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Achebe’s Portrayal of Women in Igbo Society

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Essay title: Achebe’s Portrayal of Women in Igbo Society

Chinua Achebe's first novel Things Fall Apart is a story about an Igbo village in the late 1800's. In the story, Achebe depicts women in Igbo society as a sadly oppressed group with no power. Women of the Igbo tribe were terribly mistreated, and had no respect outside their role as being a mother or a wife. In the novel, the author “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”(Chun, par1). I noticed that in the story the author explains the role of women in pre-colonial Africa, by telling stories of how women handle their business in Igbo society. Most women in Igbo society “were primary educators of their children, and they cook and took care of the household”(Mbele par 2). Achebe highlights the roles of women in pre-colonial Africa, especially in Nigeria, through his female characters. The female characters in the story are very obedient to males, and their lives are greatly affected by the desires of their husbands or fathers. I noticed in the novel that fathers sold their daughters off to marriage, and husbands beat their wives. Most men in Igbo society used tradition as a background to dictate women roles and lives. The Igbo society was a society that put a lot of emphasis on gender roles, and the importance of masculinity and violence, which resulted in the abuse of the female's character and the role of women as child barer.

The story Things Fall Apart depicts Igbo society during the late 1800’s. One ting I know about women is that throughout time, especially during the nineteenth century, women were oppressed, and they were confined to the role of nurturing. In the Igbo society, patriarchy ruled in every aspect of existence. Men were superior in the Igbo society while women were confined to their traditional roles. In the beginning of the story, we hear about Okonkwo getting his masculinity from his father and he sets out to be better than him. He never really takes any attributes from his mother but we learned that he took care of her. The presence of Okonkwo’s mother in his life is nonexistence. Achebe says, “His father, Unoka, in his day was very lazy and incapable of repaying the debts he owed every neighbor…. he was a failure, his wife and children had barely enough to eat”(2937). Okonkwo view his father as a feminine because he did not achieve a high statue which women had. According the spark notes, “ he wants to rise above his father’s legacy of spendthrift, indolent behavior which he views as week and therefore feminine”(par 3). Okonkwo did not want to be a failure in society like his father, so he associates himself with masculinity and be becomes abusive to his wife. In the Igbo society men were supposed to control their wives, and Okonkwo mannered his wives by being aggressive and violent to them. It is obvious in Things Fall Apart, that “women were exploited, abused and served as second-class citizens to the rank of male privilege”(White, par 2). Okonkwo was a good example of a character that exploited women and he did this to his three wives.

In the Igbo society, women were seen as men's property and wives came in multiple numbers. Women were bought and sold into marriage and once she became a man's property, she became a little more than an object. According to Chun, “the first wife of a man was paid more respect than others illustrated by the palm wine ceremony”(par 4). Achebe gives an illustration of this courteous respect when he states, “Anasi, Nwakibie's first wife, had not yet arrived and "the others could not drink before her”(2944). Okonkwo also holds his first wife Nwoye above his other wives. He trusts his first wife a lot, and he demanded that his first wife take care of Ikemefuna, a boy given to Umoufia. Another thing I learned about women in Igbo society is that they shared their husbands with other wives. From the novel, I developed an idea that women in the Igbo society looked to married men who could afford to take care of them. Women needed a husband because they were the ones who took care of them. Husbands built obi for them and they took care of them. The Igbo society saw that the more wives you had, the greater respect you would get. They respected men who had plenty wives because it took a man of great wealth to mine many. In Umuofia, the more wives a man had, the better, just like Okonkwo, he had three wives, and "another man in the village was a wealthy man who had three barns and nine wives with thirty children" (Achebe 2939). As a wife, women “bear children, cook and take care of the household in many other ways”(Mbele)

In the Igbo society, women were among one of the highest distinctions for a young man along with yam barns and social titles. Okoye, a friend of Okonkwo's father, qualified for these high distinctions

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