Things Fall Apart Essay, Research Paper
Women in Umuofian Society
“It is the woman whose child has been eaten by a witch who best knows the evils of witchcraft.” That simple saying can best relate to the experience of women in the Umuofian society. A person cannot truly hope to understand how things work unless he or she was there to experience it. And that can apply to learning a new language, a new culture or learning history. The perspective given from the book Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, states the way of life without any favoritism towards any particular way of life. Achebe just affirmed that lifestyle as a native would, void of any outside influences. In this case, the male narration focuses not only of the tragedy of Okonkwo, but also how the people around are affected and how in turn the culture affects him. Women seem to play a minor role in everyday life, but their function in the community is just as important as that of the men.
The main role that was given to women was that they belonged in the home and for the most part they were to bee seen and not heard. Their influence and authority do not exist much in that culture, especially for the wives of Okonkwo. A main character in the novel, Okonkwo has several wives. Okonkwo presided over all of his wives and children with a heavy hand. When Ikemefuna comes to live in Okonkwo’s household, the first wife questions the length of the boy’s stay. In reply he answers, ” ‘Do what you are told, woman,’ Okonkwo thundered, and stammered. ‘When did you become one of the ndichie of Umuofia?’ ” (Pg 14). In these two sentences, Okonkwo not only manages to put his first spouse into her small niche of housewife, but also makes a reference to the village elders. He is suggesting that she was trying to more knowledgeable than she should be. During the harvest season, the women of the village provided most of the task force behind planting and maintaining the crops. Also present in Okonkwo’s household were the expectations of masculinity that Okonkwo held for his son, Nwoye. In his mind, men and women are two different extremes; men being stronger, tougher and more controlling, while women are meek, thoughtless and easily dominated.
In keeping with the Ibo view of female nature, the tribe allowed wife beating. The novel describes two instances when Okonkwo beats his second wife, once when she did not come home to make his meal. He beat her severely and was punished but only because he beat her during the Week of Peace. He beat her again when she referred to him as one of those “guns that never shot.” (Pg When a severe case of wife beating comes before the egwugwu, he found in favor of the wife, but at the end of the trial one of the elders wondered, “I don’t know why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu.” (Pg 94) The husband considers his wife as a property.
There is the one exception of Chielo, the priestess of the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, who is excused from the normal activities of becoming a housewife. Clothed in the responsibility of the divinity she serves, Chielo transforms from the ordinary; she can reprimand Okonkwo and even scream curses at him: ” ‘Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a God speaks? Beware!’ ” (Pg 101).
Achebe shows that the Ibo nonetheless assign significant roles to women. For instance, women painted the houses of the egwugwu. Furthermore, the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid some respect. This esteem is illustrated by the palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie’s obi. Anasi, Nwakibie’s first wife, had not yet arrived and “the others could not drink before her” (Pg 20). The value of woman’s role appears when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His uncle, Uchendu, noticing Okonkwo’s distress, eloquently explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: “A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.” (Pg 134) A man has both joy and sorrow in his life and when the bad times come his “mother” is always there to comfort him. Thus comes the saying “Mother is Supreme” (Pg 133).
Perhaps Umuofia’s degrading treatment of women and wives comes from unconscious fear of, rather than reverence for, the unpredictable Earth goddess Ani, who wreaks such turmoil on the townspeople’s lives. She is the goddess of fertility. She also gives or holds back children; she spurns twin children who must be thrown away; she prohibits anyone inflicted with shameful diseases from burial in her soil. To the men of Umuofia, she must seem the embodiment of the two-faced Greek furies — vengeful, unavoidable, and incomprehensible. In anxiety of a divine female principle, they come down heavily indeed on ordinary women whose lives they can control as they like. The only glory and satisfaction these women enjoyed was being a mother. They receive respect and love from their children. They are strong for their children. Women are viewed to be very gentle and caring. They are expected to take care of their offspring with the best of their ability. Women are trusted totally by their children. This honorable staging of women is used by Achebe to identify women’s role in the Ibo society. This presentation is necessary to show that women indeed play an important role in society.