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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Updated on November 7, 2014

The Women Hold it Together When Things Fall Apart

In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is a complex character who acts like a tyrant but also has the capacity to show love and compassion. Despite the fact that he rules over his family with a violent hand, he does care about them and wants the best for them. Okonkwo’s community teaches him everything but what he needs to survive in the midst of social change. Okonkwo lacks the ability to communicate successfully with anyone outside of Ezinma, and the reason that he is able to communicate with her so well is because he is so fond of her predilection towards male qualities. Okonkwo is foolish in his interaction with his son, shows a sense of love and compassion for his daughter, and loosely subscribes to gender roles where Ezinma is concerned. Ezinma has more power with regards to her father than her brother because of the dominant characteristics that she exudes, and, in line with the relationship that Ezinma has with her father, the women in the community have more power than readers initially perceive.

Despite the fact that Okonkwo cares for his son, their relationship is doomed from the start because of Okonkwo’s fear of becoming like his father or producing children who end up like his father. This fear that he possesses would undoubtedly lead him to kill his own child before seeing him become a failure. Okonkwo admits this when he says, “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan. I would sooner strangle him with my own hands” (Achebe). Here Okonkwo illustrates his hate for failure and his passion to raise a male child who is successful. Okonkwo is haunted by the demons of his own father’s behavior, and the desperation of fear would lead him to kill to keep the status that he has obtained in the community despite the villagers’ perceptions of his father. To communicate his fears to his son in a gentle manner would be a sign of weakness to him, so he threatens to kill him instead. Had Okonkwo been able to gently communicate with his son, he would have yielded a better outcome, for his son would have seen what he needed to see in his father in order to be proud to be like him, a sense of compassion and open love for his entire family. This sense of compassion that his son needed to see would have had to be unfettered by preconceived notions of how a man or a woman should act; however, the societal influence upon Okonkwo’s behavior is a permanent fixture on his personality.

On the other hand, Okonkwo is able to show this sense of love and compassion to his daughter. He is able to bond with Ezinma because she displays so much of his own qualities; furthermore, she seems to be more masculine than her brother. Okonkwo obviously deeply loathes weakness, so even though Ezinma is female, she makes a show of superiority with her strong- will to which Okonkwo is able to relate. He admits that he would have been happier had Ezinma been born a boy. Ezinma exudes the mannerisms of a man, and she is not shy about it. She also has inherited her father’s temper and rash behavior. In relation to his daughter, Okonkwo accepts crossing gender lines to enjoy the fantasy of having a strong-willed seed to carry on his name.

Female Bonding in Things Fall Apart

The traditional gender roles in the Igbo community call for female bonding. In addition to her strong bond with her father, Ezinma has a very personal relationship with her mother as well. She is the only surviving child in relation to her mother, so she is a bit spoiled. The narrator explains Ezinma’s importance with the following words: “The birth of her children, which should be a woman's crowning glory, became for Ekwefi mere physical agony devoid of promise. The naming ceremony after seven market weeks became an empty ritual” (Achebe). Imagine her position with her mother after having lost nine other children. Ezinma is of the utmost importance to her mother, and she bonds with her daughter at times by sneaking eggs together and allowing her to call her by her first name. Beyond the mother daughter aspect of bonding, female bonding in general in the Igbo community is important because of the feminine place in society. Women are seen as the weaker members of society, and they are treated as such in relation to men. For instance, it is permitted to beat wives in the community. Furthermore, the women must be ready to accept sharing their husbands. This is not something that is easily done without female bonding. Furthermore, the women in the Igbo community actually play a more important role than the men would like to admit. The highest religious figures in the community are women; the people responsible for farming the yams are women; the people responsible for educating the children and passing on the oral tradition are women; and the people who ultimately protect the offspring are women. The protection of the family does not fall on the brute force that the men exert but on the natural strength of the Igbo women. Observe Uchendu’s response to Okonkwo complaining about being exiled to his mother’s village:

It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks

sympathy in its mother’s hut. 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. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why

we say that mother is supreme. (Achebe)

The women run the villages together, and they bond because they must know how to do this without extensive acknowledgement in the male community. Their acknowledgment comes from within their female circle, for they know that the woman is the cornerstone of the home.

At first glance, the Igbo community may seem simple and primitive, but a close examination reveals a more complex community. Okonkwo is indeed a complex character because of his selective interaction with his children; however, his character is more simplistic when waged against the backdrop of his entire community. Because of this, he is unable to cope with the changes that emerge within the community. Furthermore, he is unable to bond with his son who develops the courage to leave his father forever to free himself of his harsh hand. The complexity of the community does not allow for women to live free of a husbands abusive hands; however, the community does allow women to play the most important roles within their society. In essence, the Igbo males trick themselves into believing that they have the utmost control over the workings of the community when in actuality they have limited control.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Webnet, 1 June 2007. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Chinua Achebe

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Igbo Women

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Igbo Priestess
Igbo Priestess | Source

Igbo Tradition

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