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Gender in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Essay

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This paper will look at the contradictions in the work of Chinua Achebe in relation to his placement of woman and femininity. Kristen Holst Petersen states that ‘the African discussion is between feminist emancipation versus the fight against neo-colonialism, particularly in its cultural aspect...which comes first, the fight for female equality or the fight against Western cultural imperialism’. This paper will attempt to highlight these contradictions in relation to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Above all the tribe values physical prowess, it places a great deal of importance on individual achievement, these attributes are in fact intended to ensure the security and permanence of the group. For like most early societies this is a society that is dominated by a passion for survival. Umofia therefore cultivates the notion of the heroic ideal based on physical prowess. The centrality of the yam in the novel highlights the tribe’s respect for physical strength. As a result of the intense muscular effort required for its cultivation the yam crop comes to represent an annual triumph wrested from nature, a signifier of the dialogue between the human world and the natural environment. However a reader soon realizes the contradictions between the constraints of the social ideal, that privileges the interests of the group, and the truths of individual human yearnings.

Unoka, Okonwko’s father, embodies the counter-values that stand in opposition to the rigid social ideal of the tribe. His unorthodox style of living is, it may be argued, a conscious subversion of the manly ideal. His oppositional values are those of art, in tandem with a playful irony and an amorality that resounds with his relaxed disposition to the world. ...


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...cultural experience. Of course Things Fall Apart warrants a feminist reading, but to read it only in this manner would be reductive, and in my opinion, would miss the point of what Achebe was trying to do. In writing back to novels such as Heart of Darkness and Mister Johnson Achebe has presented us with a particularized African society to critique. To level the accusation as Petersen does that ‘the obvious inequality of the sexes seems to be the subject of mild amusement for Achebe’, is in my opinion unwarranted and unfair.

Select Bibliography

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Ibadan: Heinnemann, 1962

Kabbani, Rana. Imperial Fictions: Europe's Myths of Origin. London: Pandora, 1986.

Petersen, Kristen. "First Things First: Problems of a Feminist Approach to African Literature". In Griffith, Ashcroft, Tiffin Ed The Post-Colonial Studies Reader.


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