“Things Fall Apart”: Role and Treatment of Women Essay
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“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe describes tribal life in the jungles of Africa. Actually, the author speaks about Ibo community before the arrival of a white man. Achebe provides detailed overview of Ibo community interpreting their proverb and myths and analyzing the status and role of women in Ibo society and in pre-colonial Africa. From the very beginning it is seen that the world in the story is patriarchal, oppressive and hierarchical. Gender discrimination is present in all spheres of life.
Life in community is andocentric meaning that man takes predominant positions in society, whereas women are treated as nothing important. In particular, women are considered as a part of men’s acquisitions. As wives, they “come in multiple numbers, sandwiched between yam barns and titles. These three – wives, yam barns, social titles – are the highest accolades for the successful farmer, warrior, and man of worth”. (Achebe, 23) For example, Nwakibie has nine wives and thirty children and, thus, he is considered to be of the highest status.
The main character of the story, Okonkwo, is mentioned to hate everything treated as frail and weak. His reflections about tribal order, family members and social status prove that Ibo society associates strength only with males and weakness with females. For example, Okonkwo’s son by his first wife is described as a woman-like being a serious insult.
After Ikemefuna’s death main hero can’t understand his sorrow asking himself: “When did you become a shivering old woman?” (Achebe, 62) In such a way the author states that women are oppressed and subordinated. Consequently, men are privileged enough as they are allowed to make decisions in contrast to women. As the author writes, women are in the prison of acquiescence, simply because of personal weakness which contributes to the suppression of women as well as because of a combination of community’s control.
The next moment to mention is treatment of women in Ibo community. The author notes that beating a wife is rather common practice within society. Actually, the story highlights two examples when the second wife of Okonkwo is beaten simply because of not coming home to prepare meal. However, Okonkwo is punished because of severe beating simply because he has dared to beat his wife during the Weak of Peace. Nevertheless, he doesn’t stop and beats her again when she refers to him as “guns that never shot”. (Achebe, 89) The positive moment is when the mentioned severe beating comes before egwugwu, the decision is made in favor of beaten wife, though a man wonders, “why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu”. (Achebe, 89)
Attitudes towards women is rather chauvinistic and men think that women’s place is at home, “lumps together women and chillun and chickens and cows and wants to be a big voice” in community affairs. (Achebe, 27) Treatment of women in Ibo community is strongly by gender discrimination and oppression meaning that women were something like private property being able only to keep house and to bear children. From the very first pages of the a novel the author illustrates that it is a men’s world and men are dominating force in the society and, what is more outrageous, in family relationships. The author claims that it is customary for males to think only they have a right to decide what, when and how to do things and arrange events.
Nonetheless, the author shows that women are assigned important role despite discrimination and oppression. For example, “women painted the houses of the egwugwu”. (Achebe, 84) Certain respect is paid to the first wife of Ibo man: “Anasi, Nwakibie’s first wife, had not yet arrived and the others could not drink before her”. (Achebe, 22) However, real importance of women appears after Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His uncle 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”. (Achebe, 99) Thus, mothers should always comfort their sons when bad times come because mothers are supreme.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958