What strengths and what weaknesses does Achebe show in traditional Igbo society?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are different definitions of strength within the society, depending on gender and communal roles. For men, strength involves some sort of physical prowess, as demonstrated by the importance placed upon the wrestling competitions. The ability to provide factors into the definition of strength as well, as one who can harvest vast amounts of crops can not only feed his family, but may sell the rest for extra wealth. Thus farming and growing healthy yams is a sign of male strength also. Finally, strength on the battlefield is respected in the culture. A man who brings home the heads of the enemy is considered a hero, and carries the sign of virility.

Okonkwo, however, takes each of these to the extreme. He was a successful wrestler and warrior, as evidenced by his defeat of "The Cat" and his 5 heads from which he drinks at celebrations. Yet he is so afraid of becoming his father that he overcompensates. He beats his wives mercilessly, even breaking the truce during the Week of Peace. He also kills Ikemefuna, for which he is looked down upon by others in the village. his attempts to prove himself a man essentially strip strength from him. A more accurate picture of Ibo male strength would be his friend, Obierika.

For women, strength is defined in another way. Women who show strength are able to bear children, grow and harvest women's crops, and take care of their husbands without complaint. They suffer blows, guide their children through sickness, and remain steadfast in the face of abuse. Their strength becomes a moral, internal strength, opposed to the brute physical strength of the men.

Weakness for men is defined through the derogatory term "agbala": meaning "old woman". Weakness is also characterized by laziness (perceived or actual) and an inability to provide for one's family. Okonkwo is tormented his entire life by the thought of being weak, thus driving him to hypermasculinity. Everyone is involved in important decisions, and each member of the village shares in its triumphs and failures. A weakness would be the lack of compassion for certain members of the society, including twins. Because twins are considered evil, when they are born they are left in the forest to die. Other people spend their entire lives in the forest because they have no place in the social structure of the community. These divisions are magnified when the Christian missionaries come into the village, and lead to the eventual downfall of the society.

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Things Fall Apart

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