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Things Fall Apart
Throughout the world, from the beginning of time to today, women have been thought of as inferior, men's possessions and only there to serve man's every need. As far back as the nomadic civilizations, women were considered the nurtures and homemakers. They were supposed to stay home, take of the children and cook all of the family's meals. Today women, in some places, are still not treated as equals and have little if any rights. As well as having unequal rights, women have been treated harshly. They have been beaten, raped, taken advantage of and harassed. Many authors have written novels about or incorporating the arbitrary treatment of women. As time passed women began to gain rights and their roles began to increase in importance. Chinua Achebe incorporates these unequal roles of women as part of the culture of the Pre-Colonial Ibo, or Igbo as sometimes called tribe of Nigeria, in his novel Things Fall Apart. Through the life of Okonkwo, the tragic hero of Things Fall Apart, the reader is presented with the roles of women through various events that take place in the village of Umuofia.

Throughout the book the Ibo's social view on males and females becomes very easily observed. They Ibo believe that men are strong and determined while women are weak in all aspects of life mind and body. They brand crimes and deaths as either masculine or feminine. Murder and beating are considered masculine and accidental crimes, stealing, or other misdemeanor crimes are named feminine. Ikemefuna was brought into the forest to be killed by Okonkwo and another man. Okonkwo had been acting as Ikemefuna's father, since he was separated from his tribe, and turned away when the other man swung the machete at Ikemefuna. The boy, still alive came running at Okonkwo screaming, "My father, they have killed me!" Okonkwo did not want to be considered weak so he drew his machete and finished off Ikemefuna. After returning home Okonkwo felt very distraught and did not eat for two days. He had already finished the work to be done that week, leaving him time to relax. "When did you become a shivering old woman," Okonkwo asked himself (as he sat there), "you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed." He feels that he has become a woman because he is feeling remorse and sorrow over Ikemefuna's death. In Umuofia men are expected to be strong, emotionless, and eager to kill. Later in the novel, during the funeral for Ezeudu many man, including Okonkwo, take part in the rituals, such as aiming your guns in the air and shooting while everyone is singing and dancing. When Okonkwo shot, his gun exploded and a piece of the iron, from the gun pierced a sixteen-year-old boy's heart, the son of the man whom the funeral was for. The Ibo did not take the killing of people within one's clan very lightly. If one purposely killed another clan member, that person was exiled from the clan and never allowed to return. If the death was an accident, as it was in this case, then one was still banned but allowed to return in seven years because it was considered a female crime. Killing a clansman was "a crime of two kinds, male and female Okonkwo had committed the female because it had been inadvertent." The Ibo, expected women to make mistakes, therefore an inadvertent death was called a female crime.

Chinua Achebe gave the women in his novel, Things Fall Apart, roles similar to those of women, throughout the world at that time but most importantly similar to women in Pre-Colonial Nigeria, where this book takes place. The positions of women in Pre-Colonial Nigeria, varied with each tribe. "Women held a basically complementary, rather than subordinate, positions to men in indigenous pre-colonial Nigerian society, which based power on seniority rather than gender." In Things Fall Apart though, gender was a more significant factor in determining one's responsibilities but seniority does play a small, factor. They usually had domestically oriented jobs and complimentary positions to men. Ibo women in particular were expected most importantly to give birth to sons to prolong the survival of the tribe. A woman's main role was being a good, loyal housewife. They were expected to look after the children, clean, and have meals ready by the time their husband was home.

If they did not do all of their responsibilities their angry husbands often beat them. The Ibo tribe allowed wife beating as it was a common solution to disobedient women. Achebe describes two instances of wife beating. One in which Okonkwo beats his wife, Ojiugo, and one in which another man of the tribe, Uzowulu, beat his wife. He beats her first when she does not have dinner prepared for him and she is off plaiting her hair instead of cooking for him and his children. Any other time, people would not have come over to see why a woman was screaming, but he beat her during the Week of Peace, and it was unheard of to beat someone during this time. Okonkwo did not care though; he felt she should be punished anyway. The priest called Okonkwo later and told him he has greatly upset the gods and would have to bring many things to the shrine of Ani, one of the gods, the next day in order to prevent their wrath on the village. Uzowulu had been accused by her sister of beating his wife. He beat her many times, once he beat her while she was pregnant until she miscarried. This trial was brought before the egwugwu because it was a more severe case. The egwugwu found in favor of Uzowulu's wife and ordered him to bring a pot of wine to his in-laws and beg his wife to return. After the case one elder said to another, "I don't know why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu.'

'Don't you know what kind of man Uzowulu is? He will not listen to any other decision,' replied the other." The elders knew that Uzowulu would still beat his wife after but it was a ritual of the Ibo, to bring serious cases of wife beating before the egwugwu.

Ibo also assign important roles to women as well as housewife. They painted the houses of egwugwu, and every man's first wife is paid some respect. During the palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie's obi, none of the other wives were allowed to sit or begin to drink their wine, until Nwakibie's first wife arrived. In Pre-Colonial Nigeria "the position of a young wife improved as she grew older, bore children and earned approval from the older members of the village." Women, mainly mothers, most important role was being there to comfort either their children after they were beaten, sad, or when they are banned from their village.

When Okonkwo was exiled from his village of Umuofia and forced to return to his motherland. His mothers family, though Okonkwo's attitude, accepted him and helped him to adapt to his new village. Okonkwo's uncle gives a speech directed at him shortly after he comes to his motherland. He asks Okonkwo if he knows why they often name their children Nneka, or "Mother is Supreme?" Okonkwo does not know and shakes his head. His uncle, Uchendu, after laughing at his ignorance explains to Okonkwo why they do this. He explains that one's mother is always there for their children. He says, "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." He was trying to tell Okonkwo that a man becomes happy and sad throughout his life, but when things become really bad one's mother is always there to take care of and comfort him.

Throughout his novel, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe presents the reader with the roles, responsibilities, and treatment of women through the use of characterization, various events and actions of other characters.
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Things Fall Apart. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 11 Oct, 2010 from