The world in Chinua Achedes novel, Things Fall Apart, was a society in which males had control of everything, and the women had control of nothing. As wives, women were seen as property, rather than as partners to be loved and cherished. The men of the Ibo tribe usually married more than one wife because the more wives, yams, barns, and titles each Ibo man held, the more successful he was considered. These possessions determined a man’s social status.
An example of a man looking for social status in these ways was Nwakibie, who had three huge barns, nine wives and thirty children, and the highest but one title which a man could take in the clan(18). The men controlled the children and women by treating them like slaves. Their only role in the man’s life was to help him achieve a higher stature by working for him. The Ibo tribe’s definition of family was much different than it was in many other parts of the world in the eighteen-hundreds. Okonkwo’s whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness (13).
The way Achebe described Okonkwo’s family and his tribe showed that in Ibo society, anything strong was related to man, and anything weak was related to woman. As a child, Okonkwo was teased by other kids when they called his father Agbala. Agbala is a Ibo word used in reference to a man who had taken no title or simply woman. Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, was the exact epitome of failure and weakness to Okonkwo. Because of this Okonkwo was ruled by one passion- to hate anything his father had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness(13).
Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, reminded him of his father, and he describes Nwoye as womanly, just as his father had been. Okonkwo showed great dislike for his son by beating him and calling him names. However, he favored his daughter, Ezinma, the most out of all his children. If Ezinma had been a boy [he] would have been happier. (66) Okonkwo thought Ezinma had the right spirit(66) to be a man because she was strong and loyal. The society that Chinua Achebe described in his book, Things Fall Apart, is also based on agriculture.
The major crop the Ibo tribe grew was the yam, which was said to be the symbol of virility. The coco-yam, which was a smaller size and had a lesser value than other yams, was regarded as female. The yam also stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another is a very great man indeed (33). To produce a great harvest, the Ibo farmer would have needed a lot of help. The women ran most of the workforce by farming, tending animals, and raising the children so that they could help out on the farms.
The yam demanded hard work and constant attention from cock-crow till the chickens went back to roost. The young tendrils were protected from the earth-heat with rings of sisal leaves. As the rains became heavier, the women planted maize, melons, and beans between the yam mounds. The yams were then staked, first with little sticks and later with tall big tree branches. The women weeded the farm three times at definite period in the life of the yams, neither early nor late (33).
Here, the women can be compared to slaves because they did most of the work on the farms, but were not seen as important, or given any credit. They were forced to do hard work for long periods of time, or they were punished. Women had no freedom and no choice in this androcentric society. Their husbands told them what to do, and if they did not do it, they were beat.. The tribe believed that no matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and children (and especially his women) he was not really a man(53).
The novel tells of two instances when Okonkwo beats one of his wives in order to demonstrate authority if she disobeyed his command. One of these instances is when she does not come home to make his meal because she is was visiting a friend, he then severely beat her. He also beat her when she took some leaves from a banana tree to wrap food in, and then was almost killed when she mumbled something about guns that never shot (38-39). Perhaps Okonkwo’s treatment of women and wives comes from unconscious fear of showing love or concern, which would be seen as a form of weakness.
The Ibo tribes emphasize on virility, stereotyping, gender discrimination, and violence, which all create an unfair misrepresentation of women. The only women that were respected in this novel were the priestess, such as Chielo of the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. Chielo can transform from the ordinary and can talk back to Okonkwo, and even scream curses at him: Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a God speaks? Beware! (101). Okonkwo is powerless before the goddess’s priestess. He feels insecure because she is a women, so he feels more of a need to control his own women.