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Women in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

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“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, portrays the Ibo society of Africa before the arrival of the white man. The novel depicts the Ibo culture and religion while Achebe weaves the Ibo language, myths and ideas into the English world and approach. It familiarizes the reader with the Ibo society as it also explains the role of women in pre-colonial Africa.

The role of women in the Ibo society:

Achebe shows how the patriarchal structure has been entrenched in the Ibo culture and only represents how it exists; people must evaluate the woman’s status themselves Women have little to no power-cannot stand against the husband’s mistreatment “And when [Ojiugo] returned he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace…It was unheard of to beat somebody during the sacred week” (Okonkwo severely beats his beats his wife due to a conflict of minor significance. (Not being home during dinner). The only reason he is punished is because it is the week of peace. No social power: “Without looking at the man Okonkwo had said: “This meeting is for men.” The man who had contradicted him had no titles. That is why he called him a woman” (26). Women are not allowed to do beyond what they are told. (Social repression) Patriarchy:

“’The world is large…I have even heard that in some tribes a man’s children belong to his wife and her family” (74). This statement clarifies the fact that the patriarchal system of Ibo society is ingrained in the lives and culture of the people so, being a “daily reality”, they don’t even question its existence or wonder if there is an alternative way of living. Rather, they take it as self-evident fact.(“These women never saw the inside of the hut. No women ever did…No woman ever asked questions about the most powerful and the most secret cult in the clan” (88). (

Emotional and spiritual strength:
Despite their lack of a social status and power, Chinua Achebe depicts women as having worth, being emotionally and spiritually strong. (“It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut…Your mother is there to protect you…And that is why we say that mother is supreme” (Achebe 134). The ability of I However, this characterization of Ibo women reveals itself to be prematurely simplistic as well as limiting, once the reader uncovers the diverse roles of the Ibo women throughout the novel. The woman’s position in the Ibo religion:

The women oftenly perform the role of priestess(“the priestess in those days was woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared” (17). The present priestess is Chielo, “the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the hill and the Caves” (49). At certain point during the story, Chielo comes for Okonkwo and Ekwefi’s daughter, Ezinma. We are told, “Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep. But Chielo ignored what he was trying to say and went on shouting that Agbala wanted to see his daughter . . The priestess screamed. ‘Beware, Okonkwo!’ she warned” (101). There is no other point in the novel in which we see Okonkwo beseech anyone (man/woman) for any reason.

The priestess not only orders Okonkwo to give her his daughter, but she also has the power and the position to threaten him. The fact that Okonkwo tolerates this, confirms the woman’s authority. The woman’s position of a priestess, a spiritual leader, indicates the great degree of reverence for women (in general) being present in Ibo society. Another example of respect for women is divulged through the representation of the earth goddess, Ani. She is described as playing “a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And what more, she was in close communion with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth” (36). Women as educators:

Ibo women are the primary educators of children. Through story telling and other forms of discourse/dialogue, they educate children, awaken their intellectual curiosity and entertain them while developing their artistic consciousness. Women as the foundation of the clan:

Through their labor, women serve as a very important pillar of society. They are constant (despite the physical and psychological harm that is caused through the mistreatment) and therefore, can be relied upon. They are also the nurturers and caretakers of the people as they are responsible for all the household duties and for a great amount of farm work.

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