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Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex, but are also endowed with qualities that make them worthy of worship, like the ability to bear children. The dominant role for women is: first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. The ideal man provides for his family materially and has prowess on the battlefield. The protagonist in the novel is extremely concerned with being hyper-masculine and devalues everything feminine, leaving him rather unbalanced. Much of the gender theme in the book centers around the idea of balance between masculine and feminine forces – body and mind/soul, emotionality and rationality, mother and father. If one is in imbalance, it makes the whole system haywire.
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Although Okonkwo spends most of his time expressing his masculinity, he often ignores or violates feminine tenets like peace and valuing one’s family. Shunning of all things feminine causes him to commit ever-escalating crimes that lead to his downfall.
Gender Roles In Things Fall Apart, By Chinua Achebe
Upon an initial reading of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it is easy to blame the demise of Okonkwo’s life and of the Umofia community on the imperialistic invasions of the white men. After all, Okonkwo seemed to be enjoying relative peace and happiness before then. He did have a few mishaps; one of them resulted in him being exiled for eight years. Nonetheless, he returned to his home town with high spirits and with prospects of increased success. However, everything has changed. The white men have brought with them a new religion and a new government. Okonkwo’s family falls apart. The men in his village lose their courage and valor; they do not offer any resistance to the white men. Consequently, Okonkwo kills himself in disgrace and Umofia succumbs to the white men. However, the white men are not the only people responsible for demise of Umofia. The Igbo culture, particularly their views on gender roles, sows the seed of their own destruction. By glorifying aggressive, manly traits and ignoring the gentle, womanly traits, Umofia brings about its own falling apart.
In Umofia, manliness is associated with strength and womanliness with weakness (Okhamafe 127). There is no such thing as a strong woman, and all men should disdain weakness. In Umofia, “all men are males, but not all males are men” (Okhamafe 126). Only the strong men who hold titles deserve to be called “men”. The Igbo word “agbala” is an alternate work for “woman” and for a man who had no title. Women in Igbo society are expected to act a certain way. Okonkwo scolds his daughter, Ezinma, when she does not “sit like a woman” (Achebe 44). He will not let Ezinma bring his chair to the wrestling match because it is a “boy’s job” (Achebe 44). Every aspect of Igbo culture is gender-coded. There are “masculine stories of violence and bloodshed” and there are “women’s stories” fit only for “foolish women and children” (Achebe 53 – 4). Even the crops were gendered (Okhamafe 127). Coco-yams, beans, and cassava were “women’s crops” (Achebe 23). Yam, the “king of crops”, was “a man’s crop” (Achebe 23). In Umofia, all that is desirable and admired is associated with manliness. Anything that is demeaning or scornful is considered to be womanly.
Okonkwo life is “dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (Achebe 13). When Okonkwo was a boy, his playmates teased him calling, saying that his father was agbala. Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was lazy. He did not work on his farm; he died in great debt. He did not acquire a single title. He did not have a barn to pass down to his son. Unoka is a type of man who is scorned in Umofia. He is seen as weak and effeminate. As Okonkwo grows older, he is determined not become a failure like his father. His father was weak; he will be strong. His father was lazy; he will be hard-working. Okonkwo earned his fame by defeating the reigning wrestling champion. Okonkwo diligently plants yam, building a successful farm. He builds...
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