17th of April 2016
Things Fall Apart is a novel about the Ibo tribe, their unhurried way of life, tied to the change of seasons and the harvest. The tribe with very close ties of kinship. The unity of the mind is the factor that connects all villagers saving from the conflict. Fear of the gods, worship of ancestors, superstition, sometimes cruel and ridiculous in our opinion, rites and rituals – all this has kept the integrity of the tribe for many centuries. This is a society where every individual had his own designated role: men were the hunters, warriors and the most important people, whereas women are left ado with secondary roles of doing the house chores. Here men dominate and they could do almost anything they want to anyone, in particular to a woman.
The Ibo society has its own hierarchy. Naturally, men are considered to be above all and women are rather in support of the latter. The story shows that women, despite being of significant importance to the tribe as they take care of the crops, raise kids and teach them to be part of the society, are by large discriminated, beaten, and in general are taken for granted. This is why in the story they appear to be powerless and weak in the society. The attitude of the males in the Ibo society towards their women can be described by their behavior towards their wives, sisters and mothers.
In the Ibo society beating of women is generally accepted. The text describes two instances. The first is Okonwo beating his wife simply because the latter had not cooked him anything to eat. The second instance again happened with Okonwo, as his second wife mentioned him as “guns that never shot.” However, cases of beatings were frowned upon and such were looked upon in detail, though they were considered “acceptable. Both cases described above led to a discussion with the Egwugwu.
"Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. All his wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper (Achebe p.12)."
Attribute of weakness and frailness. This assumption flows out from the previous. Whenever a man was not able to achieve a certain status, he was described and called as agbala, literally meaning “woman”. The very notion of a person who, let us say failed, to be compared to a woman is already in itself is a sign of frailness. The members of the tribe brought this even further calling everyone in such a state as agbala. In addition to this the men always wanted to have sons instead of daughters. As Okonwo says: “if Ezinma had been a boy I would have been happier. She has the spirit,” (Achebe p.16).
Woman as the protector. The phrase "a child belongs to his father, but if the father beats the child, the child seeks refuge in the mother’s house (Achebe p.134)," describes the law that the people of the Ibo tribe followed. From this simple sentence it becomes clear that women were considered as protectors of their children. As such who will never let harm come to their children. Understanding this role the women themselves seek prowess and claim that they aren’t insignificant and powerless. Everyone in the tribe relies on them to nurture and take care of the kids, and also of their men, no matter what the relationship between them is.
House chores and duties. Just like in any society women are expected to take care of the house chores. The Ibo society has designated the women with many roles and tasks within the household. They were to prepare food, do the washing, tend to housekeeping, and raise the children. All of these tasks ere to be accomplished in between when the women were busy in agriculture. Three times a year the women weeded their farms. "His mother and sister worked very hard enough, but they only grew women’s crops, like the coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam the king of crops was a man’s crop," (Achebe p.28). Though, the woman is shown doing an immense amount of task the men still tend to discriminate them even further and relieve the women of the responsibility to grow the Yam. In general men were of the belief that women are not firm in their decisions and attitudes. These features would not allow the woman to reach any significant post in the society.
Religious Priestess. This is a rather powerful aspect of the women’s role in the Ibo society. Being a priestess fully contradicts the general understanding and acceptance of women in their home domain. Achebe writes, “The priestess in those days was a woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared” (Achebe p. 17). These words are proof of the fact that even men did not risk to disobey the priestess. Just like the example with Okonwo, when the priestess demanded he give her daughter away, as otherwise she would fly into a temper. Now, nowhere in the story we see Okonwo give in to someone’s pleas, let alone demands. However, the priestess behaved in a way that no one dared to say anything against her. One more proof that the men were more afraid of “powerful women” is that their deity the Earth goddess Ani was also perceived in the form of a woman and not a man. The Ibo people mostly had goddesses rather than gods.
The Ibo society generally denies women to exercise power and authority. The author describes the men’s attitude as hostile and non-understandable. The women were perceived as weak and frail, not being able to cope with anything. Nonetheless, women were designated with a significant amount of tasks men did not show the desire to do. Those men who were not able to achieve a certain status within the tribe, they were ridiculed and called agbala meaning “woman”. In reality, women are of immense importance to the tribe for all the accomplishments they make and how they cope with the tasks. Men are simply not up to them. They, however, let this go unnoticed.
Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.