Question: Analyze the relationship between men and women in the African culture as Achebe presents it. Explain how this relationship is similar or dissimilar to the Western view of the relationships between men and women. Focus on both positive and negative aspects of the relationship. What comment is Achebe trying to make about the dynamics of the relationship in his culture.In Things Fall Apart Achebe shows us how the relationship between men and women in the African culture is defined. Achebe illustrates the similarities and the differences between the genders. However, one has to keep in mind that the society Achebe portrays is not a modern Nigerian society and therefore it would be unfair to compare the gender roles of his society to the gender roles in a modern Western society. Nevertheless, it is clear that women do not play a big role in the society, the men always take control over their wives and do not treat their wives as equals. But there are events in the story that indicate that this role may be changing just as much as the Ibo society as a whole is beginning to undergo changes.To a modern reader the portrayal of women in Achebe’s novel may come as a shock. As harsh as life appears to be for society as a whole, for men, life is that much harder.
Women live under the man’s rules and appear like his property, because the men have total control over them; farm work is considered women’s work, and at any rate, there are no other jobs available to them. None of the women have their own property, they cannot get a divorce, even though the husbands can easily get rid of their wives when they do not want them anymore. Women could also be mistreated by the husbands without being able to go to the police or to court. However, their culture is not without its own rules, and in fact, although Okonkwo is allowed to beat his wife, he should not do so during the week of peace, and is therefore punished, not for beating his wife, but for beating her during this special week. “And when she returned he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace.”(Achebe 29) Just like a modern criminal, who thinks that the law has no application for him, Okonkwo “was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess.”
(Achebe 30) Nevertheless Okonkwo is called to task and has to make reparations to the goddess by paying her “one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries” (Achebe 31) for his transgression. But it is important to note here that the crime is not the fact that he beat his wife; rather his crime is that he disturbed the week of peace by his actions. Certainly women’s lives appear to be of almost constant hardships and made harder by the subservient role they play to the men.There are however, positives aspects to the relationship between men and women and to women’s roles as well. The women are provided with accommodations, food, clothing and whatever else they need to survive. And they are not totally secluded. When the men have wrestling matches, the women are allowed to watch. In fact, Okonkwo’s second wife saw him beat somebody else during a wrestling match, and being so impressed by his strength and manliness, decided to run away from her first husband and marry Okonkwo. This shows that the women’s lives are not only lives of pure drudgery, but that within their society, and very limited by modern Western standards, they do enjoy some amount of self-determination. They have an organized social life and they have extended families. Okonkwo always provides yams for his family. He has three wives and each one has her own hut. He takes care of his family and protects them from anything that is evil. The wives are very organized and see to it that Okonkwo is properly fed, and that there is food to give to friends and relations during festival time. “So much of it was cooked that, no matter how heavily the family ate or how many friends and relatives they invited from neighboring villages, there was always a large quantity of food left over at the end of the day.” (Achebe 37) So, even though women’s lives on the whole are harsh, their lives also had their positive aspects and moments of pleasure and joy.The modern Western view of the relationship between men and women is very different to the view of women in Things Fall Apart. In the West, the relationship between men and women is considered one of equals. Women are free to live as they please. They can work, study, have their own property, drive cars, and they can vote. It is illegal in most Western countries to have more than one wife. Men as much as women may file for a divorce. Men are not allowed to beat their wives. However, the setting of the novel is not the Nigeria of 2012, it is the Nigeria of 1890. If we look back to women’s roles in the West at the same time, we find many things in the Western culture that seem unbelievable to us today. Like Ibo women of 1890, Western women were not considered equals to men.
They did not yet have the right to vote. For most women of the middle or upper classes it was not considered proper to take a job outside of the home. By the 1890s only very few women had begun to study at the universities, and most of them, had to study in rooms apart from the men. Men still held many rights over women, and a woman could not buy and own property without her husband’s consent. Just like the Ibo society of the time, Western society was largely separated into areas that were considered the husbands and areas that were considered the wives. Even Western women of 1890 were largely confined to a private sphere of the home and their task was to have and raise children, not entirely different from the role of the Ibo women in Achebe’s novel. Thus while the gender roles in Things Fall Apart seem incomprehensible to a modern reader, they no doubt would appear considerably less strange to somebody who lived at the time of the setting of the novel.At first glance, the role proscribed to the Ibo women seems to be harsh and incomprehensible. Their lives are certainly harsh, and filled with negative moments and hardships and there are numerous examples how they suffer physically or mentally from being abused by their husbands. However, there are also positive aspects to their lives, and moments of real joy and happiness. The most important thing to remember though when looking at the gender roles in Things Fall Apart is that it would be as unfair to compare the role of the women in the novel to Western women of today, as it would be to compare the Ibo