Gender’s Role in `Things Fall Apart` by Chinua Achebe
The story of ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe takes place in the 1890s in the minor Nigerian villages. Though on the surface, it comes into view, the novel narrows its’ center of attention to a single character, Okonkno and his inner battles, one can study deeper into the content and discover an range of various arguments in the area of human vs. human, human vs. nature, human vs. society, and society vs. society. Chinua Achebe, a well-known Nigerian writer, writes African stories that restructure the previous ways of Nigeria’s Igbo people and recall’s the invasion of Western ways of life on their customary morals. Achebe portrays women in Igbo society as a unhappily oppressed group with no authority. Achebe highlights the roles of women in pre-colonial Africa, especially in Nigeria, in the course of his female characters. The female characters discussed in the story are very obedient to males, and their lives are to a great extent affected by the desires of their fathers or husbands. The Igbo culture was a society that put a lot of stress on gender roles, and the importance of manliness and violence, which resulted in the cruelty of the female’s character and the role of women as child barer. As discussed by the writer in the story ‘Things Fall Apart’, this paper also emphasizes on the roles of men and women, their ceremonies and their religious believes.
One thing which is recognized about women is that all the way through time, especially during the nineteenth century, women were subjugated, and they were confined to the role of nurturing. In the Igbo society, patriarchy ruled in every aspect of existence. Men were superior in the Igbo society whereas women were restricted to their traditional roles. Women were expected to do as they are told by their husbands. They were the primary educators of children. Through story telling and behavior, they educated and socialized the children, stimulating in them interest about social values and relations. In Igbo society, men were the providers, protectors and decision makers. Married women were regarded as the possessions of their husbands and their husbands are permitted to beat them.
Gender lines in Igbo society are strictly drawn, and the Igbo community time after time reinforces this. To be a man is to be violent and strong, showing any emotion is a sign of weakness or is considered to be a “female” trait. In Igbo society all that is good is considered masculine and all that is bad is thought of as feminine. As far as the role of men is concerned in the Igbo society, the people of Umuofia valued the qualities of physical strength and bravery very highly.
It had been noticed that the ceremonial village gathering with the egwugwu embodies male superiority in the tribe. The egwugwu materialize from a hut in which no women were allowed to enter. The narrator relates how “it was clear from the way the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men”(Achebe 2976). Men were the ones in the clan to engage in ceremonies, and discussions that faced the tribe. In the Igbo society men dominated the proceedings of the clan. Women were not invited to stay when men were engaged in any discussion; they were not included in councils of war; they did not form part of the masquerades representing the judiciary and ancestral spirits.
It was clear from the way the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. “There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders” (Achebe 62).
In the Igbo society people believed in many gods, with a god for every different thing. One god the Igbo society worshipped was a female, ‘Ani’. Although the author never really mentioned the other minor Gods of Igbo society, it is understandable that the other gods were male. I think the position of one female deity on the realm of religious devotion shows how most of the Gods were male dominated. Achebe mentions Ani because he wants to inform the reader of the importance of Ani to the tribe. Prior to the harvest, the Umuofia tribe held a feast in honor of Ani, the earth goddess. This God was responsible for all things related to the earth, like the well being of crops, and the general well being of the tribe. The only woman the Igbo people respected was Chielo. Chielo was the priestess of the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. She was a spiritual leader whose authority was unquestioned. Presence of Chielo promotes the only example of feminism in the Igbo society. The ability of Chielo to curse Okonkwo proves that she is superior to all, including men. Achebe states, “the priestess scream, “Beware, Okonkwo!” she warned. “Because of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!””(2983).).
Achebe’s portrayal of women in Igbo society is that, the men and women of the village hold very set places and positions in the society. In Umuofia, men were considered the rulers and leaders of the village; and just like all patriarchies, the women are viewed as objects. He uses female characters in the story to give an accurate representation of the roles women played in the Igbo society. The Igbo society was male dominated and the men believed in the superiority of one gender. Although, throughout the text women are virtually invisible and lived their lives on the sidelines, they were still engaged in some important roles. They were to paint the houses of the egwugwu, the masked spirits who represented the ancestral spirits of the village. Another important role that women had in the Igbo society was to be the primary educators of the children. Women maintain societal norms in the community through their story telling. The narrator in the story mentions, ” low voices, broken down and again by singing, reach Okonkwo from his wives’ hut as each women and her children told folk stories”(Achebe 2980).
Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart” Anchor Books, New York, New York, U.S.A. Date Published: 1994 ISBN: 0385474547 (1958)
Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart”. In World Masterpieces, expanded edition in one volume. Maynard Mack, general editor. (2931- 3030)
Chun, June. “The Role of Women in Things Fall Apart”. (1994)
White, Ane. “The Role of Women”. Classic Note on Things Fall Apart (2006)