I wanted to address the song they sing when a woman dies on page 135:
“‘For whom is it well, for whom is it well?
There is no one for whom it is well.’”
We talked a lot in class today about the different views on women and the idea of the woman being valued as a mother and being the cornerstone of the family and being a nurturing figure. We saw a lot of this in Uchendu’s speech to Okonkwo: “when there is sorrow and bitterness [a man] finds refuge in his motherland. your mother is there to protect you… mother is supreme.” (134) I think the song really ties into this idea because it is sung when a woman dies, not when a man dies. With the phrase “there is no one for whom it is well” it suggests a sort of communal suffering. In the context of this being used as a lesson for Okonkwo to stop moping around the phrase can be taken to mean that everyone is suffering in some capacity so don’t mope around because everyone is dealing with something that is difficult for them. In a community context the song provides further evidence for why mother is so supreme. It suggests that when a woman dies everyone mourns and it is a huge loss that is not felt by just a single person. The interrogative syntax of the first line of the song as well as the repetition of “for whom is it well” further emphasizes that there really isn’t anyone who doesn’t suffer from the death of a woman. This provides a lens for us to see that the Ibo people clearly value women a lot more so than we initially saw with the frequent beating of women.
We discussed a lot in class today about the idea of weakness and what constitutes weakness. I think an interesting point that came up which spawned from this was that of there being two different ideas of weakness in the book. From an outside perspective the reader can see that Okonkwo internalizing all his emotions can’t possibly end up positively. I would argue that in the way he lashes out at his wives and even beats them is a demonstration of how he expresses all of his suppressed emotions. Okonkwo’s desire to suppress his emotions also comes from his fear of weakness, and that definition of weakness is based on everything that his father, Unoka, was. But driven by this fear of weakness, Okonkwo seems to have developed an obsession with stereotypical masculinity: strong and a leader of his house. What Okonkwo fails to realize, however, is that sometimes emotion can be seen as strength. For example, no one would’ve judged him if he had stayed home and not gone into the forest for when Ikemefuna was being killed. But no, he had to be all masculine so instead in a frenzied moment of showing his “strength” and ends up giving Ikemefuna the last blow instead. In that moment he had to chose between acting out of his love for Ikemefuna and his fear of appearing weak and he acted out of fear. To me, there is nothing weaker than basing one’s actions on fear rather than on rational moral principles. Another example where Okonkwo’s refusal to show emotion comes up is when he fails to admit the guilt he felt at breaking peace week after visiting the Oracle. As a result, people didn’t think as highly of him because they thought he disrespected the Gods. Supressing one’s emotions and acting out of a fear for appearing weak do nothing to reveal that Okonkwo is truly strong, they instead suggest the exact opposite. Thus, although Okonkwo tries so hard to appear strong, to the readers he appears quite weak and even pathetic.