The Portrayal of Women in Things Fall Apart

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An image that comes of African women is usually a faceless and a voiceless being. There is always a tendency to look at them more or less than a slave. Chinua Achebe’s post-colonial novel, Things Fall Apart, do at some points of the novel support the case of the subjugated African women in the course of Okonkwo’s life through the practice of polygamy, paying bride price, and the atypical case of Okonkwo beating his wives at slight frustration. In Okonkwo’s eyes, women are mere property and the ones that keep a man sane. But, it is also through Okonkwo, we see women – mothers (Ekwefi), wives (Ojiugo), daughters (Ezinma), priestesses (Chielo, Ezeani) and goddesses (Ani) – who are revered and whose stature in the culture is paradoxical in the very idea of the marginalized and dutiful female that Okonkwo tries to rationalize.

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When Okonkwo beats Ojiugo, his youngest wife, in the Week of Peace, Ezeani, the priestess of Ani, fined him with “one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries” for the purity of the land. Okonkwo” he respected the priestess even though she was woman and was “rependant” for his actions. To understand Okonkwo and his different interactions with women, one must look at his origins. Due to his father’s poverty and his debts, his whole life was to live opposite of him and thus, he was “dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness”. After his father’s contemptible death, masculinity was a virtue that Okonkwo thrived on.

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Chika, the priestess of Agbala in Unoka’s time, “was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared.” Power simply does not only come in physical and political form, but also in spiritual ways. Chielo, the priestess of the goddess Agbala, was also a fearless woman when possessed and the people of Umuofia respects her. When it comes to men cultivating yam, it is only through Ani, they get their fertility. Achebe portrays how even though man may have the physical strength, but the spiritual and moral powers come within a female. Through irony and paradox, Achebe deflates this so-called male-superiority and establishes a combined force which includes both physical and spiritual powers, an equilibrium that is essential for the individual and society.

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