- In Dante’s Inferno, the punishments somewhat fit the crimes – In the second level, “carnal malefactors,” those overcome by lust, have to constantly feel the ebb and flow that lust provides by having their souls blown around in a storm. The Fourth Circle punishes greedy people by making them fight each other while holding giant weights, representing the baggage they must carry with all their material possessions. To that end, suicides are turned into trees – these are people who violent against themselves, and so they must be transformed into creatures that cannot move or inflict violence. Here, in this circle of Hell, harpies chew off these branches, causing them incredible pain – they also are not reunited with their bodies completely, simply having their bodies hung on the tree branches. This fits the crime, as they were careless about their bodies and so they do not get them back.
- In The Tale of Genji, Genji kidnaps Murasaki and brings her to his palace, deciding to train her into being the ‘ideal woman.’ According to Genji, the model for ideal womanhood is the Lady Fujitsubo. He falls in love with her at an early age, due to her beauty, her demureness, and her supplicating nature. This concept of the ‘ideal woman’ as personified by Fujitsubo plays in deeply with Japanese cultural expectations – women were expected to possess a degree of submissiveness and beauty, being mild creatures who would not shake up the societal order. To that end, Genji’s love for Fujitsubo is something he perpetually tries to replicate with other people, like Murasaki.
- In the Florentine Codex, Aztec culture seems to place a high level of respect on mothers who birth children, and the act of childbirth itself; it is likened to hardened warriors fighting a battle: “You made yourself a victor, a warrior for Our Lord” (Florentine Codex). Much in the same way that warriors who are killed in battle are honored for giving the ultimate sacrifice, so are mothers who die in childbirth: “Yet you earned a compensation, a reward: a good, perfect, precious death” (Florentine Codex). By giving birth to a child, the Aztecs seem to believe that mothers demonstrate incredibly bravery and strength, giving life where previously there was not. It is an act greeted with great esteem: “By no means did you die in vain” (Florentine Codex).
In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Umuofia warrior Okonkwo is placed under a great deal of pressure to maintain a veneer of strength and responsibility. To that end, he makes a lot of effort to evoke that mood, even if that means making sacrifices and damaging his relationship with his adoptive son. When he wins a teenage boy in a settlement with another tribe, he starts to take a liking to him. However, because of this need to remain strong and not show weakness, Okonkwo refuses to show him any affection – even as the boy (Ikemefuna) starts to call him “father.” This is due to the societal expectations placed upon him to maintain a certain sense of stoicism, being a strong warrior.
Warriors in Nigerian tribal culture place a huge value on machismo and outer strength, which is why Okonkwo is meant to be so emotionally unavailable. To show affection for another is weakness, and so young boys are trained to be as masculine as possible. Okonkwo’s biological son Nwoye turns from lazy layabout to masculine and tough, which pleases Okonkwo. Okonkwo even takes his attempts at maintaining masculinity too far, when he beats his wife because of her negligence to the home. Even the tribe looks down on this, showing that Okonkwo is perhaps more afraid of looking weak than his culture dictates.
Throughout the book, Okonkwo struggles with figuring out the right thing to do, especially when raising his children; when the village elder Ezeudu tells him that Ikemefuna must be killed, Okonwko reluctantly goes through with it, but is tremendously conflicted. When the time comes, he only cuts down the boy because he needed to look strong in front of the other clansmen, who already start attacking Ikemefuna. These actions hurt Okonkwo in the end; he is sent into exile because of the accidental killing of the elder’s son, attempts to start a war with a neighboring clan, and eventually hangs himself.
Okonkwo’s dedication to his pride, and the virtues of violence and masculinity that his culture has instilled in him, leads to his downfall. He is emotionally distant from his family because he does not want to look weak, and often kills people because he believes that is what will make him look strong. However, these decisions backfire on him, as the rest of his culture rebels against the violence that he wreaks. By the end, he hangs himself, thus removing himself totally from the clan and denying himself the chance to have a proper burial. This fear of looking weak leads to great disaster for Okonkwo in the long run.