Gender Roles in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

This is about the struggle between traditional beliefs and more modern beliefs. It’s a clash of two cultures, with varying thoughts of masculinity, related to the way women are treated and thought of in society. In the traditional African culture there are set rules for women. Women are thought of as lower on the totem pole of importance, even though their existence is vital to the survival of the village. For example, women are not allowed to grow yams because they are considered the “man’s crop.

” Yams are grown to increase wealth and also to feed their family. They are a symbol of masculinity. The coco yams symbolize wealth, manhood, and prosperity. Women are allowed to grow smaller crops and do small tasks. Women are not allowed to participate in most traditional ceremonies. Sometimes it was difficult to decide if Okonkwo’s actions were out of respect for women or if it was because he thought women were not strong enough to do the job.

For example; Okonkwo says, “No that is a boy’s job,” when his daughter Ezinma tries to carry a chair.

The book does have some common treatment of women in both the traditional African culture and the white colonists of that time. In both worlds women are the weaker sex, but they have qualities that make them worthy, such as, being a wife and mother. Women do all the cooking and cleaning. While it appears that white colonists seem to be more thankful for the women, Okonkwo treats his wife like a servant; “Do what you are told, woman.

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’ Okonkwo thundered.” There are times when woman were given some respect in Things Fall Apart, but they are still supposed to be obedient to the men. “We all know that a man is the head of the family and his wives so his bidding.”

White colonist women were allowed to hold jobs and teach. Women were by far treated better than in the traditional African culture.

When Ogbuefi Udo’s wife was murdered in the book, it was decided that, “the girl [virgin from neighboring clan as peace offering] should go to Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife.” This exchange shows that girls and women were considered an object, a mere replacement for Ogbuefi Odo’s former wife, implying that woman are interchangeable. But in contrast, although woman were traded and objectified, the fact that a man needed a replacement wife, proves that they are actually worth something to the men.

Okonkwo loved his daughter very much. Though he always regretted that Ezinma was a girl. Of all his children she alone understood his every mood. A bond of sympathy had grown between them as the years passed. Okonkwo might have wished Ezinma were a boy, but he loved his daughter and the connection they shared. Being a boy would have meant that Ezinma and Okonkwo would be able to spend more time together and really bond.

At times, the book demonstrates a better image for women and the power they have in society. “The priestess in those days was a woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared.” A woman holding such a high position, to the point where she was feared, shows that women had the ability to hold power. “Your mother is there to protect you… And that is why we say that mother is supreme.” Despite the overall negative view on women, this quote shows that when things go downhill, the mother is the one who will help you and protect you. This is one of the few instances where women have power over men in Things Fall Apart.

On the contrary, women are still seen as property. “The law of Umuofia is that if a woman runs away from her husband her pride-price is returned.” The fact that women are worth money for marriage is degrading and disrespectful. Okonkwo has 3 wives, all of which get very little gratitude and affection for all that they do for Okonkwo. A man of Umuofia wants a woman that will do as they say, without debate. This relationship between men and women is like a dictatorship, rather than a democracy. Women are seen as a piece of property after marriage. Men show respect for the women in Umuofia, the city where Okonkwo and his name lives. “It is not bravery when a man

Okonkwo’s greatest fear was looking weak. When he was feeling down on himself, he said, “When did you become a shivering old woman,” “Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed.” Okonkwo says this to himself, referring to himself as weak, like a woman. Although women are given some power and a role in society, they are still disrespected and degraded.

Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper. In the Igbo world, men are the dominant sex and they “rule” over their families, including their wives. Women are treated to be in a submissive position, and often live 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.

Again Okonkwo’s greatest fear was looking weak. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was both a name for a woman, and it also meant a man who had taken no title, or weak. In Igbo culture, women are considered weaker than the men and thus it’s an insult to men to be called an agbala. Okonkwo is acutely aware of what it means to be a man in the Igbo tribe and is ashamed that someone might call him or his male relations agbala.

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, Okonkwo’s first wife is rarely called by her name, she is almost always identified in relation to her husband or son, Nwoye.

Since yams are a hard crop to grow, being a good provider is directly tied to being a hard worker. Okonkwo, having suffered embarrassment and poverty from his rather effeminate father (by his standards), will stop at nothing to keep his sons from the same fate – even if it means breaking their hearts as little boys. Okonkwo would rather strangle his son with his own hands than have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan. Okonkwo would rather kill his son than live with an effeminate one. But really, Okonkwo is thinking of his own reputation as a man, which he doesn’t want tarnished by a soft son.

As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument, Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping. Neither of the other wives dared to interfere beyond an occasional and tentative, “It is enough, Okonkwo,” pleaded from a reasonable distance. (5.10)

Gender is so coded into every aspect of Igbo society that Okonkwo loses his patience with Ezinma when she fails to sit like a woman. This is also a sign that Ezinma sometimes trespasses into the realm of men with her unfeminine actions.

White colonist women were allowed to hold jobs and teach. Women were by far treated better than in the traditional African culture.

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Gender Roles in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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