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Things Fall Apart is one of the most famous literature books. Many people have at least heard about it or have read through it. It was originally written and published in English in 1958 by Chinua Achebe. It was among the first novels by an African author and was also the first African novel to garner international compliments. Although the story appears fictional, Chinua Achebe meant to present Africa’s spiritual history. He also sought to reveal the civilized and the pleasant life that the Igbo people lived before the arrival of the European missionaries and colonizers. The author notes that their entrance was associated with consequences of imperialism, slavery, and harsh rules by the foreigners. The book was written as a critic to the colonization and imperialism introduced into the African communities. Besides, the novel shows various recurrent themes such as gender relations, families, respect and reputation, fear, and religion. Other notable subjects include the issues of the men and the natural world, sin, language and communication, and fate and free will. However, the problem that motivates this paper is that of gender relations and conflicts in the Igbo community. The aim of this research paper is to explore the aspect of gender relations in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart shows an endless struggle between the aspects of gender, identity, and commodification. For a long time now, the modern African communities have continued to show discrepancies in gender roles. These are a continuation of the gender conflicts, which trace their origin from the historical setting. The female gender has for long been thought to be weaker than the male gender. All these beliefs have been promoted by the way people are brought up and the cultures in which they grew. Things Fall Apart is a commendable the African writing that reflects on the Igbo history and culture. The novel presents the prominent themes and shows how men and women relate. The relationships are characterized by clashes between the male and the female genders, and where men are accorded all respect, superiority, and titles. In the contrast, women are weak, feeble, gentle, and under the direct rule of their husbands. The repeated subject of gender in Things Fall Apart drives the novel by showing the significance of women to men.
Gender Relations in Things Fall Apart
In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the Igbo people live in a male-controlled society that adheres to harsh systems of social customs based on gender. Women are the most affected people as they are granted less liberty and accorded less reverence and importance in the society. As stated earlier, women are inferior and are supposed to be submissive to all men’s demands. They are tasked with odd and less respectable roles in the society. They are not supposed to hold any administrative positions as they are meant for men. In the book, Okonkwo marries three wives, and, for this reason, he is thought to be a self-made and a very honorable member of the Umuofia clan. The women’s tasks are bearing raising children, as well as serving him. They are also expected to be submissive in satisfying Okonkwo’s sexual demands. In this community, a man is more respected when he is harsh on his family. To gain this trait, Okonkwo rules his family with utmost dictatorship and treats his wives as his subjects. Too often, Okonkwo justifies brutal behaviors against his wives. He beats his wives without guilt and threatens them with a gun when they try to talk back. He rebukes Nwoye when she listens to the tales of old women. Just as is the belief of the Igbo community, Okonkwo believes that he is too superior as compared to his wives, and thus feels a complete ownership of his family.
The aspects of women being weaker gender are seen as the story continues, and Okonkwo is portrayed as having fear all through his life. Precisely, he fears failure and weakness. His concern originates from his father, who was an essence of fear and weakness. Okonkwo is mocked by youngsters of his age when his father, Unoka, is given the name agbala to mean that he had no title and was as weak as a woman. For this reason, Okonkwo fears anything frail and weak. His greatest worry is panic of failure and weakness so that he is not categorized a woman. In this community, the condition of being weak is linked being a women. All men fear weakness so that they are not insulted as women. Okonkwo is passionate in showing his manhood as he strives to escape the reputation of his father as an agbala.
The issue of gender insensitivity is also revealed in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. A glimpse at the Igbo culture shows that the Igbo people are less awareness of gender diversity and show less appreciation to maintaining a reasonable level of sexual role differentiation between both sexes, male and female. A common chant says that a woman can equally do what a man can do. However, in the Igbo community, women are not allowed to insist on going out of their honorific roles of motherhood and wifehood. Chinua Achebe also touches on the importance of gender to the community. For instance, the joy of the family is determined by the sex of the first-born child. A male first-born means a greater joy for the family because the boy would take over after his father’s death. Also, a boy brings joy to the mother because she can feel more secure than when the first-born child is a girl. A girl in the community means mixed feelings for both parents because no one would take after the father in continuing the family line. The mothers feel insecure seeing that they can be uprooted from the family anytime the husband dies early. Girls are supposed to be married off as soon as they were mature.
Further, gender stereotypes are instilled in children at an early age. Boys are brought up with a belief that they are superior to girls. Fathers use all forms of harshness from scolding to beating to ensure that their sons are brave and have no aspects of women. Okonkwo is seen to be happy when his first-born son Nwoye sheds off his childhood feminine tendencies. Chinua Achebe paints a vivid picture of the rational Igbo gender stereotypes and how fathers groom their boys to grow up as men. Boys are supposed to be courageous, bold, fearless, audacious, and masculine. In the contrast, women deal with girls, and they show them to become soft, subservient, gentle, feminine, and weak. Also, girls are taught to be submissive to all man’s demands. Okonkwo says, “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan”.
Gender relations are also reflected in leadership positions in the Igbo community. It is rare for a woman to hold a high position such as an administrative leader, religion, or family head. There are only a few respected figures such as Ezeani, the priest of the goddess of the earth and Ani, who is a respectable woman. Other women are discredited as homemakers and caregivers. As such, all the leadership positions and all the reputable titles are left for men. In Okonkwo’s family, the wives are left to teach their children discipline and narrate stories and tales. Also, they society’s women are in charge of preparing festivals by cleaning the compound, making meals, and decorating the homesteads. At that time, the status of women was low and was thus in charge of these belittled tasks. As such, the novel shows the prejudice that rules over the society.
The paper has analyzed gender relations and conflicts in the Igbo community as portrayed in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The Igbo life is governed by stringent social customers and inferior beliefs that men are superior to women. The female gender is associated with tasks such as farming, cleaning, cooking, but above all bearing and raising children. Although these responsibilities are very useful to the community, must respect and importance is accorded to them. The man in the Igbo society is considered as everything while the woman is considered as nothing. The man is credited the highest importance of the family, and he holds all titles and respects. Gender stereotypes are cultivated in children from very young age seeing that boys are made to believe that they are stronger than girls. Fathers ensure that their sons shed off feminine traits as quick as possible. They use all means to ensure that their boys are masculine, courageous, audible, and respected. Women show girls to be gentle, timid, fearful, and submissive. Chinua Achebe thus presents an African community that is patriarch and governed by unfortunate social customs. These aspects have been the cause of the modern day gender inequality whereby women are perceived miserable and inferior, and they cannot perform roles in a male dominated career.