Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Women’s Roles in Umuofian Society

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Literature and Liberation- Prof. Sicari December 3rd, 2012 Women’s Role in Umuofian Society Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” depicts the downfall of the once great tribe of Umuofia at the hands of imperialistic European white men. However the downfall of this advanced tribe would come to be inevitable due to its numerous flaws, in terms of their “justice” system, extreme religious interpretations of the Oracle and perhaps most heavily because of their intensely misogynistic views.

Umuofia’s harsh and brutal treatment of women in their society reveal the fact that women are not acknowledged to even be human, much rather they are treated as possessions – as property. Men believe women to be powerless, defenseless and ultimately useless but this ignorant belief proves to have detrimental consequences. These misogynistic views in turn become the very foundation upon which this society will unravel. With imperialistic missionaries arriving with the tempting offer of a different and more appealing lifestyle, the once united Umuofia will wither away.

Umuofia is a tribe located in Nigeria, Africa coming from humble beginnings, the means of success in this tribe come through hard manual labor such as farming. Having to start from scratch several times many men have solidified their status because of their persistence, earning themselves many titles. However, a man who earns no titles is referred to as an “agbala” (p. 13) – which also means women, but when used to refer to a male it is an insult. This exposes to the reader the fact that the word failure is synonymous with women, they are interchangeable, having the same meaning.

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In “women” being the choice word to insult a man it also paints the picture under which light women are viewed by men, to be a woman is to be unsuccessful and to carry no value. Another manner in which a man further reinforces his titles is in acquiring several wives. The number of wives a man has affects his social status, exemplifying that women are possessions of men. It’s a numbers game with men, using women as their pawns so they can further embody the “true meaning” of what it is to be a man Further exemplifying the misogynistic views of this society is demonstrated in the domestic abuse females face at the hands of their spouse.

Okonkwo, an aggressive being by nature is no different towards his wives. In Chapter 4, Okonkwo violently beats his third and youngest wife, Ojiugo, “And when she returned he beat her very heavily” (p. 29) because when he arrived home food was not yet prepared and she instead of having a hot meal waiting for him went to get her hair braided. Okonkwo blind in his rage beats her brutally claiming negligence, completely forgetting the fact that it was the sacred Week of Peace - “His two wives ran out in great alarm pleading with him that it was the sacred week” (p. 9). For beating his wife during the Week of Peace, Okonkwo is punished, the priest demands that Okonkwo sacrifice a nanny goat and a hen and pay a fine of one length of cloth and one hundred cowries. This scene reveals just how corrupt the Umuofian justice system is, Okonkwo is punished not because he laid his hands on his wife but because of the time in which he did it. It is not frowned down on when a male hits a female, in fact it is encouraged and Okonkwo from time to time threatens to kill his wives.

It is not viewed as monstrous when a male beats a female in this society and is applauded, they feel as though women must be kept in line and know their duties as well as complete them fully anything less is negligence and physical abuse is their wake up call. Adding to the fact that men can get away with hitting their wives, the very few times in which this justice system does side with women it is very partial – with men relatively receiving a slap on the wrist. This is shown in Chapter 10, a dispute that comes before the egwugwu (the clan’s ancestral spirits) that involves a husband and wife.

The husband, Uzowulu, states that the three brothers of his wife, Mgbafo, beat him and took her and the children from his hut but would not return her bride-price. The woman’s brothers justify their actions in stating that Uzowulu beat their sister mercilessly. They state that Uzowulu’s punishment if Mgbafo returns with him will be that his genitals be cut off if he ever beats her again. Uzowulu claims that he sees no wrong in his ways, “I married her with my money and my yams, I owe them no cocoyams” (p. 90) is his defense. He feels as though he owes his in laws no explanation and how he treats his wife is no ones oncern. This statement proves that he views his wife as just another possession of his, he paid the price and he can do as he pleases with her from that point forward. The egwugwu decide in favor of Mgbafo, telling Uzowulu to take a pot of wine to his in-laws. One village elder complains that such a minimal matter should not be brought before them, again exposing the fact that domestic abuse is not seen as an issue in this society. In Umuofia, there are two types of crimes that can be committed, feminine crimes and masculine crimes.

Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansman during a funeral, this crime falls under the category of feminine because it wasn’t a killing on purpose – “Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. ” (p. 124). In categorizing crimes under these two types the reader receives insight as to what characteristics pertain to each gender in the eyes of this society. Feminine crimes are accidental, without intent, inadvertent – these characteristics all associate with the way that men view females, carrying negative connotations that make it seem as though women don’t have strength.

Masculine crimes on the other hand lie on the other side of the spectrum; these crimes consist of blunt, direct acts with an intent or purpose to be completed. These characteristics are some of the many males wish to possess in their attempt to fulfill what it is to be a man. Men are strong with a sense of direction and purpose and so are these crimes. Okonkwo agrees with the society’s interpretation of genders, primarily in his wishing that his daughter, Ezinma, were a boy.

Ezinma, is Okonkwo’s favorite child, he loves her very much but does not show affection towards her due to his fear of being viewed as weak by the men of his tribe. Any emotion other than anger is a feminine emotion in the opinion of Okonkwo. Multiple times throughout the novel Okonkwo catches himself wishing that Ezinma were a boy, “If Ezinma had been a boy I would have been happier. She has the right spirit” (p. 66). Okonkwo claims that she would have been the ideal son, strikingly similar in their nature and mindset, Ezinma fulfills all the qualities her father desires in his children- except for one.

As she is a woman all of these talents and qualities will go on unexplored and unused. Society feels as though it is the duty of a woman to bear sons, “prosperous men and great warriors your daughter will bear us sons like you” (p. 117). Ezinma has proven herself time and time again but will always fail in the eyes of Okonkwo, through the love and fondness he has for her she will never be able to change the fact that she is a female and he will never be able to change his misogynistic views.

Okonkwo is very capable of feeling feminine emotions but as for exposing and expressing them he is blind in his immense resentment towards his father, Unoka, and everything he represented. These misogynistic views take a toll on the tribe and prove to become their undoing. Christian missionaries soon arrive to the tribe with the intent of converting as many of the tribe members as possible, presenting them with a tempting offer that proves to entice one too many for the liking of Okonkwo.

On the surface Okonkwo resist the implementation of Christianity because it is not “manly” enough, but frankly it is the deep rooted fear of losing societal status that prevents him from embracing this religion. His sense of self-worth is solely based on the traditional standards by which society judges him. The system of evaluation that the Christians introduce causes many of the tribe members embrace Christianity; the evaluation of self, not possessions is what composed one’s worth.

Those who were once outcasted, scorned and belittled found value in Christianity. In their new community, these converts enjoy a more elevated status – no longer being the underdog was a more then welcomed change, the biggest underdog of them all being women. Presently, Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994. Print. Denny, Frederick Mathewson, Carlos M. N. Eire, Martin S. Jaffee, and John Corrigan. Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.

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Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Women’s Roles in Umuofian Society. (2017, Mar 22). Retrieved from

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