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.

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Posted on September 4, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think the reason Achebe includes the violence against women (as well as other instances of violence, like that against newborn twins) is because through out the book he makes a concerted effort to display the Igbo culture in it’s entirety – both the good and the bad. This is in contrast to the Western tradition of writing about African culture as if it is homogeneous, simple, exotic and immoral. Achebe, however, responds to that oversimplifying tradition by painting us a realistic picture of what life was really like for a specific group of people in Africa. If he only included the good things, he would be providing a very biased view and his book would not hold up as well to critique. Every culture has both positive and negative aspects, so his frankness in illustrating both the good and the bad gives more credence to his argument that African cultures are as diverse, complex, and systemic as any Western culture. Now I would argue that Achebe doesn’t imply that the Igbo were somehow more susceptible to colonization because of their sexism and violence. If that were the case, The West should be the most colonized place on the planet! Rather I think Achebe speaks to the colonizer’s ability to capitalize on those negative aspects of the culture by providing an alternative, thereby instigating that pull of cultural change that would eventually unravel the fabric of the entire civilization.

  2. The quote you chose about the roles of mothers versus fathers was one of my favorite passages of the book. It was Okonkwo’s uncle Uchendu who said this quote, when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland because of his crime. Continuing the quote shows the power of the female, “But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.” I think this demonstrates the mother’s role. Okonkwo is largely confined to his obi, and mothers are responsible for the raising of children, particularly daughters. They are second class citizens in many ways, but they also have rights, responsibilities and respect.

    In terms of violence against women, I agree with the first comment. This is more than a work of fiction, it also strives to describe life in Igbo culture.

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