The Place of Women in Igbo Society (Things Fall Apart)

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Women are often thought of as the weaker, more vulnerable of the two sexes. Thus, women’s roles in literature are often subdued and subordinate. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, women are repressed by an entrenched structure of the social repression. Women suffer great losses in this novel but, also in certain circumstances, hold tremendous power. Achebe provides progressively changing attitudes towards women’s role.

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Thus we see that wife beating is an accepted practice. Okonkwo frequently beats his wives, and the only emotion he allows to display is anger. Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwefi, was given a sound beating because she merely cut a few leaves of the banana tree. In another incident, he beats his youngest wife, Ojiugo, because she goes out to get her hair plaited and does not return in time to cook the afternoon meal. However, the only reason he gets punished is because it is the week of peace.

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These diverse roles of women in Things Fall Apart show that women are the foundation of the clan and its people. They are the constant that can be relied upon; they are the nurturers and caretakers of the people. These are not insignificant, powerless roles. Women in Things Fall Apart may appear to be unfairly limited in terms of their authority and power. However, upon delving beneath this deceiving surface, one can see that the women of the clan hold some powerful positions; spiritually as the priestess, symbolically as the earth goddess, and literally as the nurturers of the Igbo people, the caretakers of the yam crops and the mother and educators of the Igbo children.

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