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Chinua Achebe is Africa's most widely read novelist and he is admired greatly by both African and the European readers. He is gifted with talent and has emerged from the contemporary Africa with a literary vision that influenced the modern African literature to a great extent. His novel is an insight of the Igbo culture, which fuses Igbo folklore, proverbs, and many idiomatic expressions. As a writer, he believes that the fundamental theme of his writing should be to demonstrate the dignity and validity of the Igbo culture. The societies under the Igbo culture were strictly patriarchal and the women in his novels played very limited and suppressed roles. This is especially true in the case of "Things Fall Apart". The African and the Nigerian cultures were mainly supportive of the masculine. Even though the writing of Achebe was superior in the African literature in its theme of representing the Igbo culture, it was inferior when analyzed on the basis of the genre of feminism.
His works mainly projected the subordination of the feminine figures. They were only sexual figures considered to be voiceless and invisible in the mainstream. "It was clear from the way that the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. Therewere many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders." (page 85) Achebe presents women as beings who are supposed to look after the children and pick yams. He represents women as creatures who could be treated just like any other animal and be beaten just as cruelly. The three of Okonkwo's wives are the best examples of such subordinated women.
In the Igbo society, men were everything and women on the other hand, were considered as nothing. Okonkwo marries more than one woman because of his yearning for power. It is believed that more wives give more power. Okonkwo wanted to be like Nwakibie who had nine wives and thirty children. Okonkwo's disrespectful comment to his wife, "Do what you are told woman" (page 18), gives us the idea of how the men in the society behaved to their female counterparts. Being the head of the clan, he gave no respect to his wives. Considering this aspect, it is clearly understood how inhumanly other members of the clan would have behaved to women.
Women in this society did not have any societal power. The feminine figures that find some role in the novel are Okonkwo's wives. Even they are marginalized from the main stream of the clan. The only female character who gets a positive image in the novel is Okonkwo's daugghter Ezinma, who had some manly qualities. Okonkwo loves her just because of this reason and he hates his son Nwoye, who was neither manly enough nor powerful. Still Okonkwo maintained a distance from Ezinma and did not show any emotional attachment towards her. This was his way of being more masculine by not being too emotional, which is highlighted in the qualities of women. Another major women character to get recognition in the novel is Chielo, who was the priestess. But Okonkwo believed himself to be powerful than her.
If he had obeyed Chielo's advice or listened to the suggestions of one of his wives, then he might not have had to suffer such misery or his downfall. But, as it was the tribal values, which mattered in the Igbo culture, the subordination of women could not be criticized. A great deal of importance was given to the individual power which resulted in the development of the society. If Okonkwo had made any attempt to give a good position to the women of his clan, then he would have surely been isolated by the other clan members. As Achebe was keen on representing his culture, he was presenting the role of women as it was in the Igbo society and he need not be criticized for bringing to light the subordinated roles of women in the society.
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