In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, women of the Ibo
tribe are terribly mistreated, and viewed as weak and
receive little or no respect outside of their role as a mother.


Tradition dictates their role in life. These women are
courageous and obedient. These women are nurturers above
all and they are anything but weak. In the novel Things Fall
Apart, Okonkwo has several wives. He orders them around
like dogs. They are never to question what they are
instructed to do; they are expected to be obedient. We
clearly see this early in the story, when Okonkwo brings
Ikemefuna into his home. Okonkwo tells his senior wife that
Ikemefuna belongs to the tribe and that she is expected to
look after him. She in turn asks him if he will be staying with
them for a long period of time. This sends Okonkwo into a
fury. He snaps at her in a very degrading manner, “Do what
you are told woman. When did you become one of the
ndichie (meaning elders) of Umuofia?”(pg.12) Clearly she
receives no respect. Later in the story we see this woman try
to comfort Ikemefuna. She “mothers” him as if he is one of
her own children. She tries to put him at ease and can almost
instinctively feel how much he misses his own mother.
In keeping with the Ibo view of female nature, the tribe
allows wife beating. Okonkwo beats his youngest wife
one-day because she was visiting with a friend and did not
get home in time to prepare a meal for him. Another one of
his wives tries to cover for her when she is questioned as to
whether or not the youngest wife has fed the children before
she left. Certainly she does this in effort to protect the
youngest wife, knowing full well what she faced. Okonkwo
does not let them down, he beats his youngest wife severely
until he is satisfied. Even in spite of pleas from his other
wives reminding him that it is forbidden to beat your wife
during the Week of Peace. Okonkwo will face
consequences, not for beating another human being, but only
because of his timing. He beats his second wife when she
refers to him as one of those “guns that never shot”. When a
severe case of wife beating comes before the egwugwu, he
finds in favor of the wife, but at the end of the trial a man
wonders “why such a trifle should come before the
egwugwu”(pg.83). The husband considers his wife as a
property. He either wants his wife back or his bride price.
The omniscient narrator acknowledges a near-invisibility of
women in Things Fall Apart. Describing a communal
ceremony, he confesses, “It was clear from the way the
crowd stood that the ceremony was for men. There were
many women, but they looked on from the fringe like
outsiders”(pg.77). They are not invited to stay when men are
engaged in any discussion; they are not included in council of
war; they do not form part of the masquerades representing
the judiciary and ancestral spirits.
Okonkwo views women to be weak and foolish. He has a
different expectation for men and women. This can be seen
clearly by the way that he raises his children. He tries his
best to train Nwoye to be strong and brave while he feels
sorry that Ezinma is a girl. Okonkwo knows that “Ezinma
has the right spirit”, but he does not try to make her to be
brave or strong. He favors her the most out of all of his
children, yet “if Ezinma had been a boy he would have
been happier”(pg.69). This kind of contradiction comes up
in the novel repeatedly. Those practical, daily life examples
of how Okonkwo views women play an important role in
showing Okonkwo’s real drive for his behaviors. From
those examples, we can see that Okonkwo hates any
women’s characteristics because they remind him of his
father. He is afraid of becoming like his father. He hates the
fact that his father is so unsuccessful; therefore, he does not
want to be like his father. The underlying theme for those
examples is not to show that Okonkwo does not respect
women at all. In fact they are used to show that Okonkwo
does respect women for their ability if he does not fear to
become like his father.
Unoka is considered agbala, an untitled man or a woman.

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Yam, of smaller size and lesser value than other yams, is
regarded as female. Osugo has taken to title; and so, in a
gathering of his peers, Okonkwo unkindly tells him, “This
meeting is for men”(pg.22). Guilt-ridden after murdering
Ikemefuna, his surrogate son, Okonkwo sternly reprimands
himself not to “become like a shivering old woman”(pg.56) –
this he considers the worst insult. Such extreme accent on
manliness, sex-role stereotyping, gender discriminations, and
violence create an imbalance, resulting in denigration of the
female principle.
Achebe shows that the Ibo nonetheless assigns important
roles to women. For instance, Chielo, the priestess of the
Oracle of the Hills and Caves, who in the ordinary life is a
widow with two kids and Ekwefi’s friend. Clothed in the
mystic mantle of the divinity she serves, Chielo transforms
from the ordinary; she can reprimand Okonkwo and even
scream curses at him: “Beware of exchanging words with
Agbala. Does a man speak when a God speaks?
Beware!”(pg.89) Yet if Okonkwo is powerless before a
goddess’s priestess, he can, at least, control his own
women. Women, also, painted the houses of the egwugwu.


Furthermore, the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid
some respect. This deference is illustrated by the palm wine
ceremony at Nwakibie’s obi. Anasi, Nwakibie’s first wife,
had not yet arrived and “the others (other wives) could not
drink before her”(pg.16). The importance of woman’s role
appears when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. His
uncle, Uchendu, noticing Okonkwo’s distress, eloquently
explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: “A man
belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is
sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds
refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect
you. And that is why we say that Mother is
Supreme”(pg.116). The only glory and satisfaction these
women enjoyed was being a mother. They receive respect
and love from their children. They are strong for their
children. Women are viewed to be very gentle and caring.


They are expected to take care of their children with the
best of their ability. Women are trusted totally by their
children. This honorable presentation of women is used by
Achebe to identify women’s role in the Ibo society. This
presentation is necessary to show that women indeed play
an important role in society.