Women: The Mothers of Umuofia
In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe describes a rich culture that is remarkably civilized, with customs and values that place considerable emphasis on justice and fairness. Even with such principles, Igbo culture functions as a predominantly masculine society, run by men, where women were assigned little authority. Wives were to be seen, but not heard; they were to have little influence on their male-dominated civilization. Yet between the lines, Achebe sheds light on the true power and dependence Umuofia has on feminine culture, and the effect femininity has on Okonkwo. Although he describes Umuofia as a very masculine and patriarchal culture, Achebe draws attention to the feminine side of society to stress not only femininity’s importance and fundamentality in Umuofia, but because of its omnipotent presence and women’s involvement in virtually every aspect of Igbo life from law to religion.
Okonkwo lived in a constant state of fear; the fear of being thought weak, incapable, and most importantly woman-like. He took much pride in his manhood, and would do next to anything to preserve it. When at the burial of the elder Ezeudu, Okonkwo could do nothing but watch as manhood, reputation, and life’s work was ripped to shreds right before his eyes: “It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years.” (Achebe, p. 124)
Albeit accidental, Okonkwo had now been made a woman. He had committed a “feminine” crime, and now had to suffer the consequences in two ways: physically, and psychologically. He was now banished from Umuofia to his matriarchal roots, which initially pained him greatly, but he now has lost all he strived to obtain. All titles, wealth, status, and manliness were shattered and stripped...
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