Role of Women in Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’
In telling an African story, it is impossible to do so without mentioning the women who take part in many of the activities in a society. This is why different stories bring out women and their roles in the society although the stories may not be talking about a woman as the main character. Things fall apart is no different in bringing out the role of the women in a traditional African setting.
Women play pivotal roles in Educational, Religious and Social care in the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
In Things fall apart, women are featured as the main children’s educators. They do these by telling them stories, teaching them the ethics of socializing with other people and good behavior especially to the girl child, ‘children sat around their mother’s cooking fire telling stories’ (Achebe 25). The children are taught good values and morals by their parents and in this case, their mothers, who encourage them to develop social values and good interaction skills. The woman was regarded as an inferior object in the society but this did not turn her down from performing her societal roles especially that of being the educator of the children.
The upbringing of a child is what determines what the child will be in the future. In the Ibo community, the rearing of a child was solely the role of the woman who was supposed to make sure that the child was well conversant with the customs and rules of the society. The knowledge of the societal norms was all of importance to the mother as she needed to educate the children about them. This was to avoid situations where the child would be in trouble for dishonoring the highly regarded goddesses or leaders of the community which would be a disgrace to the family especially the father who would put the blame on the mother and possibly beat her. Therefore, in a society which is dominated by men, the woman had to be very careful about the reputation the man would have in the society if certain unfortunate things happened may be from the behavior of the children or herself which is the reason why mother education to the children was important. The woman’s reputation depended on that of the man which was important for the woman to protect.
The women were also involved in religious matters and this can be presented in various ways. The women belonged to the religion of Ibo. They regularly played the part of the priestess. In the early days, a woman by the name of Chika is seen as a priestess. She is the former priestess of the oracle during Unoka’s time. This woman was very powerful and respected by the people (Achebe 17). Thus she portrays the role of women in religious matters. Currently, Chielo is the priestess who is also the hill’s and caves’ oracle, “She was the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the caves,” (Achebe 35). In other words, women are seen taking a great part in religion in the community, for instance, as priestesses.
The woman is seen to have a lot of religious power. This is evident when Chielo, a religious woman, orders and threatens Okonkwo to surrender himself and his daughter to Agbala who wished to see her. After she warns him, Okonkwo gives in to the idea. Women in this case are seen as powerful spiritual leaders who can warn and order their followers in order to do the right thing that is expected of them by the religion and in this case in the society of Ibo.
Ani was the goddess of the earth. She was responsible for making sure that the society observed the right conduct and morals. Ani worked closely with the dead clan members who had their bodies committed to the earth (Achebe 36).
The community also believed that they had to honor the earth goddess for blessings in order to have their yam crops grow. This was done by the members of the clan who had to strictly observe the peace week before the harvests (Achebe 30). The woman is seen to have such great spiritual power, honor and respect which are beneficial to the society and which must be respected in order for something good to happen like plenty harvests.
The clan members are greatly worried about having such little harvests when the peace of the earth goddess, Ani, is broken by Okonkwo when he battered his wife. Wife battering was not allowed on the peace week (Achebe 30). The women were also involved in solving problems of a social nature. The mother acts as the comfort not only to children but also to other men who have problems.
The workforce consisted of a lot of women. They performed many strenuous tasks that were only separated for them and that men could not perform. Painting of Egwugwu’s house was done by women (84).They were also supposed to entertain the children at all times and make them grow in an artistic manner (EmenyoÌ²nu and Uko 178).
The woman is seen as a powerful object that is able to encourage people when feeling low and demotivated. When the men face some social problems like neglect, the woman acts to encourage them. Thus, it is said that the mother is a superior being who does not abandon her children in all situations in life, for instance Okonkwo who is rejected after killing the son of Ezeudu. It is believed that a male child is his father’s only when life seems to be flowing well but when in trouble, it his mother’s. This is better depicted by the uncle of Okonkwo who then persuades him to go back to his mother as she will accept him at all situations. Despite all this the mother does not judge or discriminate them. The woman is considered to be the forgiving and understanding being who can never reject or look down upon anyone and who will provide help whenever she can. This is a very important role.
There are two marriages that are talked about that the writer uses them to show the meaning of having a woman in the Igbo society. They are the makers of a home, the prospecting mothers, and people who help men in certain tasks. In any man-woman relationship, children are the most important and valuable gifts that they can be given which is not different in this community where the woman is considered as an important part of the family bearing process (EmenyoÌ²nu and Uko 176).
Although in an indirect manner, the importance of a woman and in this case, the first wife in the Ibo society is portrayed in a celebration held at the Obi of Nwakibie whereby the other wives are not allowed to drink wine before her arrival (Achebe 22). The first wife is thus shown special respect and recognition in the Ibo community.
The name Agbala in the Ibo community means a woman or a title less man. In his early childhood, Okonkwo felt disrespected when called the name Agbala as the peers were teasing him and more so his father who was seen as a weakling. This really tormented him and made him become obsessed with consideration of social status above everything else. Okonkwo struggled so much never to be associated with anything weak as anything weak was likened to a woman and vice versa. Nwoye who is the son of Okonkwo from his first wife is also insulted by being viewed as woman-like just because Okonkwo is reminded of his father when he sees him. In this context we see the woman being looked down upon by the whole Ibo community as a weak being. The men who are not courageous and violent are also seen to be as weak as women meaning that the society’s perception of women is that of a person who is not strong and is weak (Whittaker and Msiska 64).
The woman is generally looked down upon. We see Okonkwo being punished for disrupting the peace of the earth goddess but not for buttering his wife. To them wife buttery is not a crime as according to the society, the woman is only there to give birth, to perform house chores and cook for the husband and also to be beaten. This is just how cruel the man is (Whittaker and Msiska 65).
The story was written in the times when the only important being in the society was seen as the man and not the woman. The children who turned out to be disgraceful to the society were all demeaned and likened to a woman. To add to this, the woman would be blamed for poor upbringing of the children as that was solely considered as her role (Okpewho 34).
The story however shows some respect for few female figures that seem to be very significant to the society, for instance, the women spiritual leaders. The respect shown to them is not because they are women but because the society demands that they be respected for their important roles in divine intervention. The women also show strong leadership, power and prowess in their work (Okoye 45).
Although the woman is not the main character in this story, it is clear that she plays a big role and cannot be ignored when talking about the story. The roles discussed above show clearly that the woman plays a pivotal role in Educational, Religious and Social issues.