferred to children. Story-telling’s oscillation, between the masculine and feminine, and its ability to bend will because of its banal mask, proves it to be one of Oknonkwo’s ultimate challenges. A challenge some may argue Oknonkwo lost.
Among the sons invited, or required, to sit with Okonkwo in his obi for story-time was Nwoye. A boy who has been described as resembling his grandfather, Unoka, in manner and appetite; a boy described as “degenerate and effeminate” (Achebe 88). These sessions sought to instill valor into the heart of Nwoye, thought to lack it by virtue.
In Part II readers begin to see colonization unfold. We see entire communities succumb to its flowery doctrine and pale demagogues. One of those new converts being Nwoye. A boy never earning his father’s favor; a boy who loves music and stories, he adopted an alien religion: “It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow…He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (Achebe 85). Poetry is a form of storytelling. It contains a similar structure to a traditional story; however, poetry has traditionally been more flowery than a standard story. Poetry is like a song. Both poems and songs are mediums of stories. Similar to Unoka, who had a love for music and stories, Nwoye shared in such delights. Ultimately, it was those delights that encouraged Nwoye’s joining the missionaries. For it was the poetics of the religion—the metaphors, similes, hyperbole, etc—that engrossed Nwoye. It spoke his language. Christians, first named on page 87, practiced a religion that was poetic in nature. Such force, the speaker reveals, was perceptible in one’s “marrow” or bones. Not only was the religion poetic, but its use of poetics registered in the physical bodies of listeners; it meted well with those who had a natural attraction to song and stories. Nwoye’s intrinsic seduction by these two elements, marked Christianity as a natural point of situating. They are influential in Nwoye’s conversion to the religion.
However, it wasn’t until Oknonkwo relentlessly beats Nwoye concerning his affiliation with the missionaries that Nwoye fully submerges into the religious enclave (88). Whereas the new religion offered Nwoye a “relief” to his “parched soul,” Oknonkwo offered nothing but strife, and it was his behavior which, finally, ushered Nwoye into the arms of the missionaries. For “Nwoye did not fully understand. But he was happy to leave his father” (88).
It was the poetic stories that attracted Nwoye to Christianity; they meted well with his “callow mind” (85). But these stories were reinforced by the vile mannerisms of Oknonkwo, which ultimately drove Nwoye away. While Oknonkwo fixates on controlling his manliness, and by extension his sons’, domination over stories and their content is required.
There is power in story-telling, Achebe indirectly teaches. Not only does the story-teller hold power but the stories in general carry great social merit. Readers learn the value of telling stories, and the consequences of trying to control another’s.
Achebe,Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 3-117.
Iyasere, Solomon O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 370-385