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Women In Achebe Essay

9063 words - 37 pages

WOMEN IN ACHEBE'S WORLDRose Ure MezuWhen literary activities marking the sixtieth birthday of Chinua Achebe reached fever-pitch in 1990, the greatest accolade given him was summed up in one metaphor: the eagle on the iroko. Now, anybody familiar with the African landscape knows that the iroko is the tallest, strongest tree in the forest and that the eagle is, of course, the king of the birds. It is not an easy feat to scale the tree; that is why the Igbo proverb insists: "One does not climb the iroko twice." Having succeeded in climbing the iroko, the climber should appropriate all that he finds there: he may not be able to do so again. The eagle, however, can both scale and soar above the ...view middle of the document...

Sociocultural BackgroundWere Nigeria and Africa oppressively masculinist? The answer is, "Yes." Ghana was known to have some matrilineal societies, such as the Akans ; but Nigeria's traditional culture, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, had been masculine-based even before the advent of the white man. The source, nature, and extent of female subordination and oppression have constituted a vexed problem in African literary debates. Writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana and the late Flora Nwapa of Nigeria have insisted that the image of the helpless, dependent, unproductive African woman was one ushered in by European imperialists whose women lived that way. On the other hand, the Nigerian-born, expatriate writer Buchi Emecheta, along with other critics, maintains that African women were traditionally subordinated to sexist cultural mores. I ally myself to the latter camp. I believe that, in creating a masculine-based society, Achebe was merely putting literature to mimetic use, reflecting existing traditional mores. Colonial rule merely aggravated the situation by introducing a lopsided system in which African men received a well-rounded education while, like their European counterparts before the mid-nineteenth century, African women received only utilitarian, cosmetic skills in Domestic Science Centers -- the kinds of skills that only could prepare them to be useful helpmates of educated, premier nationalists and professionals such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first President, and the late Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba tribalist leader.Things Fall Apart is significant because it began the vogue of African novels of cultural contact and conflict. It has been translated into over twenty major world languages. Commensurate with its popularity, images of women receive attention. In a style that is expository rather than prescriptive, Achebe s novel mirrors the sociocultural organization existing in the Africa of the era he describes. Like Zora Neale Hurston's Janie Mae Crawford (when married to Jody Starks), Achebe's women are voiceless. But where even Janie is highly visible, his women are virtually inconsequential.In Of Woman Born (1977), Adrienne Rich unwittingly captures all the nuances of the African traditional social milieu when she describes patriarchy as:the power of the fathers: a familial, social, ideological, and political system in which, by direct pressure -- or through tradition, law and language, customs, etiquette, education, and division of labor -- men determine what parts women shall or shall not play, and the female is everywhere subsumed by the male. (57-58).The world in Things Fall Apart is one in which patriarchy intrudes oppressively into every sphere of existence. It is an andocentric world where the man is everything and the woman nothing. In domestic terms, women are quantified as part of men's acquisitions. As wives, women come in multiple numbers, sandwiched between yam barns and titles. These three -- wives, yam barns,...

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