Women in Things Fall Apart
Published 06 Jul 2017
Women in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe are mostly the women belonging to the Ibo society, nurtured by the ideals and values of Ibo culture. Chinua Achebe in his novel has portrayed the women as a class inferior than the men in some aspects if not all. Actually, in pre-colonial Ibo society the women were an oppressed lot. It is of course a conventional belief. Even we surprisingly find that Okonkwo hardly hesitates to beat his wife when she comes a little late in cooking his meal. It automatically supports the view that wife-beating was in vogue in the Ibo society in those times. Thus, the tribal norms stand questioned when the Ibo culture and the role of women are put side by side for scrutiny.
The women are allowed to paint the house of the egwugwu only. They are also entitled to play the chief role in the wedding-ceremony in a house. It is a joyful occasion to them to bring all the neighbors together to share the joy of the memorable moments. During the wedding ceremony of Obierika’s daughter, the women of the village mustered strong in their house to observe it for days together. Achebe elaborately portrays the occasion where the women bring Kola nuts and other gifts to make it more meaningful and successful. It is generally seen in Ibo society that the first wives are respected more than the latter ones. It is a notion embedded in the society that the first wife is the purest and the luckiest one.
When Okonkwo’s dearest son Nwowye comes under the direct influence of the Christian Missionaries, Okonkwo feels utterly helpless. He cannot brook that the personal gods or Chi of his own culture will be defied by the people of his society, let alone his own son. He out of a feeling of sheer discomfiture cries within, “How could I father such a son as Nwowye?” He even wished that Nwowye could easily have been a daughter instead. In lieu of that he would love to have Ezinma, his daughter , as a son. What a wishful thinking?! Yet, the underlying idea is quite interesting. Courage, norms, valor –all are deliberately or unknowingly being associated with the men not WOMEN!!
But the women are no less important in the Ibo society so far as their contribution in raising the children is concerned. It is their duty to rejuvenate the hidden talents in them by spinning yarns, by telling interesting tales. The personality of the children grows strong along with the lessons imparted by the elders especially one’s mother. Thus, shaping the future generation and readying them to face the world in a wise manner is the responsibility of the women. It goes without saying that women know their duties and responsibilities like the palm of their hands.
The High Priestess is a woman. Why? If women are considered to play second fiddle to men always then how can a woman be taken to be the High Priestess? As far as the capability of that particular woman is taken into consideration, she surely proves her worth and enjoys the title. Thus, woman can even prove their mettle, be it occult or whatever, and earns the respect of all and sundry.
At one point of his life, Okonkwo has to leave his own place and seek refuge in his motherland. At that time, Uchendu opined that Nneka is a significant word. It is generally referred to a female. It is only because, “a man seeks refuge in his motherland” in times of distress. In rosy times, all places are worth living in. But , a man is taken affectionately on the lap of his motherland when he falls on evil days. Okonkwo is made to understand that “mother is supreme.” For seven long years he stays in his motherland with his family. He feels safe and secure there.
The women in Ibo society are gregarious by nature. They are never alienated and they are very protective to their children. We are impressed to see how Ezinma is protected by her mother when the priestess makes her run in the jungle. Though it is the instinct of all mothers of all sects and societies to protect their children, the women of Ibo society are extra-caring and protective. They even put their own lives at stake to save their children.
Okonkwo is ever-grateful to his motherland, not for the shelter only he got from Uchendu but also for the peaceful times he enjoyed there. He came back to his native place only to se to his utter dismay that all things had fallen apart. The Christian Missionaries had catapulted to the helm of all affairs and their personal gods were being cornered with their lives thrown into utter jeopardy. Okonkwo had seen with heartfelt gratitude that women of his society never hummed or hawed to come straight to stand beside their men in the hours of need . The men did not allow them to come to the front always, that was a different matter. The British Commissioner called only the men for the meeting—that too was a different matter . But, women of Ibo society are strong and courageous, no doubt.
- Achebe, Chinua: Things Fall Apart, Heinemann, London, 1978.