Compare the father-son relationships in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe [Okonkwo & Nwoye] and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller [Willy & Biff].
Inez Schroder Tuesday, April 27, 2010
English Comparing the Father-Son relationships
Compare the father-son relationships in ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe [Okonkwo & Nwoye] and ‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller [Willy & Biff].
The father-son relationships in ‘Things Fall Apart’ and ‘Death of a Salesman’ are extremely similar. ‘Death of a Salesman’ is set in New York, in the late 1940’s. It is about Willy Loman, a salesman in his late 60s, his wife Linda and his two sons Biff and Happy. Willy Loman is a thorough believer of the concept of the American Dream, but he holds on to it so tightly that everything in his life falls apart. He wished so much for his son Biff to be successful, but when Biff finds Willy cheating on his mother, he himself loses all faith and now, in his early thirties, he has no wife or children and jumps from one job to the next. In the end, Willy commits suicide. “Things Fall Apart” is set in Umuofia, what is now Nigeria, in the late 19th century, and it is about Okonkwo, who has risen from nothing to a very high position. He is afraid of being like his father, whom he views as weak because he had not titles, was in debt and possessed no yams. He despises the fact that his first son, Nwoye, is a lot like his father. When Christian missionaries arrive in Umuofia, Okonkwo immediately dislikes them, and when they start to integrate in the society Umuofia and its people are forced to adapt their customs to the white man’s. The gentle ‘new faith’ attracts susceptible Nwoye, who doesn’t like the cruel aspect of the Igbo religion, and this makes Okonkwo shun his first son. When the white man tries to impose its culture on the Igbo culture, ‘things fall apart’.
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The general similarities between “Things Fall Apart” and “Death Of A Salesman” are simple to find. Both sons appear as ‘failures’ in their father’s eyes, fro example. Nwoye is a failure to his father because he is to soft, and too lazy, [‘Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye…constant nagging and beating’ p.10] much more like Okonkwo’s father. Biff is a ‘failure’ in Willy’s eyes, because Biff finished high school with a promising future, but fails anyway in the end [“Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such – personal attractiveness, gets lost.” Act 1]. Following up on this: both Nwoye and Biff refuse to follow in their father’s footsteps. Nwoye doesn’t approve of the harsh aspect of the Igbo culture - for example throwing away twins in the evil forest] - because he feels that it is completely unnecessary: he questions whether this faith can really be the only one. Okonkwo believes because of this that Nwoye is weak and feminine, and he never stops wishing that Nwoye were different, more like him: he wants Nwoye to be successful in life, and the
only way for his son to be successful in his eyes is for him to become a great warrior like himself. Nwoye does not want this, just as Biff is not happy with becoming a salesman. Willy also wants his son to be successful, but in his eyes Biff can only be successful if he becomes a successful salesman.
However, there are also a few differences between the father-son relationship between Biff and Willy and Nwoye and Okonkwo. Biff and Willy had a good relationship when Biff was young, [ “[Biff is] like a young god. Hercules – something like that… really fade away.” Act 1] he really believed in his son and wished the best for him. Nwoye and Okonkwo, however, already have a mercurial relationship when Nwoye is young [“Nothing now pleased Nwoye…his son’s development” p.37 (proves that before Ikemefuna Nwoye was not well-liked by Okonkwo)]. Also, Nwoye’s rejection of his father is quite sudden - he joins the Christian Church and refuses to have any contact with his father after that – and he finds an alternative set of values. Biff, however, loses faith in his father and his father’s dream when he finds out about the affair in Boston [p.94]. The last (but not the least) difference is that Okonkwo was a very successful man in the clan [“Okonkwo was well…from Umuofia to Mbaino.” P.3], while Willy is not. [I am not…buck an hour! Act 2].
There are, however, many more similarities between the two relationships. Both fathers have too high expectations for their sons - Nwoye just doesn’t have the personality his father wants him to have, and Biff gives up after he sees that the man he idolizes (his father) is cheating on his mother – and both sons have bad relationships with their fathers. Both sons also want their fathers to believe in them. Biff just wishes for his father to believe in him in what he wants to do, not what Willy wants him to do, and Nwoye just wants for his father to be proud of him: everything he does he does to please his father.
In conclusion, the relationships between father and son in both of these books are very similar, which suggests that this is a feature of human behavior: it also suggests that relationships are similar no matter what the society may be like.