The Irony Behind the Role of Feminism
The point I keep consistently returning to throughout the course of Things Fall Apart is the irony between the concepts of masculinity and feminism as are present in the minds of most people in Umuofia, especially by Okonkwo. Okonkwo, like the majority of his clansmen, places great value on the idea that the ideal leader is male, and the ideal male is someone strong (both literally and metaphorically), landed and charming. I feel that while this may not be the explicit intention of Achebe, he demonstrates the ultimate inaccuracy and irony of this statement through the failure and demise of many of such strong male figures and the alternative value on women in society as the actual strong figure in the hearth of the village.
Okonkwo makes a point of saying starting very early on that he wants to avoid finding the same fate as his father as much as possible. The way I interpreted the first chapter, Unoka, Okonkwo’s father was poor of monetary value and property, but rich in heart and spirit. Unoka valued things like fellowship, merriness and music, all things that brought him inner peace (4). But Okonkwo doesn’t see this as happiness, because he measures happiness by success and popularity, something his father very much lacked. He constantly also belittles and ignores his biological son Nwoye, even questioning toward the end why it had to be him that had a son so effeminate and weak. Ultimately, Nwoye responds to a question about his father after converting religions with, “He is not my father,” (144). This in a way acts as the nail in the coffin for condemning the actions of Okonkwo as incorrect.
The ultimate irony I find is the status of women in the village and in Ibo culture. They provide the real stability and heart of the Umuofia community, never flinching in the face of strife and war among the men. After his humbling and exile to his mother’s clan, Okonkwo is faced with the question of the importance of women in their community, a sort of reflection he has never seen before. Here is the interaction he has with his mother:
“ ‘So you see that you are a child. You have many wives and many children – more children than I have. You are a great man in your clan. But you are still a child, my child. Listen to me and I shall tell you. But there is one more question I shall ask you. Why is it that when a woman dies she is taken home to be buried with her own clansmen? She is not buried with her husband’s kinsmen. Why is that? Your mother was brought home to me and buried with my people. Why was that?’” (133-134).
The female is secretly extremely valuable to the continuation and survival of the community. The men and leaders fail to realize that, resulting in the demise of their community to colonialism. One point I can’t quite pin down is why Achebe allows the attacks on women by husbands, or what the point of that content is, but maybe we can answer that in class.