Chinua Achebe, an African author with his origin in Nigeria mainly focuses on the colonization of African countries and the role of women in the society in the village of Umuofia in his book Things Fall Apart. The position and the role of women in Umuofia territory are depicted throughout the entire book. In his book Things Fall Apart, women are portrayed as second class citizens who cannot channel their way of life on their own. The village of Umuofia treats women as property and tools of work that are supposed to be led and used by their male counterparts.
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The treatment of women in Umuofia village as property and tools is described in various chapters of the book. It is well elaborated that, the Umuofia village was strongly rooted in their culture and the entire community was expected to adhere to the traditional ways of governance. Women in the village under the leadership of Okonkwo had well-defined duties which were limited to house chores. They were supposed to be submissive to their husbands and the entire male community. The female gender was not supposed to question the government policies that were formulated by their male colleagues in the village and this portrays women as second class citizens.
Women in the village of Umuofia are also treated with a little dignity and are seen more as property rather than people. A good example where women in the territory are seen as the property is a scene where one daughter of Umuofia is murdered by people from the neighboring village. Instead of the two villages going to war a deal is reached whereby two people, a young man and a virgin lady from the accused village are exchanged and given to Umuofia village. The young virgin lady is married against her will by the victim’s husband and this is a clear indication that women are not allowed to make their own choices, but instead, choices are made for them whether popular or unpopular.
The village treats women as subjects of authoritarian rule which starts right from the household level. At one instance in the book, Ikemefuna who was the senior wife of Okonkwo is separated from the family and later given a young man from the neighboring Mbaino village to stay with him, but she never dares to question her husband though she is frightened. The prosperity of a man is determined by the number of wives one can afford to marry after paying dowry price to the bride’s parents as defined by the traditions of the Igbo people. This again symbolizes that women are seen as property in the village of Umuofia.
Women in Umuofia village are seen as failures and treated as people who lack economic success. This notion is illustrated where at one point Okonkwo doesn’t want to be seen as womanly because women in this society represent economic failure. This is a clear definition that the role of women despite being limited to household and baby care which is considered important, it’s not recognized anywhere else thus the society does not bother to empower women who are therefore associated with failure. Society does not expect women to interfere with men’s activities whereby women are not allowed to attend important meetings presided over by men.
In one of the chapters in the book Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo identifies a man as a woman which is a clear indication that the man had contradicted himself and referred to a woman who is not supposed to attend the elder’s meeting.
Umuofia territory treats women as objects who are mindless and cannot make decisions on their own. They cannot make their own decisions as most decisions are made by men. This is indicated by the fact that all leadership positions are occupied by men. The Okonkwo’s beating of his second wife during the village week of peace illustrates how women are treated with contempt and are beaten by their husbands whenever they make simple mistakes such as failing to make meals for their husbands.
Umuofia village despite treating women with a lot of contempt, the role of women as defined indicates how important a woman is to society. Women especially mothers are responsible for instilling discipline in their children which goes a long way to maintaining morality in the entire society. Women are also seen as sources of solace during men’s hard times and sorrow. This is outlined in the book where Okonkwo is expelled from his village to return to his motherland where he expects to be comforted. Women also represent stable and presentable homes where they are supposed to take care of their families and maintain their houses. This is portrayed in the book where women painted the houses of Egwugwu. This indicates that the role played by women in the village is very important.
In conclusion, the Igbo community in the village of Umuofia looks down upon the female gender right from baby girls to older women. The coming of the Europeans who were missionaries gave solace to women as the culture of Igbo people started to erode. Missionaries championed for the rights of women as well as representation something Okonkwo could not put up with and caused him to commit suicide.