The Feminine Presence in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

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Chinua Achebe’s seminal novel, Things Fall Apart, portrays the difficult struggle of a native African society to preserve its beliefs and values when faced with a powerful and dangerous outside influence. The struggle is most poignantly captured in the story of Okonkwo, a warrior who cannot reconcile his most treasured principles with the changes occurring in his society. It is through the lens of Okonkwo’s passions that we come to know the subtleties of his tribal village, Umuofia, and their complex religious and cultural practices. One of the most complicated concepts in this close-knit community is the concept of womanhood – its weakness, its strength, and it sanctity. For both Okonkwo and the Umuofia society, the idea of the feminine is contradictory and difficult to sustain; it is at the same time a source of comfort and fear, pride and shame. These two faces of the feminine in Achebe’s novel are embodied by two of the most significant female characters: Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, and Ezinma, their daughter. In these two women, we find a concept of womanhood that is at odds with itself yet fully reconciled. Though womanhood as embodied by Ekwefi and Ezinma is the most complex and enlightening vision of the feminine in the book, it is not the first. The reader’s first exposure to the role of the female is through the view of Okonkwo. As a result of his experiences as a child, Okonkwo has developed a simplistic and emotionally charged view of women. This view was inspired, oddly, not by a woman but by a man – his father, Unoka. Unoka was not a successful member of the clan. He did not value hard work, did not participate in violence, and was content to live off of the backs of his fellow tribesmen. This led ... ... middle of paper ... ... through their portrayal, suggests that the author was much more attuned to the subtleties of the female identity than the surface of his novel implies. References Achebe, C. (1959). Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books: Random House. Hamilton, R. (2003). “Fragmenting culture, fragmenting lives: Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart.” Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender, J. Fisher and E. Silber, eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Onyemelukwe, I. (2004). “Achebe and african womanhood in Things Fall Apart.” Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe, vol. 2, E. Emenyonu and I. Uko, eds. Trenton, NJ: African World Press. Strong-Leek, L. (2001). "Reading as a woman: Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' and Feminist Criticism". African Studies Quarterly 5(2): 2. [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i2a2.htm
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