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THis is an extremely patriarchal culture. To show love or empathy is considered weak. Okonkwo wanted to hold himself up as a mythic warrior and leader. By being cold and ruthless to his family, he felt that he was projecting a constant state of strength and power. Of course the reader is rather horrified at this. Certainly we see the unfairness and abuse rather than strength. We, however, keep in mind that this is a completely different culture relatively untouched by the West.