Gender Roles: Women’s Authority
As mentioned in class, professor brought up the theme of gender roles. While this particular category is very general, I was most intrigued by the importance of the oracle’s priestess,Chielo. As Agbala’s oracle, Chielo singularly complicates the traditional woman’s role ( in this context) and stands as a possible commentary on how Achebe sees women.
“Like a sharp knife cutting through the night,” Chielo’s voice startles Ekwefi. The use of the phrase “sharp knife cutting” seems like a very powerful image; one which might be associated with a male figure like Okonkwo. Since Achebe does a solid job in emphasizing Okonkwo’s love of violence, its interesting that this quote is describing Chielo’s voice, and not Okonkwo’s. Additionally, it sheds light on the instance in which Okonkwo begs Chielo to return at a later time to retrieve Ezinma. It doesn’t seem that Okonkwo’s nature would allow him to beg a woman for a favor. So then I wondered if maybe, that the description of Chieol’s voice in this passage is the reason Okonkwo yielded to a female. Is it in the masculinity of that description that lies the answer?
Since Chielo is the oracle to a masculine god, is that the reason Okonkwo acquiesces to her request, despite his love for his daughter? Is it because he believes Ezinma should have been a boy that makes him love her so? Later in the passage, Ekwefi declares that she will come with Chielo and Ezinma to the cave; but, Chielo responds, “How dare you woman…lest he strike you with his anger. Bring me my daughter”! Is Chielo’s declaration meant to emphasize the difference between the devine Agbala and the lowly human; or is it to emphasize the fact that because Ekwefi is a woman, her determination to challenge the divine is even more audacious? Further analyzing the phrasing of this quote, it seems rather peculiar that Chielo who is a woman, addresses Ekwefi in this manner. When Chielo decides to carry Ezinma to the cave on her back, she notes that “A baby on its mother’s back does not know that the way is long.” This is the first direct mention of a feminine characteristic regarding Chielo in this entire chapter (Ch:11). Ekwefi takes note of this and decides that it is miraculous for Chielo to carry Ezinma for that long. She clarifies her confusion by deciding that, “Chielo was not a woman that night.” These quotes signify that strength is associated with masculinity, while maternal attributes are intrinsic to femininity. Yet, when Chielo recognizes that carrying Ezinma will be a challenge, she attributes her ability to complete the task to her maternal (feminine) nature. It is possible Achebe is trying to say something about traditional gender roles. I think that these contradictions and Ekwefi’s determination to follow her daughter represent women’s strength. Maybe Achebe is trying to say that the strength of a mother’s love is comparable to the carnal strength of a man. Thoughts?