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Gender Roles in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Essay Sample)




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Gender Roles in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is a novel written by a Nigerian author and poet, Chinua Achebe, published in 1958. This book depicts the pre-colonial life in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and the colonial life describing the invasion of Europeans in the area, the impacts and changes that came along with it. In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe explores the Igbo culture, which primarily defines the masculine and feminine roles in the clan of Umuofia (DeRousse 14). This fictional novel tails the life of Okonkwo, a man living in Umuofia and famous as the local wrestling champion. Gender roles refer to society's expectations of acting, speaking, dressing, grooming, and conducting themselves based on their sex. Things Fall Apart captures and explores the gender roles incorporated in the Igbo culture and the impact of the Europeans and Christianity on the culture. The gender roles depicted in Things Fall Apart illustrate that men are superior and women are the inferiors in the Igbo culture, thereby creating inequality. The story's protagonist, Okonkwo, is obsessed with being hyper-masculine and devalues anything feminine, making him highly unstable. Much of the book's discussion on gender revolves around the concept of balancing male and feminine energies - body and mind/soul, emotion, and logic.
He had two enormous bans packed with yams and had three wives (Achebe 5). The Igbo tribe considered Okonkwo a wealthy man because he had enough Yams to feed his wives and children from one harvest to the next. He was also regarded as wealthy because not only could he marry three wives, but he could also control them. The Igbo culture allowed men to marry as many wives as possible if they could provide and control them and the children to come. However, the Igbo culture forced women to break off their engagements with a previous suitor once a new one came along. Okonkwo's wealth resulted from his industriousness which Achebe portrays as a masculine gender role in Things Fall Apart. The society or Igbo culture expected men to work constantly and devotedly to provide for their wives and children. On the other hand, Achebe utilizes the character of Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, who died without paying off his debts to illustrate that not all men are diligent and responsible. Society deemed Unoka as a worthless man because he was not industrious, which is a character trait expected from Igbo men, thereby portraying that one of the masculine gender roles in the Igbo tribe was industriousness.
"I owned a yam farm at your age" (Achebe 26). Okonkwo told his sons, Nwoye and Ikemefuna that he owned and grew yams on a farm to haste their preparation to become successful men. Igbo culture likened yam to represent manliness; thus, Okonkwo rigorousness trained these boys to ensure that they did not appear feminine. The Igbo tribe equated women to weakness in contrast to a great farmer society considered a great man. The protagonist did not want his boys to appear feminine or weak in the community; thus, he rigorously and meticulously trained them to prepare seed yams. Moreover, the Igbo culture perceived men as superior to women because they were honored to grow yams considered the king of crops (Achebe 28).
Chinua Achebe utilizes agriculture, compassion for criminals, and connection to the earth to illustrate gender roles among the Igbo tribe. Okonkwo's mother and sister worked hard enough to grow women crops such as beans and could not grow yams because it was a man's crop (Achebe 28). This excerpt from Things Fall Apart shows that the Igbo culture perceived women as the inferior gender; thus, they grew and cultivated the less important crops such as watermelons and beans while men grew yams which were the king of crops even if they worked just as hard as the men. This feminine gender role represents the imbalance and discrimination against the women by the Igbo tribe.
During the new yam festival, which was meant to be a joyful feast, Okonkwo appeared unenthusiastic and preferred to work on his farm instead (Achebe 30). In Things Fall Apart, Achebe portrays mean industrious and non-pleasure-seeking gender. Okonkwo provided yam for his wives, children, and guests during the feast showing that he is a wealthy man and a provider. Achebe characterized the protagonists as strong arms to depict that men's arms are stronger than women's, thereby portraying superiority. Women and children awaited the new yam festival and prepared for it by decorating houses and preparing meals for the crowd. The Igbo tribe perceives women or the feminine gender as lazy and pleasure compared to hard-working and non-pleasure-seeking men.
Okonkwo sat with the boys and told them masculine stories of violence and bloodshed in their land (Achebe 42). The Igbo culture incorporated education systems in the society that helped train young boys and girls on the ways of their ancestors. Okonkwo told tales of violence and bloodshed for the boys, preparing them to fight and protect their wives and children. Boys and men learned skills such as fighting and growing yams. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe describes that yams were the basic and most purchased food commodity; hence those who planted them could sell them and earn money. The Igbo culture honored men to grow yams and learn the art of preparing yam seeds, thereby increasing their likelihood of becoming wealthy than the women odds. This education to young boys encouraged the gender roles that manifested themselves as they grew up.
In Things Fall Apart, women of the Igbo tribe educated their girls on home keeping and child-rearing skills (Kantharia 43). Igbo culture views women as important concerning bearing children and taking care of a man. According to the Igbo culture in Things Fall Apart, women grew or cultivated less important crops such as beans to ensure that they depended on their husbands for the provision and to ensure they had free time to perform their domestic duties and responsibilities since those other crops did not require as much time and effort as yams. These gender roles in agriculture depict that the Igbo tribe perceived men as a stronger gender than women hence could grow yams which require more energy and effort than other crops planted and cultivated in Umuofia. Girls' training from their mothers, aunties, and grandmothers in the Igbo tribe encourages gender roles as they grow up to become women.
Igbo culture expects women to prepare meals, be submissive, make an untainted wife for a praiseworthy man, and bear children. Okonkwo expects dinner from his three wives, a non-negotiable feminine gender in Igbo culture. Okonkwo punished his youngest wife, Ojiugo, by beating her when she delayed at the neighbors' house, plaiting her hair. This act in Things Fall Apart shows that the Igbo tribe is predominantly male; hence women are inferior. The Igbo culture expects women to cook, clean, wash, sweep, bear children, and devote themselves to their husbands. Although Ezinma is Okonkwo's favorite child, he regrets that she is not a man because even though they get along very well, she cannot inherit his wealth or help him in his work.
Marriage rituals in Igbo culture illustrate the objectification of women by men in the tribe. During the marriage rituals for the daughter of Okonkwo's best friend, her husband-to-be and his family examined her physique with gauging eyes to determine whether she was attractive and mature enough (Achebe 49). In Things Fall Apart, men carefully assessed the bodies of their suitor as part of the marriage ritual to ensure that she was beautiful, old enough to please them, ad bear children. Men in Igbo culture perceived women as objects for their sexual pleasure and bearing their children. This kind of objectification encouraged gender roles in Umuofia and Igbo culture.
A man must rule and control his women and children, despite his wealth, for him to truly be a man (Achebe 53). The Igbo culture is predominantly male; hence men can marry as many wives as possible to provide and protect them. However, they must possess the capability and capacity to rule over and control their women and children (Ijem et al., 57). In Things Fall Apart, men discipline their children rigorously without showing mercy because they perceive emotions as feminine. Men punish women and children by beating them when they do not perform as expected. Moreover, in the Igbo culture, men did not console their children because society expected children to cry to their mothers, thus depicting women in the light of weakness. Men perceived women as compassionate to criminals.
The elders of the Igbo tribe select Okonkwo to become Ikemefuna's guardian, a boy given to Umuofia as a peace offering because his father had murdered a woman from Umuofia. After several years of living under Okonkwo's protection, the protagonist grows fond of him as a son. Still, he refuses to show any emotions because the Igbo culture deems the act feminine and weak. Tragically, the oracle of the Igbo tribe sentences Ikemefuna to die. Okonkwo hides his emotion and consequently kills a boy that calls him 'father' with his own hands to avoid seeming weak and feminine. However, after Ikemefuna's execution, Okonkwo becomes depr

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