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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What role do women play in Okonkwo's life in Things Fall Apart? How does his interaction with specific women differ from his general understanding of women and femininity?

Quick answer:

Women do play a role in Okonkwo's life in Things Fall Apart. Even though men have more power and importance in the Igbo tribe, they still are a significant part of the tribe and the culture. Okonkwo, however, has a very negative view of women and generally looks down upon them and treats them badly, notably his wives.

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In Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo has, at best, a conflicted relationship with women. He is very masculine and arrogant and associates women with weakness. Yams, which play an important role in the Igbo culture and symbolize success, are described as a man's crop. Women are something of a status symbol for Okonkwo, who is trying to put his father's shame behind him. He has multiple wives, none of whom he treats very well. He can't deal with his emotions (again, something he associates with women) and so lashes out at his family. At one point he even discharges a gun in his compound.

However, women do have importance in the Igbo culture, especially in terms of their religious beliefs. There is an earth goddess, a female oracle, and a woman named Anasi who is respected by the tribe. Okonkwo does not seem to share this respect, but, then again, he doesn't seem to respect anyone. His understanding (or mis-understanding) of women and femininity informs how he treats them, which is usually as property.

He is terrified of weakness, of being like his father, so he resorts to anger and violence. The one exception is his daughter Enzima, who is his favorite. She is strong and self-possessed—but, in a rare moment of insight, Okonkwo knows that she can only go so far in a male dominated tribe. At one point he remarks that she should've been born a male.

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