Last Updated on December 30, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604
This chapter opens with a trial, in which the egwugwu (masked men representing the villagers’ ancestors) interrogate a man who is accused of being excessively cruel to his wife, who wants to return to her parents. Her father argues in front of the egwugwu that her husband doesn’t deserve her, because he once beat her so badly that she miscarried. Eventually, the egwugwu decide that the husband shall make offerings to his wife’s family and that if he does this for them, then she’ll return to him. The implication is that he will no longer beat her, because, as the egwugwu say, “It is not bravery when a man fights with a woman.”
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Egwugwu are physical manifestations of the ancient spirits, who are represented by men wearing large, fearsome masks. These spirits are given bodies and voices by the great men of the village, who give the spirits form and allow them to make informed, logical decisions, as a living person would.
Once again, Achebe uses the repetition of “gome, gome, gome, gome” to represent the beating of the drums.
Courage. Though Okonkwo himself is one of the egwugwu, they disapprove of domestic violence against women, if for no other reason than that they believe “it is not bravery when a man fights with a woman.” In other words, if a man beats a woman, that doesn’t show his strength, because women are neither warriors nor enemies. Okonkwo, who has himself beaten his wives and children many times, takes the same stance as the egwugwu and in so doing proves himself a hypocrite. Achebe is clearly using this trial to imply that Okonkwo isn’t as brave as he thinks he is, because after all, he still feels the need to beat his wives.
Gender. Many critics have pointed out that the Igbo women aren’t accurately represented in this novel. In Igbo culture, women run the marketplaces, act as judges, and wield far more power than they do in this novel. It’s unclear why exactly Achebe has overlooked the facts and chosen to selectively misrepresent his culture. It’s possible that he did it to place emphasis on Okonkwo’s brutality and strength and that it was easier for him to build Okonkwo up at a woman’s expense. This is just an educated guess, however.
Justice. Together, the nine egwugwu from a kind of tribunal that judges cases brought before them by the villagers of Umuofia. Their justice is meant to be impartial, favoring no party and judging by the traditions of their culture. Thus, the wife beater isn’t punished, but is expected to change his ways for fear of eventually being punished. This is considered justice in the eyes of the Igbo. However, it’s worth noting that men weren’t the only judges in Igbo cultures and that women often acted as judges in cases of domestic violence.
Violence. In a surprise turn, the egwugwu take a hard stance against domestic violence. After chapters and chapters of Okonkwo beating his wives and children for no real reason, it’s natural for the reader to assume that domestic violence is simply part of Igbo culture. The egwugwu make it clear that this isn’t the case and that Okonkwo’s actions, were they brought before the judge, would likely be condemned. Of course, he won’t be brought before the judges, because the other men tend to look the other way. Still, Achebe uses the trial to suggest that Okonkwo’s violence is excessive and that it will lead to his downfall.