Things Fall Apart The Ibo society in Africa is very different from the American society that I am used to. One of the major differences is the way women are treated. On page 37 of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo conveys that no matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. On page 94 Okonkwos uncle says we all know that a man is the head of the family and his wives do his bidding. This shows us that women in the Ibo society are considered subservient to the men of the society and are sometimes mistreated, however they are still very important to society.
This is evident in many other places throughout the book Things Fall Apart. The way women are referred to in the book tells about their social standing as well. Many times women are referred to by their relationship to a man. There are many references to Nyowes mother and Okonkwos first wife, but Ekwefi is seldom called by her name. The same goes with the wife of Ogbuefi Udo who was murdered by the members of another African village near Umofia.
In the first chapter of the book we see how women are expected to do what their husbands say with no questions asked. When Ikemefuna comes to Umofia and is put under Okonkwos care he (Okonkwo) immediately calls for his first wife and says look after him, when she asks a question regarding the boy, Okonkwo says do what you are told woman to which his first wife responds by taking Ikemefuna into her hut, asking no more questions. The only two women who are consistently referred to by their name throughout the book are Ezinma and Chielo. That is because Ezinma is very special to her father, Okonkwo, and Chielo is the priestess of the oracle. On pages 122 and 123, Okonkwo thinks to himself that Ezinma is special because of all his children she alone understood his every mood.
On many occasions throughout the book, Okonkwo says, I wish she were a boy. Sons are more respected in the Ibo society than daughters. There is a special bond between Ezinma and Okonkwo because, according to him, she has the right spirit. When Ekwefi wakes Okonkwo up in the middle of the night, he is upset because he doesnt want to be bothered, but when he finds out that it is because Ezinma is dying, he springs up from bed and rushes out to get her some medicine. This shows that daughters are not without value in the Ibo society.
Ezinma is special not only to her father, but to her mother as well. I think it is because Ekwefi had nine miscarriages before she had Ezinma and since the girl was considered an obanje, Ekwefi was extremely happy when her iyi-uwa was found so she would no longer die and be reborn in a horrible cycle. Although Okonkwo looks down on showing emotions (or weakness as he considers it) he is quick to follow his wife when she follows Chielo and Ezinma to the shrine of the oracle, and he tells her to go home and rest and he will wait for them to come out of the cave. The next morning he makes four trips to and from that same spot worried about Ezinma (although he is too proud to admit it). Chielo is well respected and feared throughout the village of Umofia because she holds a religious position that is very important to all members of the Ibo society.
As the priestess of the oracle, the entire village depends upon her to relay messages of the gods and to do their (the gods) bidding. An example of this is when she takes Ezinma in the middle of the night out to the cave where the oracle lives, despite Ezinmas parents protest. Although women are somewhat looked down upon they are also portrayed as brave and important to their society, they are trusted with responsibilities, such as gathering firewood, cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Women weed the farms three times during the growing season of the yams. They also grow their own crops of coco-yams, beans and cassava. Women produce body art and intricate designs, and cooking allows social interaction within the clan, especially when preparing for the Feast of the New Yams.
That includes interacting and getting to know members of other clans. Women are not expected to do any of the difficult and masculine tasks such as splitting wood, and it builds up mans ego and seems to confirm their feeling of superiority when women ask them to take care of these tasks for them. It is no coincidence that the word agbala means woman and is also an insulting name for a man in the clan who has taken no titles. Okonkwo reprimands himself on page 45 for feeling guilty about killing Ikemefuna by saying to himself, when did you become a shivering woman? You are known in all the nine villages for your valour in war. How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed.
In Chapter Four, we see how women are treated with they disobey their husbands. It is hard for me to imagine a society where beating women and children is an accepted practice. Even though Okonkwo has more than one wife (as is common in the Ibo society), the women are not in competition with each other, instead they help each other out and protect each other from Okonkwos anger. Ojiugo, Okonkwos second wife, is beaten heavily when she neglects to cook Okonkwos mid day meal, and instead goes to plait her hair at her friends house. Okonkwo does get reprimanded for beating his second wife, but not because of the abuse.
Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess, tells Okonkwo that even though his wife was at fault it was wrong of him to beat her during their week of peace. Many of the marriages in the Ibo society seem to be based on bride price rather than on love. When Akueke (the daughter of one of Okonkwos friends) is sixteen, she meets her suitors parents for the first time and instead of getting to know them, she shakes their hands, waits while they survey her to make sure she is beautiful and ripe, then she goes back into her mothers hut to help with the cooking. Just before that scene, Okonkwo and Obierika are discussing the passing of the eldest member of a neighboring clan, and the mans wife. It is refreshing to see a couple that seemingly really were in love.
From the book, I assume that Ndulue and Ozoemena lived for each other. Both of them were very old and sick, and I think that Ozoemena waited for her husband to die so she could be sure he went in peace and then says good bye to him and allows her body to end her own suffering as well. In Chapter Ten we are introduced to an Ibo celebration in which six men dress up as spirits of their ancestors and have peaceful trials. Right in the beginning of the chapter it says, It was clear from the way the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders. This shows women being excluded from the politics of the Ibo society.
The only interaction they had with this ceremony is cleaning the egwugwu house, but they are never allowed to see inside. During this ceremony we learn that although women have little say in choosing whom they will marry, she can leave her husband if her family returns the bride price. After the peaceful trials and representing of the egwugwu, Okonkwo attends the funeral of Ndulue where he accidentally shoots and kills the son of Ndulue. Okonkwo and his family are sent away for seven years, and during that time many changes occur in Ibo society. When the missionaries come to the nine villages they set up a church but dont force the African people to convert.
This was smart on the missionaries part because by moving slowly they were able to convert people a little at a time until they have enough people to back them up when it comes to conflicts with the African societies. The new religion was open to any person, no matter their status, age, or gender. The first woman convert is Nneka, but her husbands family is glad to disown her because she had had several miscarriages already. The new religion worries Okonkwo, especially when Nyowe joins it. He fears that all his male descendants will follow in Nyowes footsteps and when Okonkwo is dead there will be nobody making sacrifices to him.
He also heard rumors of the white men not only bringing a religion, but also bringing a government. The Ibo society held on to their customs as much as possible, although the converts we committing great crimes against the Ibo gods, it was still considered wrong to kill them and if someone did kill them, they would have to flee from their clan. In the end, the white men with their religion and their government lead Okonkwo to kill his own son (whom he had disowned) and then kill himself. He was considered one of the greatest warriors in his village but because of what the white man had drove him to, he will not even be buried as a warrior, he will be put in the Evil Forrest and left to rot. This will benefit the missionaries because Okonkwo was one of the biggest opponents of the new religion that would give women and men without a title, a feeling of equality with men who did have clan titles.
In conclusion, women are a valuable economic and social resource in the Ibo society. Even though they are not treated equally with men, they do work hard and deserve a lot of credit. Although it will not happen overnight, along with this western religion and government will come western ideas and customs. When the missionaries come to the Ibo society, the women have a chance at more equality. Okonkwos death will allow Okonkwos three wives to choose for themselves if the new religion is right for them. Bibliography Hey, I’m Kim.
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