Despite the fact that “King Lear” by Shakespeare and “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe were written in completely different eras by the authors of completely different mentality and background, both works of literature have evidence of attitude and behavior, performed by the representatives of either of the two genders and typical to the gender in question. While it is interesting to consider details which draw attention to these typical gender divisions, it is also of vital importance to consider which actions deflect attention from typical statuses of both men and women.
King Lear exhibits a typical male behavior in the following aspect: he values appearance much more than reality. He likes to enjoy the privileges of the king status, but he is not willing to fulfill any duties, which accompany any king, in whose hands the power of governing a land is concentrated. He always gives preference to outright flattery than the displays of true and real love. He is not asking, which daughter loves him the most but rather “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Moreover, he is not as ignorant as one might think: Cordelia is his favorite daughter from the start of the play, so he does realize that she loves him the most. Yet, after receiving answers to his questions he chooses to go with Goneril’s and Regan’s flattery rather than Cordelia’s sincere feelings and her complete devotion and integrity in exhibiting her feelings when asked about them. While the above tendencies showcase typical masculine trait – desire for flattery, the change, which appears in him – becoming caring and humble after discovering his own insignificance in comparison with the great forces of nature deflect from the typical role of masculine gender.
Okonkwo has to build his career of a warrior and reputation in the world where manliness is of very high value. Okonkwo perfectly fits a masculine gender stereotype because he compensates for every quality evident in his father Unoka – cowardice, gentleness, profligacy, interest in conversation and music. Okonkwo makes a conscious decision to adhere to the completely opposite traits of character, trying to be productive, brave, and at times violent and adamantly refusing to take interesting culture or any other instances, which might evoke his emotional side therefore repressing any chance of performing any feminine functions. Okonkwo feminine side is so repressed that he is completely the opposite of hesitant when facing the necessity to kill Ikemefuna. Okonkwo becomes in the end the victim of his masculine side, adhering too much to the principles of violence, when compliance became the best means of survival.
If one is to look at the role of feminine gender stereotypes, Cordelia represents a perfect example of a daughter: beauty, kindness, devotion, and love for her parents. She is represented as the ultimate source of positive virtues and she is completely forgiving when reconciling with her father. A very important trait, which differentiates her from both genders and the entire human species is her habit of telling the truth even in those instances, when it is detrimental to her overall well-being.
If one is to continue investigating the role of daughters in both work, Ezinma, Okonkwo’s favorite daughter is also prone to contradicting her father and is never afraid to voice her opinion whenever she does not agree with anything voiced by Okonkwo. She, unlike Cordelia, is able to gain Okonkwo’s complete attention, affection, and respect. Okonkwo’s is highly convinced that a masculine spirit is confined within her. Later on, she accepts her masculinity by always putting pragmatic decisions ahead of her emotions.
Edmund is one of the most complex villains in the entire Shakespearian legacy. While he perfectly fits the role of masculine gender: he is a self-made person, he seizes any goals and constantly uses anybody and anything to his advantage. There is only one instance, where he succumbs to emotion – when he is mortally wounded and discovered that Cordelia’s sisters Regan and Goneril died for him. “Yet Edmund was beloved” are his last words, and this statements leaves the door open to the discussion whether he was cruel right from the start or was simply misguided in his desire to be closer to the love in the royal family he was witnessing on the daily basis. Like any male striving to impress, Edmund leaves a striking impression akin to that of Iago in “Othello”. His operations and intrigues are so perfectly done and executed that the audience simply cannot help but watch him participate in other betrayals and conspiracies.
The character, who is also considered to be closer to the darker sides of a general human personality, is Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son. Nwoye is always experiencing difficulties trying to stay worthy of his father’s shadow, his father’s legacy. His interests are much more similar to that of his grandfather Unoka. Nwoye is the most conflicted of the characters in “Things Fall Apart”. With the appearance of Ikemefuna, his masculine side comes to the forefront and Nwoye even manages to win at time his father’s unwilling approval thanks to his following Ikemefuna’s standards of living. Nwoye also resorts to disrespecting officially any semblance of feminine behavior, which does not stop him from missing his mother’s tales from childhood. Okonkwo has also to augment his masculine qualities thanks to his father’s psychological complex, which supposed the denial of schemes. Only when the young man is disowned and not regarded any more as a song, he receives inner peace, finally able to start forgetting his father’s tyranny.
If one is to compare gender roles and behavior associated with it among characters of two pieces, it becomes evident that Achebe’s characters are mostly devoid of emotion and ability to feel anything rather than pragmatic needs caused by outer circumstances. Shakespearian masculine characters have the necessary traits but are much more open to feeling emotion and expressing them, although such moments of weakness do not change their lives drastically: Edmund admits that being loved was important to him only after receiving a fatal wound while Lear descended into madness and could not fully comprehend what he desired and why. Even, when he was in sane mind, he was exhibiting signs of weaknesses, which never did a king any favors. Characters, which divert attention from gender roles are Cordelia with her habit of telling the truth as is without any smoothness or “decorations” while Ezinma, being also a female, is much more open to expressing masculine qualities, such as pragmatism and understanding that family/father comes first, which is especially evident in the episode, when she agrees to postpone the wedding ceremony to wait until her family’s finishing the term of exile.