The Role of Women in Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart explores the struggle between old traditions within the Igbo community as well as Christianity and "the second coming" it brings forth. While on the surface, it appears the novel narrows its focus to a single character, Okonkno and his inner battles, one can read deeper into the text and find an array of assorted conflicts in the realm on human vs. human, human vs. nature, human vs. society, and society vs. society. For the purposes of this paper I shall focus on the labyrinth of human vs. human and human vs. society in the framework of the role of women in Igbo society and how men assign and dictate these roles. I will also briefly explain the importance of women in terms of motherhood and wifedom.
Throughout my research I've encountered numerous papers on the rights women do have in Igbo society, on the importance of women in this society. They site the role of widows in Igbo society as well as the respect given to the first wife as proof that while this society is not an ideal situation for women, it is hardly the misogynist society that some make it out to be. I passionately disagree. It is obvious to me that to the characters in Things Fall Apart, women are "things" to be exploited, abused and to serve as second-class citizens to the rank of male privilege. The theme of misogyny runs rampant throughout the text whether it is exposed by the absence of women in the text, the abuses women suffer at the hands of men, or the subtle ways in which society dictates and reinforces these negative statuses and images of women.
Throughout the text women are virtually invisible and live their lives on the sidelines; it is clear from a close reading that women are to be not seen nor heard. As one critic describes, "it is an andocentric world where the man is everything and the woman nothing" (Mezu 2). A clear instance of this is the case of Okonkwo's mother. While the presence of his father, although negative, is prevalent in much of the novel, the presence of his mother is all but nonexistent. To my knowledge, his (unnamed) mother shows up only once in the text, three days after his participation in the ritual murder of Ikemefuna, his "adopted" son (Jeyifo 3).
For the first time in three nights, Okonkwo slept. He woke up once in the middle of the night and his mind went back to the past three days without making him feel uneasy. He began to wonder why he felt uneasy at all. It was like a man wondering in broad daylight why a dream had appeared so terrible to him at night. He stretched himself and scratched his thigh where a mosquito had bitten him as he slept. Another one was wailing near his right ear. He slapped the ear and hoped he had killed it. Why do they always go for one's ears? When he was a child his mother had told him a story about it.
But it was as silly as all women's stories. Mosquito, she had said, had asked Ear to marry him, whereupon...