Gender and Women in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

This research paper tries to interpret in in-depth, the analysis and interpretation of the theme gender roles and the abuse of women in Chinua Achebe’s book ‘Things Fall Apart’. In the paper, I look into the traditional culture of the Igbo as far as gender is concerned and compare with the more enlightened Christians’ way of life and beliefs. A sharp look at the practice of the Igbo in the book has made me conclude that the male dominated the activities and were treated superior beings going by their tradition.

The novel begins with the introduction of the main character that is Okonkwo, a famous young man with great personal achievements who at the age of 18 had overthrown Amalinze also known as the Cat, as the best wrestler hence bringing honor to his village. The theme of gender is introduced at early stages of the book through Unoka, the father of Okonkwo, who is viewed as a failure and more feminine than masculine by his son for the failure of paying back the debt he owes (Okpewho, 2003). Okonkwo grew up to be rich and successful due to the father’s lazy attitude towards work; all he did was merrymake and drink the borrowed money away as his family went without food. The name agbala was given to Unoka, which loosely translates into weaknesses of a female in the clan since they were not allowed to own any property. Among the Igbo, agabala are considered weaker than men thus a person feels insulted when is referred that way. At this stage one can see the attitude towards the female gender in the novel thus, it is the first instance of gender biases in the book (Okpewho, 2003). Unlike other cultures in the West, Igbo women are not allowed to possess any property whatsoever in the book before the dawn of Christianity.

A phrase in the second chapter which depicts the theme of women violation as showed in how Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. The book displays the perpetual fear his wives lived in especially the younger ones. Among the Igbo community, the dominant sex is men who have the last say in the matters of the family including children and wives. Women are subordinate in the family relationship and mostly fear their husbands.

Igbo’s culture is so structured to an extent that some crops like Yam, which was viewed as the king of crops were preserved for only men to grow. However hard Okonkwo’s mother and sisters worked on the field as shown in chapter two, they were only allowed to grow women’s crops which included cocoyam, beans, and cassava. A critical look the reason only men grew yam is so that it was the staple food of the Igbo diet, making it the diet of men. This way the position of men as the undisputed heads of the family was maintained since they acted as the providers of the main family meal (Okpewho, 2003). Women underwent through a lot on the hands of men as shown, they were not allowed to question actions their husbands took lest they family went without food.

Manliness is associated with yams according to Okonkwo in chapter five, which is the more a man was able to produce the crop the more respect e commanded in the village. A phrase from the chapter quotes him force his son to learn the art of preparing the seeds of yam for planting even though they were of tender age. He wanted his sons to be great farmers in the future so that the manliness in him is boldly seen. Any form of laziness in his son was punished and condemned since he wanted him to work hard. From the chapter, we see that men are judged by their ability to fend for their respective families. He tried by all means to ensure that his son will not end up as his grandfather who was lazy by Okonkwo’s definition.

When Ikemefuna was given to the village of Umuofia, Okonkwo as the leader of the community is given the responsibility of taking care of the boy. The elders tell Okonkwo’s loyal wife that the boy now belongs to the clan so she should look after him. When she questioned how long she plans to stay with him, Okonkwo thunders loudly as he speaks stammering. He orders the woman to do what the elders command as asks her if she has become a ndichie of Umuofia, from there she took Ikemefuna to the house and asked no question. As illustrated, Okonkwo’s wife is treated as a servant, demanding that all he says should be duly followed without any question (Chua, 2014). Women in this instant are portrayed to be silent and categorically follow what their husbands say. To add salt to the injury, women, in this case, are subordinated o their husbands to an extent that they are referred to by their relationship with their husbands. This is seen in the novel where the narrator hardly calls Okonkwo’s wife by the name.

Okonkwo beat up her second wife Ekwefi for cutting a few banana leaves she uses to wrap up food with. She tries to explain to him that the plan was still alive that she only cut a few leaves. Okonkwo views this as disrespect from his wife since she is arguing with him and beats him up so badly. The others wives stand from afar watching with horror, and none dares to interfere, the only thing they say “Okonkwo stop.” An intense look into the reason she is beating his wife Ekwefi concludes that the banana was not the reason, Okonkwo as a man cannot fathom argument from a woman who he views as his lesser person in the family (Shea, 2007).

As the two boys, Ikemefuna and Nwoye grew up, their roles as the dominant gender is depicted in chapter five as they no longer spend time with Nwoye’s mother in the kitchen while cooking, but they accompany his father in his obi together with Ikemefuna as drink Okonkwo drunk wine. Whenever he was assigned duties that are for men by the standards of the Igbo, Nwoye felt like a man and gladly undertook the duties. This gesture pleased his father so much since he felt like his family will be on safer hand when he is dead as if a household headed by a female cannot succeed (Chua, 2014). As his son grew into what he wanted him to turn into, Okonkwo is proud of the authentic masculinity displayed in Nwoye’s actions. The actions are informed by the definition of women by Okonkwo, who uses the behaviors of men towards women to define the former, says that male are not real if they cannot force women to do what they command. He thus says that men are allowed to behave freely while women are to be controlled and ruled over.

In the tenth chapter, during the traditional judicial hearing, from the seating arrangement and how other people stood, it was clear that the ceremony was dominated by men. From the phrase, we see that the numbers of women in the gathering were significantly more, but they just looked at the elders who were to preside over the case like outsiders (Shea, 2007). This proves that women were excluded from traditional judicial hearings even in cases that affected them directly. Related to this in the same chapter, the law of Umuofia dictated that whenever a woman runs away from her matrimonial home, the bride price must be paid back to the owner. This is a very demeaning statement as the value of women among the Igbo tribe is tied to the bride price.

Finally, Okonkwo compares his son Nwoye to a woman after he learns, upon his return from exile that he had converted into Whiteman’s religion. Okonkwo shouts at the rest of the family members that what Nwoye did is an abomination and dares the rest to join him when he still alive so that he can curse them too (Shea, 2007). He compares his defection into Christianity a sign of lost masculinity another proof that women are a sign of weakness with gender roles that are looked down upon.

To depict how lowly women were regarded by the Igbo is when Okonkwo regretted that his daughter Ezinma was born a girl. Of all his children, he had grown fond of her, and she was the only person who understood his mood that made the two to sympathize with each other. He insisted that the girl has the spirit of a man another show that women are treated like trash.



Chua, J. (2014). Cliffsnotes on achebe’s things fall apart. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley Pub.

Shea, G. (2007). A reader’s guide to Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers.

Okpewho, I. (2003). Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart: A casebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





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