In Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, the Ibo people's patriarchal society has a strict system of behavioral customs according to gender. These customs strongly restrict the freedom of Ibo women and help to reinforce generation after generation the notion that Ibo men are superior to the women of their tribe.
Among the people of this society, the condition of weakness is strongly associated with the state of being female. The worst insult that a man can receive is to be called a woman. The novel's main character, Okonkwo, is often obsessed with proving his strength as a man because he seeks to escape the reputation of his father who was considered by his fellow clansmen to be weak like a woman. He is ashamed when he learns that "agbala was not only another name for woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title" when this insult is applied to his father. Okonkwo takes the insecurity of his manliness to extremes, and even unnecessarily kills the adopted son whom he loves deeply in order to prove his unwavering emotional fortitude. "Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machet and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak."(43)
In Ibo culture, it is practically a disgrace to be born a female. This attitude is apparent in considering the emphasis placed on women to bear sons in order to carry on the honor of the family. When a woman had borne her third son in succession, her husband "slaughtered a goat for her, as was the custom."(56) A woman is honored only if she could "bear... sons"(82) to carry on a great family's name and honor.
Okonkwo is greatly disappointed by the tendencies of his offspring in their gender roles. H...
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... physical power that they can exercise. Although this oppression is deplorable from a modern North American standpoint, from the point of view of the Ibo women of this period it is quite acceptable and none of them feel any necessity to change their social system.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 1958. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Expanded Edition, Vol. 1. Ed. Maynard Mack. London: Norton, 1995.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse." Feminist Review. 30 (Autumn 1988): 65-88.
Nnaemeka, Obioma. "Gender Relations and Critical Meditation: From Things Fall Apart to Anthills of the Savannah." Challenging Hierarchies: Issues and Themes In Colonial and Post colonial African Literature. Society and Politics in Africa. Vol 5. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998. 137-160.
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