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things fall away

By sasassassas Oct 23, 2014 2773 Words

Although Umofia is a patriarchal society, Achebe constantly points to the centrality of femininity in Igbo culture. In what ways does he draw attention to the fact that the feminine qualities of Igbo culture are important to its survival? Thesis: Achebe has brought light upon the importance of women and has shown throughout the story their prevalence in society. Requirements:

Knowledge of text
Understanding of the topic of gender equality and femininity Use of relevant textual evidence
Good essay structure, clear thesis, effective flow and organization (transition phrases and words) and strong conclusion. Grammar usage, Proper MLA and use of the writing process
Double space 1000 words
Quotes from shmoop about genfer in TFA
Page 134 Women children and man
Point 1
The women in Umofia are unrecognized for their hard word dedication to their families. Point 2
Change is inevitable we must let things fall apart so other things can fall together Point 3
The necessity of balance in gender responsibility
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper […] (2.12) In the Igbo world, men are the dominant sex and they “rule” over their families, including their wives. Women are relegated to a more or less servile position, often living in fear of their husbands. Though Okonkwo’s quick temper with his family is never portrayed as admirable, he unquestionably has the right to be aggressive at home. “He belongs to the clan,” he told her [Okonkwo’s eldest wife]. “So look after him.”“Is he staying long with us?” she asked.“Do what you are told, woman,” Okonkwo thundered, and stammered. “When did you become one of the ndichie of Umuofia?”And so Nwoye’s mother took Ikemefuna to her hut and asked no more questions. (2.16-19) Okonkwo treats his wife like a servant, demanding that she does whatever he commands her with no questions asked. Women, as demonstrated by Okonkwo’s eldest wife here, are taught to be silent and obedient. In fact, women count for so little in Igbo society that they are often not even addressed by their given names, but referred to by their relationship with men. Throughout the entire novel, the narrator rarely calls Okonkwo’s first wife by her name, she is almost always identified in relation to her husband or son, Nwoye. His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop. (3.28) Nearly every aspect of Igbo society is gendered, even crops. Yam, because it is the staple of the Igbo diet, is considered a man’s crop. This allows men to maintain the position as the primary providers for their families, and the respect which that role confers. And after a pause she said: “Can I bring your chair for you?”“No, that is a boy’s job.” Okonkwo was specially fond of Ezinma. (5.59-60) Although Ezinma is probably Okonkwo’s favorite child, he adheres very strictly to the norms of male and female action ascribed by Igbo culture. He does not allow Ezinma to do something as simple as carrying a chair to the festival for him because he considers it a boy’s task. Sadly, Okonkwo’s strict following of gender roles prevents him from showing his affection for his daughter. The woman with whom she talked was called Chielo. She was the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. In ordinary life, Chielo was a widow with two children. She was very friendly with Ekwefi and they shared a common shed in the market. She was particularly fond of Ekwefi’s only daughter, Ezinma, whom she called “my daughter.” Quite often she bought beancakes and gave Ekwefi some to take home to Ezinma. Anyone seeing Chielo in ordinary life would hardly believe she was the same person who prophesied when the spirit of Agbala was upon her. (6.17) Chielo is an example of a powerful woman – the lone priestess of major god – who leads a dual life. In the market, she is an ordinary woman and a good friend, but when the god takes possession of her, she changes drastically and becomes a figure to be reckoned with. It is only when a woman has supernatural power behind her that she is respected by men. The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. 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. (13.13) Even crimes are gendered in Igbo society, with male crimes considered more severe and pre-meditated than female ones. Thus, the punishment for female crimes is less severe than for male ones. It says something about Igbo values for women that a person’s punishment is to be exiled to his motherland. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart portrays Africa, particularly the Ibo society, right before the arrival of the white man. Things Fall Apart analyzes the destruction of African culture by the appearance of the white man in terms of the destruction of the bonds between individuals and their society. Achebe, who teaches us a great deal about Ibo society and translates Ibo myth and proverbs, also explains the role of women in pre-colonial Africa. In Things Fall Apart, the reader follows the trials and tribulations of Okonkwo, a tragic hero whose tragic flaw includes the fact that "his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness." (16) For Okonkwo, his father Unoka embodied the epitome of failure and weakness. Okonkwo was taunted as a child by other children when they called Unoka agbala. Agbala could either mean a man who had taken no title or "woman." Okonkwo hated anything weak or frail, and his descriptions of his tribe and the members of his family show that in Ibo society anything strong was likened to man and anything weak to woman. Because Nwoye, his son by his first wife, reminds Okonkwo of his father Unoka he describes him as woman-like. After hearing of Nwoye's conversion to the Christianity, Okonkwo ponders how he, "a flaming fire could have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate" (143)? On the other hand, his daughter Ezinma "should have been a boy." (61) He favored her the most out of all of his children, yet "if Ezinma had been a boy [he] would have been happier." (63) After killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, who cannot understand why he is so distraught, asks himself, "When did you become a shivering old woman?" (62) When his fellows looks as if they are not going to fight against the intruding missionaries, Okonkwo remembers the "days when men were men." (184) In keeping with the Ibo view of female nature, they allowed wife beating. The novel describes two instances when Okonkwo beats his second wife, once when she did not come home to make his meal. He beat her severely and was punished but only because he beat her during the Week of Peace. He beat her again when she referred to him as one of those "guns that never shot." When a severe case of wife beating comes before the egwugwu, hefound in favor of the wife., but at the end of the trial a man wondered "why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu." (89) Achebe shows that the Ibo nonetheless assign important roles to women. For instance, women painted the houses of the egwugwu (84). Furthermore, the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid some respect. This deference is illustrated by the palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie's obi . Anasi, Nwakibie's first wife, had not yet arrived and "the others [other wives] could not drink before her" (22). The importance of woman's role appears when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His uncle, Uchendu, noticing Okonkwo's distress, eloquently explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: "A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland." A man has both joy and sorrow in his life and when the bad times come his "mother" is always there to comfort him. Thus comes the saying "Mother is Supreme". The position and image of women in Things Fall Apart is an important topic. Unfortunately, people have not paid much attention to it beyond going along with the assumption that this novel presents women as a sadly oppressed group with no power. This assumption may appear to be right, but there is much more to think about. Women in Things Fall Apart are the primary educators of children. Through story telling and other forms of discourse, they educate and socialize the children, inspiring in them intellectual curiosity about social values, relationships, and the human condition. The stories the women tell also develop the artistic consciousness of the children, in addition to entertaining them. The women bear children, cook and take care of the household in many other ways. Through their labor, they are an important pillar of the society. The presence of Chielo, the priestess in Things Fall Apart is instructive. She is a spiritual leader, whose authority is unquestioned. Grace Okafor comments on the Igbo view of women's ritualistic power: The ritualistic function of women emanated from belief in the ritual essence of women as progenitors of the society. The idea is that women know the secret of life since they are the source of life. Because of their biological function in the life-giving process, the society looks on them to safeguard life. Thus, it is the biological role of women that influenced belief in their power. (Okafor, 9-10) There is a memorable question that old Uchendu asks, which emphasizes the position of women in Things Fall Apart in a dramatic way: Can you tell me, Okonkwo, why it is that one of the commonest names we give to our children is Nneka, or "Mother is Supreme"? We all know that a man is the head of the family and his wives do his bidding. A child belongs to its father and his family and not to its mother and her family. A man belongs to his fatherland and not to his motherland. And yet we say Nneka--"Mother is Supreme." Why is that?" (94) Uchendu answers the question himself: A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. (94-95) Discerning the role of women in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (TFA) requires an attentive and unbiased reading of the novel. At first glance, the women in TFA may seem to be an oppressed group with little power, and this characterization is true to some extent. However, this characterization of Ibo women reveals itself to be prematurely simplistic as well as limiting, once the reader uncovers the diverse roles of the Ibo women throughout the novel. An excellent example of powerful women in the Ibo village is found in the role they play in the Ibo religion. The women routinely perform the role of priestess. The narrator recalls that during Okonkwo’s boyhood, “the priestess in those days was a woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared” (17). The present priestess is Chielo, “the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the hill and the Caves” (49). There is an episode during which Chielo has come for Okonkwo and Ekwefi’s daughter Ezinma. We are told, “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep. But Chielo ignored what he was trying to say and went on shouting that Agbala wanted to see his daughter . . . The priestess screamed. ‘Beware, Okonkwo!’ she warned” (101). There is no other point in the novel in which we see Okonkwo “plead” with anyone, male or female, for any reason. We witness a woman not only ordering Okonkwo to give her his daughter, but threatening him as well. The fact that Okonkwo allows this is evidence of the priestess’s power. The ability of a woman to occupy the role of a priestess, a spiritual leader, reveals a clear degree of reverence for women being present in Ibo society. Another example of such reverence for women is unveiled in the representation of the earth goddess, Ani. Ani is described a playing “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). It seems logical that a society that views its female members as inferior beings would not represent their most powerful deity as being a woman. Ani’s power is further illustrated through her role in the yam harvest. It is important that all the members of the clan observe the Week of Peace prior to the harvest in order, “to honor [their] great goddess of the earth without whose blessing [their] crops will not grow” (30). For a female spirit to possess such an important role in the success of the yam crops is indicative of the actual deep-rooted power of women. When Okonkwo breaks the Peace of Ani, Ezeani proclaims, “The evil you have one can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish” (30). The idea of women’s power being attached to nature is also found in Chapter fourteen, when Okonkwo returns to his mother’s clan after being exiled from the Ibo village. Uchendu, reproaching Okonkwo for his sorrow about having to come to live with his mother’s clan, explains: It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme (134). Uchenda’s words reveal that women are viewed as the foundation of the clan and its people. They are the constant that can be relied upon; they are the nurturers and caretakers of the people. These are not insignificant, powerless roles.    In addition to these notable examples of the power of these women, we observe women performing various roles sprinkled throughout the novel. We are told that it is “the women [who] weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early or late” (33). This is an extremely important duty, considering that if this task is not carried out correctly, the yam crops will fail. We also see women in their role as educators of their children. The education process is done in part through the ritual of storytelling. The narrator describes, “Low voices, broken now and again by singing, reached Okonkwo from his wives’ huts as each woman and her children told folk stories” (96). It is through storytelling that the children learn important lessons about the human condition, are taught the Ibo creation myths, such as the birds and the tortoise story, and master the art of communicating by retelling the stories themselves. As stated earlier in the novel, “Among Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten” (7). The Ibo women are playing a significant role in the facilitation of this learning, which is vital to their children’s ability to function within the Ibo culture.    At first glance, the role of women in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart may appear to unfairly limited in terms of their authority and power. Upon delving beneath this deceiving surface, one can see that the women of the clan hold some very powerful positions: spiritually as the priestess, symbolically as the earth goddess, and literally as the nurturers of the Ibo people, the caretakers of the yam crops and the mothers and educators of the Ibo children.

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