What is the place of women in the Igbo society?

In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the narrative mostly focuses on Okonkwo, a hyper-masculine tribal leader. He represents an extreme example of the Umuofian view of women and the role of women in their society. Okonkwo has three wives, as is allowed in Umuofian culture. Women do not hold power in the tribe in terms of government or leadership. Men are allowed to beat their wives. Okonkwo, though, gets in trouble for hitting one of his wives during Peace Week. The other tribesmen agree that beating is warranted; it is simply not allowed during that week. Therefore, most of the time, violence against women is condemned.

Okonkwo’s attitude comes in part from his father. Okonkwo has a troubled relationship with his father, whom Okonkwo sees as lazy and unproductive; therefore, his father is not masculine. Okonkwo, on the other hand, is famous for his cultivation of yams, which “stood for manliness” because a successful farmer is hard-working and a good provider. Okonkwo’s obsession with manliness affects his relationships with his children as well. He feels closest to his daughter Ezinma, but she is lesser because she is a girl; he wishes she were born a boy instead. His son Nwoye, on the other hand, is more sensitive and less manly than Okonkwo wants him to be.

About halfway through the novel, Okonkwo’s masculinity is seriously questioned. He accidentally shoots and kills a man at a funeral celebration. The accidental nature of the act makes it a “feminine crime.” This is obviously humiliating for Okonkwo. He is exiled to his motherland for seven years. While he is there, his mother’s tribesmen point out to him that even though women are seen as less important in Umuofia, in Mbanta, “the mother is supreme”. This is because children look for sympathy from their mothers; the mother represents protection, which is important. The people of Mbanta emphasise the balance between male and female roles, while Okonkwo represents an extreme version of masculinity that is even beyond what his own tribe’s people value or practice.

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