What is the role and value of women in Things Fall Apart?
The women in Things Fall Apart often have more power than women's traditional roles in Igbo culture afford them. For example, Ekwefi, Okonkwo's second wife, suffers beatings at his hands, but she is also outspoken and defiant at times. She tells Okonkwo that she did not kill a banana tree that he accuses her of killing, and he beats her in response and threatens to shoot her. She endures a great deal, losing nine children, and is a devoted mother to her surviving daughter, Ezinma. Ekwefi has a kind of strength that even Okonkwo's abuse cannot take away. While her role is to be a submissive wife and her value comes from having children, she does not always strictly follow this role but has her own sense of power.
Ezinma, Okonkwo's daughter, also has strength and power. As an only child, she receives all of her mother's attention, and Okonkwo loves her more than he loves his son, Nwoye, who Okonkwo considers weak. Ezinma is not at all weak; she is outspoken like her mother and is confident about her abilities. While she grows up to get married like a traditional Igbo woman, her role is not just to be a woman who is submissive to those around her.
In the Ibo tribe, women play the role of care-takers who are submissive to their husbands and tend to the needs of their families. Their rights and freedoms are limited, and their marriages are negotiated by their fathers and other male figures within the tribe. Many of the men freely beat their wives when they do not behave properly or complete tasks ineffectively and there are usually no repercussions for this. Women are viewed by the tribesmen as inferior, but upon closer examination of the roles the two genders play within the novel, we can see that women are truly a source of strength and sustenance for their families. They nurture and care for their husbands and children and therefore sustain the very life of the tribe.