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The position and image of women in Things Fall Apart is an important topic. Unfortunately, people have not paid much attention to it beyond going along with the assumption that this novel presents women as a sadly oppressed group with no power.
This assumption may appear to be right, but there is much more to think about. Women in Things Fall Apart are the primary educators of children. Through story telling and other forms of discourse, they educate and socialize the children, inspiring in them intellectual curiosity about social values, relationships, and the human condition. The stories the women tell also develop the artistic consciousness of the children, in addition to entertaining them.
The women bear children, cook and take care of the household in many other ways. Through their labor, they are an important pillar of the society.
The presence of Chielo, the priestess in Things Fall Apart is instructive. She is a spiritual leader, whose authority is unquestioned. Grace Okafor comments on the Igbo view of women's ritualistic power:
The ritualistic function of women emanated from belief in the ritual essence of women as progenitors of the society. The idea is that women know the secret of life since they are the source of life. Because of their biological function in the life-giving process, the society looks on them to safeguard life. Thus, it is the biological role of women that influenced belief in their power. (Okafor, 9-10)
There is a memorable question that old Uchendu asks, which emphasizes the position of women in Things Fall Apart in a dramatic way:
Can you tell me, Okonkwo, why it is that one of the commonest names we give to our children is Nneka, or "Mother is Supreme"? We all know that a man is the head of the family and his wives do his bidding. A child belongs to its father and his family and not to its mother and her family.
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Uchendu answers the question himself:
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. (94-95)