This an International Baccalaureate Higher Level Written Task 2. The essay needs to include the following points according to the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.
Which social groups are marginalized, excluded or silenced within the text?
Title of text analyzed:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
To be examined in the task according to each character:
• Examine the marginalized social group of women in the novel.
• Examine the role of women in the Ibo society.
• Examine the importance of women in the Ibo society.
• This question is best explored through the characterization of Ekwefi, Enzima and the Female community.
I need you to answer each point according to the the characterization of Ekwefi, Enzima and the Female community.
Demystifying Women in Things Fall Apart.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is an African text about the Ibo community before the White man encroached into their territory and after his arrival. Their arrival had an impact on the communities and as a result of this, Thing Fall Apart analyses the breakdown of the bonds by the European administrators and missionaries after they arrived. A theme that is clearly understood through this is the integral position of women in the Igbo community. This paper analyses their position, their role and importance in their society.
Marginalization of women
Marginalization in society refers to the process whereby some members of the community are treated as being insignificant or their roles are peripheral to those of other members of society. Women are a marginalized lot. In the text, women are relegated to only take inferior roles in their community. For instance, Okonkwo wishes that his daughter Enzima was a boy since he believes that she portrays good qualities that should be seen in the male gender despite this he still feels she is a girl and thus should not be treated equally as his son Nwoye. His son on the other hand, was a disappointment since he took after his father Unoka who Okonkwo viewed as a failure. Despite this, Okonkwo still prefers him over his daughter and wants him to always be near him for instance he tells him “masculine stories of violence and bloodshed” (Achebe, 48). So that he can be a “man”. Since a man is not expected to portray traits of affection, gentleness and softness.
In Things Fall Apart, the man’s greatness is measured based on his wealth, titles, muscle as well as the number of wives. Rich and polygamous men occupied an important place in society and were held in awe. Despite this fact, if a man was unable to rule over his household that is his wives and children, he was not considered to be man enough. This shows that authority lies with men and the opinion of women was disregarded and therefore they were excluded from all important matters of the community that is economic, political and judicial issues. As a result of this, they were confined to domestic duties at home. In Okonkwo’s household, his wives suffered greatly since he repeatedly beat them to prove his masculinity. Moreover, he demeans anything that is feminine and anything negative is categorized to be feminine for example laziness and crime. For exaple when Okonkwo accidentally kills someone, he terms it as a female crime. In the same light, if a man’s family was fed on yams from one season to the other that man was held in awe. Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer. “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan. I would sooner strangle him with my own hands.” (Achebe 30). This shows that women were marginalized and men occupied a superior position to them.
The role of women in the Ibo Society
A Woman plays a great role in a family since she is the one who coordinates the wellbeing and relationships in the home. As a result of this, harmony in a home is greatly determined by the role they play. In Things Fall Apart, women play an important role of caregivers, educators and as principle assistants to their husbands.
Women enjoy a close relationship with their children and have a strong bond which enables them to share a lot as their caregivers. In Things Fall Apart, Ekwefi Okonkwo’s wife was unfortunate since she had lost nine children who died in infancy and only had one surviving daughter Ezinma. Unfortunately, she too is ailing but Ekwefi is determined to see to it that she survives. Moreover, she has suffered a lot of stigmatisation after losing all her 9 children in infancy but she comes out bravely and devotes her energy to take care of Ezinma. As a result of this, she nurses her so that she can remain healthy. Furthermore, when Ezinma is taken the Oracle of Umuofia by Priestess Chielo one late night, she follow them at a distance for fear that the priestess can harm her daughter (Achebe, 76). This shows the love of a mother who is willing to risk it all to ensure the safety of her child.
Women are educators of their children. In Things Fall Apart, the women educate their children through stories and teaching them good morals. This enables them to acquire acceptable human practices, cultivate good relationships and acquire social values. Moreover, these stories are told to entertain. “Low voices, broken now and again by singing, reached Okonkwo from his wives’ huts as each woman and her children told folk stories. Ekwefi and her daughter, Ezinma, sat on a mat on the floor. It was Ekwefi’s turn to tell a story” (Achebe, 67). These stories told by Ekwefi to Okonkwo’s children teach them morals, culture and Myths about the Ibo community. This learning process will enable them to adapt to life challenges as well as capably perform as members of the community. This is well illustrated in the book where Chinua Achebe says that the art of conversation is highly regarded in their community and the use of proverbs, is the palm-oil with which words are eaten.
Woman help their husband in the management of their households. This is true in Things Fall Apart since women help their husbands in the farms as well as other household duties. In Okonkwo’s household, his wives grow crops that are regarded to be easy to grow such as beans, cassava, corn and watermelon. Even though their contribution is seen to be less significant, these crops supplement the yam which is the main staple food. They also hard work to support their husbands in these tasks. For instance Ekwefi, Ezinma her daughter, Obiageli, Ojiugo’s daughter used to rise up early to harvest the cassava tubers and every one of them had a hoe for digging the tubers and a basket for carrying the cassavas (Achebe, 116).
Importance of women in the Igbo Community
Women were important in the Ibo community because they play certain roles that are integral in the well-being of the community. They include their role in the Ibo religion and foundation of the community.
Women played an important role in the religion of the Ibo community. Women were chosen to be priestesses and were held with a lot of reverence. For instance during Okonkwo’s childhood there was a priestess called Chika who was greatly feared and at the time of the narration in Things Fall Apart the priestess was Chielo and when she came for Ezinma at night and Okonkwo had to plead with her to come back in the morning since his daughter was already asleep but the priestess vehemently refused. This was the first scenario when we see Okonkwo pleading with anyone. This serves to show that the role of the priestess was respected.
Women are also important since they are the foundation of the community. This is because they give birth to children, nurtured them and taught them values. Furthermore, women performed integral community tasks such as weeding which was done at specific periods in the growth of the yams. Yam was an important crop of the community and tendering to the crop was an important task failure to take good care would lead to the crop’s failure. Consequently, women were bestowed with an important duty.
Despite women being marginalized, excluded and silenced in Things Fall Apart, they play an important role in the well-being of their families and community. As priestesses, principle helpers of their husbands in tilling the land, caretakers and as educators.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart: With Related Readings. EMC/Paradigm Pub, 2003.