“Mother is Supreme”

In response to our brief in-class discussion, regarding the misogynistic characteristics of the African ethnic groups present in the novel, I thought it best to address a passage that discusses Mbanta’s concept that “Mother is Supreme.” This passage adds to what we had previously come to know as a woman’s role in the clan. This passage depicts a whole new version of women that we have yet to see in Things Fall Apart.

We have read about women cooking, bearing and raising children, and obeying orders without ever really reading about their impact on society, until this passage. It is now evident that a mother’s role is much more multifaceted and important than what we had discussed in class. Uchendu, a leader of the Mbanta clan, explains “But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his mother land. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.”(98) Achebe’s inclusion of this narrative provides the reader with insight into the value of women in the clan, which we had yet to really see. Furthermore, I do not think Achebe’s usage of the word supreme was accidental. By definition supreme means “most important or most powerful.” Achebe wants us, as readers, to recognize the significant role that females play not only in the clans but also on the novel as a whole. This passage stands out primarily due to its uniqueness in that Achebe had not previously shed light on the prominence and importance of women in the novel.

Now to briefly play devils advocate in the fifty or so words I have left: One could argue that this passage is just furthering the sexism that we already knew to be present in the novel in that it is associating sorrow and bitterness with women.

However, I personally see the inclusion of this passage as an important message to the reader that a women’s role in the culture Achebe has depicted is much more than what we had previously concluded.

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Posted on September 3, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I must say that I agree with what you have argued in your post; Achebe’s inclusion of this passage really gives the reader a deeper understanding of the role of the mother in Igbo society.

    To take it one step further, I would argue that this passage also serves as a reflection for Okonkwo that calls him out on his fatal flaw: his inability to healthily cope with his emotions. Okonkwo’s definition of manhood only allows him to be strong, hardened, courageous, driven, and persistent. However, his rigidity in sticking to this idea of manhood is short-sighted as it does not allow him to process the shame, sorrow, and hopelessness that the bad times in his life have brought him. Uchendu condones him to accept the protection and nurture of his motherland. This, however, conflicts with Okonkwo’s self-concept. Fortunately, he is able to cope with his self-loathing in his exile by toiling over new soil, even though it may be begrudgingly. As long as he is putting his hands to work, he is able to put his mind at ease. However, by the end of the novel, it is evident that hard labor is not enough to overpower his desire to end his life. Maybe if Okonkwo had accepted nurturing during his low times, he would have been able to overcome his demons.

    • Great point! I agree Okonkwo’s inability to allow himself to feel anything but strength,power,etc. played a role in his ultimate destruction.
      To further expand on Okonkwo’s “fatal flaw,” one might argue that his feelings regarding his father contributed to his lack of sympathetic emotion. At the beginning of the book, Achebe made it clear to the reader that Okonkwo saw his father as a weak man; a man who Okonkwo was truely ashamed of. Perhaps in an effort to compensate for his father’s weakness and be essentially what his father never was, Okonkwo only saw it fit to display masculinity and strength.

  2. It is interesting how Achebe brought up a mother as someone who is supreme. There is something that I have been thinking for a while when reading this novel. I would say that Achebe had something in mind when he described the womanhood as supreme. My thought was revolving around the idea that Achebe might want to explain the fact that women in Africa, especially Nigeria, had the same contributions in the family as the men did. When people think about Africa, some of them may assume that gender inequality has been rampant in this particular continent. However, I salute Achebe’s effort to clarify the perception that women back then might not have any other significant roles in a family besides doing house chores. His representation of a woman being supreme is best portray her as a figure who is willing to accept her children both in joy and sorrow moments. It was such an eye opening moment for me when I knew that a father is someone that a child will turn to when he or she is happy. On the contrary, a mother seemed to be the secondary. Therefore, I would think that a woman’s presence, tenderness, strength, and dedication that brings peace to her family is what Achebe highlighted as another precious fact about Africa, which usually becomes a symbol of violence.

  3. erika926nishihara

    I agree with your point that mothers play important roles in the African ethnic groups depicted in the novel. Though mothers themselves are valued and regarded as supreme, there seem to be different in dignity within mothers. Anasi “wore the anklet of her husband’s title, which the first wife alone could wear” (20). Thus, there seem to be ranks within wives, and first wife has highest rank among them.

    However, I think women play a subsidiary role in household. “Okonkwo rules his household with a heavy hand” (13). Men have dominant power in family, though value of women is highly appreciated. In the novel, men have most powerful voice, though mothers play significant role in the novel.

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