The Place of Women in Igbo Society (Things Fall Apart)
Women are often thought of as the weaker, more vulnerable of the two sexes. Thus, women’s roles in literature are often subdued and subordinate. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, women are repressed by an entrenched structure of the social repression. Women suffer great losses in this novel but, also in certain circumstances, hold tremendous power. Achebe provides progressively changing attitudes towards women’s role. At first glance, the women in Things Fall Apart may seem to be an oppressed group with little power and this characterization is true to some extent. However, this characterization of Igbo women reveals itself to be prematurely simplistic as well as limiting, once the reader uncovers the diverse roles of the Igbo women throughout the novel. The recurring themes of gender conflicts help drive the novel by showing how important women are to the men, yet they don’t receive the treatment they deserve. Although the women in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart are viewed in an inferior light by the Igbo men, there are also occurrences which showcase their strength and importance in the society. All over the world, especially in developing countries, women are not treated as equals. It is not any different in the Nigerian society portrayed by Chinua Achebe. In Thing Fall Apart, Achebe represents the female characters as they existed in Igbo culture, which is without power but often emotionally strong. Although traditional Igbo culture is fairly democratic in nature, it is also profoundly patriarchal. The world in Things Fall Apart is one in which patriarchy intrudes oppressively into every sphere of existence. It is a world where the man is everything and the woman nothing. Igbo culture regarded women as gentle, weak, and obedient to their men. The woman’s job was in the house taking care of the children, preparing the meals and raising easy crops, while the men did brave things such as fighting, hunting, and raising difficult crops. In domestic terms, women are quantified as part of men’s acquisition. As wives, women come in multiple numbers, sandwiched between yam barns and titles. These three, wives, yam barns, social tiles- are the highest accolades for the successful farmer, warrior, and man of worth. These determine a man’s social status, as illustrated by Nwakibie, a man in Okonkwo’s village, who has three barns, nine wives and thirty children and the highest but one title which a man can take in the clan (18). The society that Achebe is describing is an agrarian one in which the crop- the yam- is synonymous with virility. Achebe explains that this important crop stands for manliness and was a “man’s crop” whereas coco-yam, of smaller size and lesser value than other yams is regarded as female (23). This gender discrimination reinforces the notion that Igbo men are superior to women of their tribe. Consequently, to produce an abundant harvest, the traditional farmer needs a good workforce. Women constitute the core of the rural workforce by farming, tending animals, nurturing children, among other activities. They “weeded the farm three times at definite periods” (33). In fact, their extensive and strenuous labor makes possible the agrarian society Achebe portrays. Achebe depicts the stereotypical vision of women in Things Fall Apart through some male characters, one of them being Okonkwo. Okonkwo strives to make his way in a world that seems to value manliness. His whole life was dominated by the fear of becoming like his father Unoka, who was a failure. He associated Unoka with weakness, and with weakness he associates femininity while masculinity is associated with strength. In the Igbo society, feminine concepts and words are used to refer to weak things. So it is no coincidence that the word “Agbala” was not only the name for a woman but was also referred to a man with no title (13). A representative of society at large, Okonkwo views women as...
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