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Discussing the role of women in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart requires a thorough and unbiased reading of the novel. This might be challenging for someone from a western country as at first sight, the women in Things Fall Apart may seem to be an oppressed group with very little saying in the Igbo society, which is true to a certain extent. However, after analyzing the theme of gender thoroughly, it appears that the Igbo women have various roles of great importance in the Igbo society as portrayed in the novel. In this essay, the various roles women play in Igbo society and why they are portrayed that way will be analyzed based on the role women play in Igbo religion, their role as caretaker and their role as educators.
Firstly, women play a large role in the Igbo religion. Women regularly take on the role of priestess as mentioned in the novel. A quote from the book reveals that during Okonkwo’s childhood, “the priestess in those days was a woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared.” During the present time in which the novel is set, the priestess is Chielo. When Okonkwo’s daughter, Ezinma, is ill, he visits Chielo and “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep.” This is the first, and last time in the novel that we see Okonkwo plead with anyone. Chielo did not just order Okonkwo to give her Ezinma, but she threatened him as well. This displays the power that a priestess possesses in the Igbo society, and the fact that a woman can take on the role as a priestess and spiritual leader shows us the possible esteem of women in the Igbo society.
Another example of women playing a big role in the Igbo religion is the earth goddess, Ani. She is described as playing “a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity”. It seems unlikely that a society in which women are inferior to men, the most powerful deity is represented as a woman. Ani also plays a large role in the yam harvest. A quote from the novel reveals that it is important for all clan members to participate in the week of peace before the harvest, “to honor their great goddess the earth without whose blessing their crops will not grow”. Yams are often the symbol of masculinity in Things Fall Apart, so it is remarkable that the men are so reliant on the blessing of a female being.
Secondly, are viewed as the foundation of the clan and its people, as stated by Uchida. They can always be relied upon and they are the caretakers of the Igbo clan. These, most certainly, are roles that display a form of power and significance. In addition, just like the earth goddess, Ani, women have played an important role in the procedure of producing yams. We are told that “the women weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early or late.” In this case, too, it is remarkable that the men depend on the women to carry out such an important duty because if done incorrectly, the yam harvest will fail.
Lastly, women play the role of educators for their children. The main way in which the Igbo women educate their children is by storytelling. As described in the novel, “Low voices, broken now and again by singing, reached Okonkwo from his wives’ huts as each woman and her children told folk stories.” It is through this act of storytelling that the Igbo children learn lessons of great importance about the human condition, are taught Igbo creation myths, such as the birds and the tortoise story, and master art of communication by learning how to retell these stories themselves. As stated in the novel, “Among Igbo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” Evidently, Igbo women play a significant role in the facilitation of education, which is core to their children’s ability to properly function within the Igbo culture.
To conclude, at first glance the role of women in Igbo society might seem inferior to that of the men, but after further analyzing, Things Fall Apart the women can take on very important roles in Igbo society that most certainly cannot be neglected.
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