The Influence of Gender Roles in “Things Fall Apart”

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart,” gender roles play a significant role in shaping the Ibo society. These gender stereotypes not only dictate the behaviors of individuals but also highlight the social structure of the community. The novel revolves around the concepts of masculinity and femininity, shedding light on the restrictions placed on Ibo women and the superiority bestowed upon Ibo men.

A Gendered Society

Throughout Igbo life, gender permeates every aspect, from the division of labor to the perception of crimes. The separation of crops for men and women exemplifies these gender roles. Women are assigned the cultivation of “women’s crops” like coco-yams, beans, and cassava, while yam, considered the “king” of crops, is reserved for men. This division signifies the belief that women are not entitled to partake in activities reserved for men. Similarly, crimes are characterized in terms of gender. Okonkwo committed a “female” crime, unintentionally, which leads to his exile. The “female” characterization stems from the association of Agbala, the deity, with femininity.

Challenging Feminist Beliefs

In Western culture, “Things Fall Apart” challenges certain feminist beliefs. The book portrays women as weak, uneducated caregivers, reinforcing stereotypes. However, it also highlights the worship and respect given to specific female roles, such as priests. The priests are considered of significant importance, as they are associated with the divine. The emphasis on the role of women as spiritual figures conveys a sense of power and authority.

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Motherhood and Refuge

The concept of “mother is supreme” further underlines the gender roles in the novel. While a man belongs to his fatherland, in times of sorrow and bitterness, he seeks refuge in his motherland. The role of a mother as a protector is vital in providing comfort and solace. Notably, Okonkwo’s wife, Ekwefi, displays courage despite the fear she experiences due to Okonkwo’s violent tendencies. This displays the resilience of women in asserting their rights and defying societal expectations.

The Mask of Masculinity

Okonkwo, the central character in the novel, epitomizes the struggle of adhering to societal expectations of masculinity. He suppresses any emotion apart from anger, believing that showing affection is a sign of weakness. However, his anger often leads to destructive behavior, as demonstrated through his excessive alcohol consumption during the tragic death of his son. The imagery of a rat caught and dashed against the floor symbolizes Okonkwo’s inability to cope with sadness, choosing anger as a cover. These instances reinforce the dominant role of men within the Igbo society.

The Persisting Impact of Stereotypes

“Sterotypes have always been present, whether it happened 20 years ago or right now,” and they hold a prominent place in “Things Fall Apart.” Just as gender roles are reflected in the novel, they are also prevalent in real life, evident in advertising, clothing shops, and even television shows. The advertisement for “Mr. Clean,” for instance, perpetuates the stereotype that cleaning is a “woman’s job.” This mirrors the expectation placed on women in the novel to fulfill traditional roles, a reflection of gender roles in different cultures and environments.

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Beyond Gender Roles

While gender roles have been ingrained for centuries, challenging these expectations has become increasingly essential. Everyone possesses their own unique personality, ideas, thoughts, and actions, and defining oneself based solely on gender does not capture the full essence of an individual. In contemporary society, gender roles for both men and women have undergone significant changes. Men are no longer solely responsible for all aspects of work, and women are not confined to domestic duties. Still, certain societies continue to uphold traditional gender roles. It is crucial to recognize and respect cultural differences in understanding the complexity of gender roles.

In conclusion, “Things Fall Apart” offers a compelling exploration of the consequences of rigid gender roles and the accompanying stereotypes within the Ibo society. While shedding light on the struggles faced by women, it also underscores the limitations and expectations placed on men. Appreciating the multifaceted nature of gender roles is crucial for fostering an inclusive and equitable society.

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