In the blink of an eye everything can change. In areas of the lower Niger, Okonkwo, the main character of Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, experiences this sudden change. Okonkwo lives in a village Umuofia, where men are seen to be superior to women. Okonkwo is banished from his village and seven years later when he comes back he is disappointed to see his manly village turn, “soft like women” (183). Throughout the novel Ibo women can be seen as mistreated because of the way they are treated and talked about. For example, Ibo men believe the worst insult someone can receive is being called a woman. To vague readers Achebe’s novel could seem sexist towards men, but a deeper reader will notice that women are equivalent to men. Achebe represents Ibo women to be equal to men by their prominent roles in motherhood, traditions, and religion. Women in Ibo society must love, care, and educate their child. At night, Okonkwo’s wives and children get together for story time, where the women read to their children. After the nightly routine of story telling Achebe shows the significant role of a mother by writing, “Low voices, broken now and again by singing, reached Okonkwo from his wives’ huts as each woman and her children told folk stories” (96). This scenario illustrates how men hand off the importance of educating their children to women. Okonkwo likes to be in charge, but when it comes to educating, feeding, and caring for his children he trusts his wives enough to fulfill those everyday responsibilities. Later in the novel, when Okonkwo is exiled after mistakenly killing a boy in the village by a misfire, he goes to Mbanta. Mbanta is his motherland. Okonkwo seeks sympathy and understanding so he goes to a place he knows he’ll be welcome. In fact, when he arrives in Mbanta his uncle, Uchendu explains to Okonkwo not to grieve about coming to his motherland by explaining, “When a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut . . .when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you . . . And that is why we say that mother is supreme” (134). Uchendu reveals the role of the mother and how important they are. They protect their children with love and compassion.
Many readers overlook the traditional tasks completed by women as major, but a more intricate reader realizes the true meanings of a woman’s job. In the Ibo society a man makes his income by farming and prepares all year for a plentiful harvest season. If it weren’t for the work of women, no man in the village would have a successful harvest. After the week of Peace Okonkwo preps his land for planting and, “the women weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early or late” (33). If the women did not complete their job the men would have no crops to sell. Women are like the un-sung hero. Besides a women’s traditional job of helping with the harvest, bride price is a perfect example of the superiority of women. In other cultures such as those in India and China, the bride price (dowry) is compensated from the women’s family to the men’s family. But in Ibo society its the opposite, the men pay the brides family, “’They dare not bring fewer than thirty pots. I shall tell them my mind if they do’…Then more pots came. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five. The hosts nodded in approval and seemed to say, ‘Now they are behaving like men’” (116). Men must pay the dowry to get the women’s approval for their hand in marriage, clearly showing superiority in women because it is one of the few cultures that pay from male to female.
Finally, women hold the most vital religious roles. For example, Ani is the earth goddess. She holds the position in which if she is not respected she can ruin everyone’s harvest or punish the village by preventing the annual rains that everyone relies on. Ani is described as, “a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And what more, she was in close communion with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth” (36). She possesses so much power that many of the men are afraid of her. Another important women figure is Chielo, the priestess of Agbala; she is directly in Umufoia to carry out spiritual matters. One night, Chielo comes to Okonkwo’s compound and asks to take Ezinma, “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep . . . the priestess screams. ‘Beware Okonkwo!’” (101). Okonkwo exposes his weak side by pleading with the priestess. Okonkwo has never shown his weak side to anyone, for anything, expect to Chielo. At glance, the role of women in Things Fall Apart can seem limiting towards women, As Samuel Chell reviews, “It's easy to read but hard to interpret. Achebe does not gloss over the apparently savage, cruel, sexist practices of the Ibo people before the arrival of the white missionaries. Yet readers are quick to overlook these tensions in the narrative” (amazon.com), but if you develop an understanding of Ibo culture the truth is revealed. Woman hold very essential jobs that reveal a lot about their character. A women’s job to care and educate for their family portrays the trust men have in women; everyday traditions show the equality between man and woman. And finally, the ability of women to hold the responsibilities of a priestess/goddess shows women’s significance over men.