In the novel “Things fall apart” by Chinua Achebe readers are introduced to a different Africa than what the world have known. The readers have changed to travel back in time and go to the pre-colonial Africa, more specifically Nigeria, to a village named Umofia where the Ibo people live. The Ibo people form a very archaic and agriculture based society. Achebe introduces readers to this new world that was seen by the Europeans as an unsociable and savage place and shows that the African culture was destroyed by the arrival of the Europeans in that land. But not only that, he brings up different points of social analysis like religion, the taboo “white people vs. black people” during the colonial period and the role of women within the Ibo Society.
All over the world and in different cultures and societies women are not treated as equals and throughout the years they earned their space and status in society with hard work. And it is no different in the novel “Things fall apart” by Chinua Achebe. Women, in the Ibo culture, are portrayed as having no power or social status but are still strong figures. This characterization is true to some extent, as throughout the novel the varied roles of women and their participation in the society are unraveled. In the novel, the readers follow the history of Okonkwo, some sort of hero in the village of Umofia. He is very strong in every sense of the word and his biggest characteristic is to never consent with weakness and failure. And the language used within his society makes the connection between ‘weakness’ and ‘women’. Okonkwo himself used to be called “Agbala” as a child, which in his society is meant for a man who has no titles or a “woman” (as for an insult) for it is a woman’s name. In one episode, after killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo asks himself “…when did you become a shivering old woman?” (Page 45). Such connections characterize women as the weak part of the society. A further point that weakens the female presence in this society is that they allow wife beating. In the novel, there are two instances where Okonkwo is beating his second wife, but he is punished for only one of them because it happens during their “Week of Peace”, the time where no man shall raise their hand to another and no rude words should be addressed.
Nevertheless, Achebe also shows that important roles and characteristics are given to women. A perfect example of powerful female figures is the role women play in religion. Women often are the priestess of the tribe. In chapter three (page 12) there is a passage referring to these characters “The priestess in those days, was a woman called Chika.” And there is also a reference to the present priestess (page 34) “(…) was called Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves.” And the priestess Chielo, is in fact, the only female figure (or the only figure, for that matter) who gives an order to Okonkwo in the occasion when she comes for Okonkwo’s daughter, Ezinma. “’Beware, Okonkwo!’ she warned”. She’s not only ordering him to give his daughter but also threating him as well. A variety of examples of the power of these women sprinkle throughout the novel: women performing different tasks with significant importance. They are the ones who paint the houses of the egwugwu. (The spirits of the ancestors.) Another perfect example of women’s power is their emotional strength. This is not explicit in the novel but trough the reading it becomes evident how they overcome their status (or the lack of it) in society, mistreatment and other misfortunes – when, for instance, they give birth to twins and have to throw them in the Evil Forest –. Under these circumstances one has to be emotionally strong to survive and that is exactly what these women do.
To conclude, at a first glance the role of women is this society might seem extremely limited and they are harshly repressed socially .But through the novel one can see that they in fact have considerable positions. Spiritually, as the priestess and the Oracle, symbolically as the Goddesses and also as the basis of the society. And also, literally for their actual duties in farming, which is vital for this society. They might seem to be looked down upon, but they compose in fact some of the strings that hold the Ibo people together until it falls apart.