Rewriting the Emasculation of WWI Soldiers from Damaged Men to Heroic Soldiers in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That

My thesis will look at the literary representation of the mental disease ‘shell shock’ in post-World War I Britain. Throughout World War I soldiers—who were the epitome of British masculinity—returned home and began demonstrating symptoms of trauma that closely resembled hysteria. This shook the country, as Britain was already struggling to regain power in Europe, let alone re-masculinize its men. In 1915, these hysteric symptoms exhibited by British soldiers were referred to by psychologist Charles Myers in medical journal The Lancet as a new disease he termed ‘shell shock’. This new disease carried many different connotations, yet that ‘shell shock’ associated hysteric symptoms—a form of nervousness which is inherently female—with the war—something strictly male—is perhaps the most important. During and directly following the war, British Parliament attempted to recover the country’s stoic patriotism by claiming all mental diseases related to the war, namely ‘shell shock’, were both false and examples of cowardice. In doing this, the British Parliament—and thus, those in power in Britain directly following the war—reasserted the gendering of nervous disorders, and shaped how masculine identity in Britain is repressive and stoic “by nature”. It was by this method shell shock became a way in which WWI veterans were systematically emasculated. WWI literature, on the other-hand, became the way of unmasking truths about the suffering veterans—namely their experiences and the reality of their trauma, and re-aligning these veterans with their stolen masculinity. It is within this overlap that I would like to base my thesis. My aim is to look at how and why exactly soldiers were emasculated—what did Britain gain?—and how WWI literature attempted to essentially rewrite the experiences of WWI soldiers so they were no longer viewed as ‘damaged’ and therefore ‘lesser’, but instead ‘heroic’ and worthy of virility.

The first text which I would like to look at is the epitome of WWI literature, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. 

First edition of Mrs. Dalloway found on Google Images

Dalloway. This novel was originally published in 1925 in London, though it is set  in June of 1923. The novel follows the intersecting stories of Clarissa Dalloway—an upper-class housewife and socialite—and Septimus Warren Smith—a shell shocked WWI veteran. While Clarissa goes about her day preparing for a party she is hosting that evening, Septimus struggles to stay in the present, often going in and out of wartime hallucinations. While Clarissa goes about her chores debating the importance of her role in upper-class Britain, Septimus’ story comes to an end when he commits suicide jumping out the window of an psychiatric institution outside London. The two stories, seemingly have nothing to do with one another, and yet they intersect at Clarissa’s party where the news of Septimus’ suicide—which is marked as cowardly and insane by the doctor present—is the hush

ed gossip amongst the elite party-goers. The remainder of the novel follows Clarissa as she ponders over Septimus’ death and what brought him to carry out such a final act.

Woolf’s novel, aside from being a classic, is a forthright social critique on post-war British society. The majority of the story is told from the female perspective—Clarissa and Lucrezia (Septimus’ wife)—an arguably purposeful tact done by Woolf to create distance from the war. There are key moments within Woolf’s novel where post-war society and the enforced repression of the war are evident—Septimus’ relationship with his doctor being one. Moreover, Woolf incorporates various parliamentary proceedings into the conversations of the elite upper-class at Clarissa’s party. Finally, Woolf ultimately uses her female protagonist to re-assert and re-unite Septimus with his masculinity at the end of the novel, and thus rewrites the emasculation of Septimus, who represents all shell shocked WWI veterans.

Above, I have briefly outlined how I wish to use this text. Woolf’s novel is a complex social commentary which includes multiple references to various reports and medical practices of the time. Moreover, it is a strongly feminine text in that the majority of the narration is confined the perspective female characters. I want to further analyze this to understand how Woolf uses this to rewrite experiences of the war. Towards the end of the novel, Clarissa states he

r admiration for Septimus’ bravery, which while it plays into a gendered power dynamic, nevertheless re-paints Septimus in a heroic light, as opposed to the damaged man he had earlier been labelled as.

The second text I am looking at is Robert Graves’ war memoir Goodbye to All That. This

First edition of Goodbye To All That found on Google Images

autobiography, first published in England in 1929, follows Graves’ upbringing to his entry and further experience fighting for Britain in the war—particularly in the trenches. Graves begins as an eager and patriotic young man, determined to prove himself and to make his country proud. However, as the war progresses, Graves begins to lose friends and is injured in combat, qhich brings him quickly to realize just how disillusioning the war was. Moreover, Graves comments not just on the absurdity of war, but also on the differences of class within the war—being that Graves was a middle-class man as opposed to the upper-class of Woolf’s novel. Finally, Graves traces his journey after the war, until the point of the book’s publication, commenting on the senselessness of British bureaucracy, and his experience of shell-shock after the war.

As Graves’ text is a non-fiction novel, I would like to further analyze the story and descriptions Graves gives. Moreover, as a large portion of this text takes place during the war, specifically during combat, I would like to see how masculinity is constructed and commented on throughout the war. Particularly as Graves was a shell shocked soldier, I would analyze his account of the war and look for ways in which he reclaims, or perhaps over-exaggerates, his masculinity in and out of combat. The fact that this text is an autobiography does scare me slightly, simply because there is a slight grey area surrounding the narration of the text—how much is constructed in comparison to how much is authentic, and how would I argue for one or the other? It is nevertheless, that this novel is written by a war veteran who experienced the trauma of WWI and the resulting social emasculation from the effects of his mental health first-hand, which have lead me to choose this novel as one of my primary sources.

Ultimately, I think I want to use both of these texts, and put them in discussion with one another. I have struggled to narrow down my primary sources—originally I wanted to omit Mrs. Dalloway, and instead look at Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, or Rudyard Kipling’s short war stories. However, after much thought, I found that Mrs. Dalloway was too important of a WWI novel to ignore, and the other fictional works listed above were not as explicit in their social commentary as Woolf’s was. I have been pretty set on using Goodbye to All That as it isan autobiography—and thus an undeniable, non-fictional account of a veteran’s WWI and post-war experience. By putting the two texts in conversation, I hope to demonstrate how literature was used to rewrite the emasculation of shell shocked soldiers amongst other social commentaries. I am nervous, however, as I realize there are various complex issues which are intertwined in my research, and I am admittedly worried as to how I will navigate them in a succinct manner. Some of these complex issues include the history of WWI itself, the stratification of social classes in Britain during and after the war, the historical, medical, and political “legitimacy” surrounding mental disorders, and finally—perhaps most importantly—why and how mental disorders came to be stigmatized as feminine ordeals. In using a fictional classic alongside an autobiographical account, I hope to analyze the differences in war writing amongst a male and female author, as well as the how both go about changing the perceptions of shell shock from emasculating and damaging to traumatic but heroic.

BP #6

Works Cited

Graves, Robert. Good-bye To All That. New York: Random House, 1998.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Penguin Books, 1992.

Emasculation of Soldiers post-WWI

Image is WWI propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum

I am fascinated by the emasculation of men—particularly soldiers—that occurred in post-World War I Britain. Though right now I am looking at Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as my primary text, there are other options such as Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier which I may choose to focus on instead.

One document that directly relates and supports the claim of “emasculating soldiers” is the War Report of 1922Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into “Shell Shock”. This report has pieces from both parliamentary and medical officials in Britain in 1922. The entire purpose of the report is to denounce the claim that ‘shell shock’ was both real and a disease that the WWI veterans were suffering from. The report moves from the various written beliefs of military, parliamentary, and medical officials such as Dr. William Aldren Turner and General Gilbert Mellor. Moreover, this report explicitly frames the expectations of men within this time period—they are meant to be both stoic and repressive by nature. The report makes statements such as “a man instinctively masks his emotions almost as a matter of routine” (The War Office Committee, Squadron Leader W. Tyrrell, 30) to support its further claims that shell shock is “the exhaustion of nerves” similar to “hysteria” and indicative of “cowardice”. However, the report goes further to state that “cowardice should be regarded as a military crime to be punished when necessary by death” (The War Office Committee 139). It incites fear in its male readers, for they are acutely made aware of the strict social expectations for their sex. The idea of “masculinity”, particularly British “manliness” is central to this report, and is useful to me in that it clearly defines expectations of men and the post-war British mindset towards nervousness—i.e. shell shock.

An article, which relates to the aforementioned report, that I am also interested in is Tracey Loughran’s Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories. This article looks at ‘shell shock’ and ‘trauma’ through both literary and historical approaches to understand shell shock and how aspects of the disease have has come to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Broken into four separate sections, the article maps how the shell shock has been perceived, how it came to be, how it was perceived during and after the war, and finally how it has evolved to eventually be legitimized and classified as an actual disease. The article specifically mentions the academic journal The Lancet and its 1915 publication which first used the term ‘shell shock’. More importantly, the mention of this British medical journal includes reference to the academic psychologist Charles Myers, who is frequently mentioned throughout the War Report of 1922. Dr. Myers was the first to publicly oppose notions that shell shock was ‘treatable’ and simply just a manifestation of ‘cowardice’. In this way Loughran’s article elucidates a history of the disease, and its perception that is necessary for my research.

The two documents overlap in their content, and in the way that Loughran’s directly speaks to the notions propagated in the War Report of 1922. Though I am curious about how the disease developed to eventually gain legitimacy, I am more curious about the perceptions of nervousness—specifically shell shock—during and directly after WWI. Indeed, these two sources are not literary, but I believe they hold importance to my research, as they situate themselves directly within the nervous disorder and its historical context. My aim is to use these two sources as a means of supporting my analysis of my primary text—be it Mrs. Dalloway or The Return of the Soldier—so that I may demonstrate how the emasculation of soldiers through nervous disorders like shell shock came to be.

I began this process researching “male hysteria” but I have come to realize that this is more a side-effect—almost a result—of the strict guidelines of “manliness” set out and reinforced by officials of Britain during and post-WWI. Nervousness and anxiety, mainly through manifestations of shell shock in literature, were debilitating to masculinity because anxiety was perceived to be inherently feminine. This idea is supported in the War Report of 1922 and similar documents, which have potential connections to the idea of the ‘stoic’ man that is present even today. Though I want to stay specifically within the early 19th Century, these sources are very applicable to the contemporary construction of “manliness” in and outside of literature. Going forward, I hope to find more literary sources to support my ideas, and not rely so heavily on the sociological, historical, and medical sources I have found.

 

BP 5

Works Cited

The War Office Committee. Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into “Shell Shock”. London, 1922.

Tracey Loughran. “Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, no. 1, 2012, p. 94.

Power and Resistance in Conflict and Self-Reflection

The ideal female is meant to be quiet, unassuming, but pretty to look at. The ideal female does not ask questions, will not demand attention, and most importantly succumbs to the will of men. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, the idea of the content, unquestioning female is demonstrated to be a completely unreal concept through the character of Olanna who initially embodies the entire notion of the 1960’s ideal female. Indeed, to characters of a lesser social status like Ugwu, Olanna is powerful through status, beauty, and articulate eloquence. However, to characters of equal or higher status, even despite her extensive education, Olanna is simply just “illogically pretty” (Adichie 65). This is particularly evident in her relationship with Odenigbo—an outspoken professor who often talks of the necessity for revolution and change in Nigeria. Their relationship appears to be one of the stereotypical dominant male and complacently dependent female, but this dynamic changes in circumstances of conflict, which allow Olanna to find her voice and question power dynamics within their relationship.

Whereas we never really get Odenigbo’s perspective, the dependence Olanna has on Odenigbo and the control he has over her is plain. It is not until another woman, however, enters into their ‘bliss’ that Olanna gains a little independence and sees the reality of her situation. When Odenigbo’s mother enters the couple’s home and proceeds to taunt Olanna by calling her a ‘witch’, this prompts Olanna to take action and leave. Yet, it is the betrayal caused by Odenigbo because he chooses to go home instead of searching for Olanna, that ignites Olanna’s self-assertion that was otherwise lacking. In this conflict, Olanna admits to her inferiority by thinking to herself that Odenigbo made her “feel small and absurdly petulant … She wished … she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him” (Adichie 128). Thus, it is only through conflict that Olanna is able to admit that despite Odenigbo’s unquestioningly formidable character, she gives him more power by succumbing to him and his every wish.

Her interior voice grows stronger and more demanding, however, as the conflict between the couple continues. She gains confidence through her anger in the betrayal until she is finally able to exert power both over herself, and over Odenigbo. For when she very flatly rejects Odenigbo’s attempts to gloss over their problems, Odenigbo is shocked. Olanna continues though, and thinks to herself that

“she would not let him make her feel that something was wrong with her. It was her right to be upset, her right to choose not to brush her humiliation aside in the name of an overexulted intellectualism, and she would claim that right. ‘Go.’ She gestured toward the door. ‘Go and play your tennis and don’t come back here’” (Adichie 129).

In this moment, Olanna is suddenly no longer just “illogically pretty” but has evolved into a self-assertive, and demanding character—she is no longer the ideal female. The very end—her demand “go”—which comes from her intense, interior thought—destroys Odenigbo’s authority over her, while simultaneously giving power to Olanna.

Through intense self-reflection that come about from conflict, Adichie destroys notions of gender and power dynamics. Through the conflict between Odenigbo and Olanna, the inferior—Olanna—becomes the superior as she reflects on the relationship. This is reiterated in the way we do not see the perspective of Odenigbo, for it gives the entirety of the authority of the conflict to Olanna. The focus on Olanna allows for Adiche to demonstrate how the complacent female is not and cannot be complacent for very long—that complacency is not realistic. This theme of questioning and ultimately resisting power dynamics is thus relatable to the undercurrent of political and social unrest in Nigeria being discussed throughout the novel. Ultimately in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, conflict amongst seemingly inferior and superior characters allows for social constructions to be both revealed and questioned, and for power amongst character to change and balance.

 

Blog Post #4

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half a Yellow Sun. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

Looking to the Past to Move Forward

Grief is mind-shattering—the pain of it is unimaginable, and the only people who can understand it are those who are in the midst of grief with you. Grief is overwhelming, and the initial shock and rawness of pain often leaves its victim stupefied. Both these aspects of grief—its rawness and its ability to turn the world upside-down—can be seen in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Yet, despite its disorientating nature, grief in Ghana Must Go allows for a broken family to reunite, and forces them to glue the fragments of their shattered worlds back together, as it forces the family to relate to one another. Not a single member of the family, or in general those who experience grief, are initially capable of being articulate or objective in their attempts to comprehend their loss. The inarticulate and incomprehensive mentality of grief often moves in circular and repetitive, fleeting thoughts—similar to the fragmented sentences of Ghana Must Go. It is thus through Selasi’s use of short, fragmented sentences, and her circular progression throughout the narrative, where the nature of grief is expressed, and it becomes evident that it is, in fact, their grief which enables this family to once again come together.

The family in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is all but destroyed, where one crack caused a splintering, which resulted in a full break in their familial bond. The text reads like individual streams of consciousness of its various characters, and the often used brief, list-like sentences are demonstrative of the characters’ confusion and attempts to grapple with their grief. One such example is within Olu’s constant repetition of how and why his father dies. He constantly reimagines it, “dead in a garden of cardiac arrest, basic coronary thrombosis, easy peasy, act fast, Kweku Sai, prodigal prodigy, a phenom, a failure” (Selasi 114). For Olu, time stopped the second he found that his father had died. He begins to move backwards in time, rethinking over past times with his father, using the facts in a list-like format, trying to comprehend the finality of the death he was absent for. For Selasi, using this repetition of how the death occurred and who it was who died, communicates the shear bewilderment of death that comes in grief.

Olu is not the only one who demonstrates this short, fragmented stream of repetitive consciousness, Taiwo, his sister, does as well. On reflection Taiwo thinks back to how her mother told stories of her father after he left them. She thinks “…short stories of snow, until they both fell asleep. Until the man was erased—from their stories and so their childhoods (which only existed as stories…) Not dead. Never dead. They never wished the man dead or pretended he was dead” (Selasi 38-39). Again it is in this repetition of the word “dead” and the short, broken explanations are Taiwo’s own attempts at making the intangibility of death somewhat tangible. It is through these brief, listed thoughts that Selasi is able to convey the pain of grief and the utter confusion it brings.

The family’s learning of Kweku’s sudden, unexpected passing forces them back into a world that they had long forgotten. Moreover, even as each family member has gone in their own direction, it is the grief and its chaos that enables them to reconnect. Selasi’s ability to convey the confusion of grief through a circular progression of thoughts and memories, through short, fragmented sentences is both reflective of grief, and demonstrative of a broken family attempting to reconnect. It is through their memories that they can do this, though. Thus, in the unfamiliarity of grief, which looks to the past to move forward, the family is able to relate solely in grief, ultimately allowing them to renew a bond that had been all but lost.

 

Blog Post 3

 

Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

 

Reading List: Bella

Keywords/Key Terms

  1. Male Hysteria
  2. Shell-Shock vs. Hysteria
  3. Anxiety in Literature

Secondary and Theoretical Works

  1. H. Rivers, “The Repression of War Experience”, The Lancet (December 1917) Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into ‘Shell-Shock’ (1922). London: Imperial War Museum (2004). https://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/rivers.htm
  2. Goldstein, Jan. “The Uses of Male Hysteria: Medical and Literary Discourse in Nineteenth-Century France.” Representations, no. 34, 1991, pp. 134–165.
  3. Scragg, Andrew. “Rudyard Kipling and Shell Shock: ‘More than a Man Could Bear.’” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 59, no. 2, 2016, pp. 175–190.
  4. Tracey Loughran. “Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, no. 1, 2012, p. 94.
  5. Macdonald, Kate. “Rethinking the Depiction of Shell-Shock in British Literature of the First World War, 1914–1918.” First World War Studies, vol. 8, no. 1, Mar. 2017, pp. 37–61.

Academic Journal

  1. SIGNS (University of Chicago Press)

In the fall of 2017, one of the modules I took at UEA was a course called “Nervous Narratives”. Since that class, I have been curious about the repetitive theme of feminizing mental disorders, particularly anxiety-based disorders—within late 18th through mid 19th Century societies and literature. I worked with librarians to narrow down keywords and key terms, because I found that before, my keywords/terms were too broad and often steered me away from the literary realm. Unfortunately, the professors I wanted to meet with were unavailable until later this week. However, I am meeting with both Professor Kersh and Professor Seiler in the upcoming days to discuss other possible sources.

One of the terms above, “male hysteria” came about, after I was advised by librarian Chris Bombaro, to combine the largest and broadest keywords/terms that were essential to my paper. As I am looking into the feminization of anxiety in literature, I decided to combine “masculine” and “hysteria” and immediately got results more applicable to my subject. Moreover, the results broadened my list of possible primary texts. After a brief email exchange with my UEA professor, Professor Cath Sharrock, I was given a list of literary texts to look at, which includes Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud’s Studies On Hysteria, and S. Weir Mitchell’s Doctor and Patient. This list, though very broad in scope, will hopefully provide example and understanding from both the “medical”—Freud and Mitchell—remedies and mindsets, which I can then use to analyze and form my own understanding of the literary texts of Woolf, Barker, and Perkins Gilman. Some of my articles that were listed at the top of this also include literature which I may include later on.

Though my meetings with other English Department professors are forthcoming, I have had discussions with my advisor, Professor Sider Jost, about my subject idea for my thesis. I was originally set on solely investigating the question of “why is anxiety portrayed as feminine?” but Professor Sider Jost was quick to have me break that question down. I now would like to explore: how literature portrays anxiety within women and, in comparison, within men? Why are these distinctions and differences in portrayal—if there are any—important? Why feminize anxiety/mental disorder? How does literature combat or reinforce this feminization? What is a “masculine” mindset according to literature?

Okonkwo: A Complexly Simple Outcast

Iyasere’s argument regarding the complex simplicity of Okonkwo in contrast with the adaptability of Umuofia in regard to change, while interesting, negates its own premise, and blames Okonkwo’s demise on his own emotional immaturity. Though I would agree with his early on assertion that the death of Okonkwo was not because he was a “victim of Umuofia’s traditional laws and customs” (Iyasere 371), the claim that the “duality of the traditional Ibo society” is used to “intensify the sense of tragedy and make the reader understand the dilemma that shapes and destroys the life of Okonkwo” (Iyasere 372).

Iyasere begins with the Umuofia traditions values, and states that these are “inflexible” particularly in response to threats and the “overall stability of the clan” (Iyasere 374). Yet, the beginning of Part Three within Things Fall Apart negate this claim completely by first stating that “the clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another” (Achebe 97), and later stating that in Okonkwo’s seven year exile, “the clan had undergone such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognizable” (Achebe 103). Thus, according to the text, Umuofia and the clan are not stuck to their traditions, nor are they inflexible. Moreover, I would go so far as to say the Umuofia people are relatively accepting, given that they are not the ones—it is only Okonkwo—who actively and violently despise Christians. Instead, the Umuofia people give the white men a plot of land, though in the ‘Evil Forest’, and allow them to co-inhabit. They do not react violently, and though they do not agree with the white man’s religion, they allow it to exist and function just as their own does.

The idea that Iyasere illuminates—that Okonkwo is an outcast in every society due to his own immaturity—is one that I feel is key to understanding both his character and the ending of the novel. The idea that Iyasere states in that Okonkwo “does not grow and change with age and experience; as a man he is dedicated to the same stereotypes he formed in his youth” (Iyasere 380), is one which mimics the intricate hierarchy of elders to their successors. This is also seen in Part Two of Things Fall Apart when Uchendu tells Okonkwo “‘you do not know the answer? So you see that you are a child’” (Achebe 78), as he demonstrates to Okonkwo that his ignorance is childish, and thus inferior to those who have been enlightened with knowledge. Given that the only emotional outburst which Okonkwo has indicated to be acceptable is anger—and childish tantrums at that—the explanation that Okonkwo is stuck in the mindset of his own youth is revealing to the ending of the novel. For if Okonkwo is truly incapable of growing and becoming tolerant of change, which he proves countless times throughout the beginning of the white man’s co-inhabitance, his only option is to leave the world which does not accept him, and go to the one which does. In this case, Okonkwo’s perception of his religion will accept his anger and his final act of violence for it was in the name of preservation for a clan moving away from these customs. In this sense Okonkwo is complexly simple, as his complex justifications for outburst and violence comes from a simple mindset based on youthful immaturity.

Blog Post #2

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009.
Iyasere, Soloman O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009. 370-385.

Onkonkwo: The Personification of Umuofia’s Ideals

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, the main character Oknonkwo is strong, powerful, well-respected, and as some critics have noted, almost a legend even within the book. Oknonkwo’s personality literally embodies his town’s, Umuofia’s, ideals to the point that he is a personified version of Umuofia and the entirety of its ideology.

Achebe’s novel begins with the vivid description of Okonkwo, and his massive feat in “throwing the cat” (Achebe 3). Indeed, his physical strength, and the imagery of this man flexing every muscle in his body to its “breaking point” is powerful, yet it is the first line of the entire novel, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages” (Achebe 3) which is most telling as it mimics Umuofia’s own description later in the novel. Umuofia is described as being “fear by all its neighbors” (Achebe 9), meaning that if it is feared it is also known by all of its neighbors. The two descriptions seem to coincide, and though not the most convincing, it begins to set up a theme of character and setting essentially being one in the same.
One such example of this, again dealing with the descriptions within the first few pages of the novel, has to do with the anger Oknonkwo exhibits, and the fear which Umuofia incites. Indeed, Achebe does give Oknonkwo more depth than being an emotionally void, hypermasculine, angry man, but as he is originally described, as a man who “never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger…the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (Achebe 18). Though this makes him originally difficult to connect with, it sets a parallel with the aforementioned strength of Umuofia, and the fear it provokes in its neighbors. For the town teaches, that strength is dignified and the “only thing worth demonstrating”, and weakness is worth both scorn and ultimate exile.

Umuofia’s idealization of strength, and thus Oknonkwo’s own embodiment of this ideology, can be seen in Oknonkwo’s former relationship with, and the later thoughts regarding his father, Unoka. Unoka is, from the beginning, slandered as a lazy, greedy, emotional man who ultimately died from his own weaknesses. It is even revealed that “it was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (Achebe 10), and later that Oknonkwo was “possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death” (Achebe 13). This relationship is a driving factor in giving an explanation to the “hard” persona which Oknonkwo exhibits so early on. However, if Oknonkwo is indeed a personified version of Umuofia, then this hatred simply stems from the defamed reputation the father had. As Oknonkwo so wholeheartedly embodies all Umuofia’s principals, his father being an overwhelmingly “weak” man, is both emasculating and embarrassing to be associated with. The simple fact that Unoka died physically in a shameful way, and spoke of love before doing so goes to exhibit his separation from Umuofia and its ideals. Though the revelation of his fear so early in the novel is seemingly a weak, Oknonkwo’s tireless, even “possessed” efforts to differentiate himself from his father is demonstrative of the indefatigable ideology of Umuofia.

Oknonkwo character, while both hypermasculine and stoic in his hard-working efforts to maintain power and be well-respected, even feared, within Umuofia is not just an embodiment of the town’s ideals but is an outward characterization of these ideals. Thus, Oknonkwo and Umuofia are inseparable in that Oknonkwo is the personification of Umuofia.

B1. Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2009.