Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe Role Term Paper

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¶ … Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe [...] role and treatment of women in the novel. The main character, Okonkwo, sees women in this novel as weak and "soft," while the men are masculine and strong. Many of the other characters share this view, and women are certainly not equal to the men in Ibo society. Achebe uses the women of the novel as a common thread to the white people, because the men of the Ibo do not treat their women any better than the white people treat the Ibo. The men like Okonkwo cannot learn from their women, who understand more than the men give them credit for. Thus, the story is a circle, and Okonkwo's treatment of his wives and children symbolizes how backward the tribe is, and how they have no hope of survival in the "new" white world.

Things Fall Apart" is the story of a Nigerian family in the colonial times of African history. They are living in two worlds, the white man's, and their own, and trying to decide what their future will be. The main character is Okonkwo, a strong and successful man living at a difficult time for his people. The main theme of the book is how the people are affected by the white man, and how their world literally "falls apart" around them. However, another important theme in the book is how Okonkwo looks at and treats the women in his life.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe Role Assignment

The women of the tribe are seen as "soft" and "female," and it is not good for the men to exhibit these traits, it means they are weak; at least this is how Okonkwo sees the women in his life. He is so desperately afraid of appearing weak to those around him, that he will do anything; even kill those close to him, to appear manlier. This may not be the way much of the tribes see their women, but Okonkwo is different. He is so afraid he will end up a "failure" like his father, that he cannot see beyond the outside of people. Women are weak to him, and so, to appear weak to others is to appear "effeminate," and there is nothing worse to this man. Early in the book, Okonkwo's son, desperate to please his harsh father, learns he can no longer listen to the women when he is considered to be almost a man. Achebe writes, "But he now knew that they were for foolish women and children, and he knew that his father wanted him to be a man. And so he feigned that he no longer cared for women's stories" (Achebe 38). Nwoye wants to please his father, but his father continually berates him for his "womanly" traits, like kindness and gentleness. Okonkwo sees these traits as weak and dreadful, and because they were the traits of his father, he despises them in his son, who he sees as "effeminate" and weak. It is sad, because he alienates his son and literally drives him to the white man's religion, but he also cannot see the goodness and decency in his son, and so dismisses him, just as he dismisses the rest of the women in the book.

Throughout the book, the theme of weakness comes up often, and always in comparison to women. Okonkwo is afraid to ever appear weak, and that is his tragic flaw. He could not see the goodness in his father, and so, he has allowed no goodness in himself. He is harsh to his children and his wives, and he does not learn or grow from his mistakes. He is the tragic hero of the story, but the women are also tragic, because they are so ignored and unloved by this strong man who cannot give of himself at all. However, the women do not need to be validated by Okonkwo, they are secure in their own strength, and in the strengths of the goddesses who are an important part of the culture. In fact, "The Igbo people believe that the mother plays a major role in society. The movements and confrontations in the Igbo society, described by Achebe, do not militate against the position of women in society" (Njoku 36). Thus, Okonkwo's harsh treatment of his wives would not be popular in his village, and while the men may not have said anything, it did set their minds against him. Okonkwo could only see violence as the solution to any problem, and that was not the way many people of his tribe thought people should act. In fact, many of the other Ibo admire him but distrust him at the same time. Achebe writes, "Indeed he respected him for his industry and success. But he was struck, as most people were, by Okonkwo's brusqueness in dealing with less successful men" (Achebe 19).

It is interesting to note that all of the tribesmen did not feel as Okonkwo did, although many of them certainly agreed with his assessment of women as the weaker sex. During his exile, another Ibo, Uchendu, encourages Okonkwo to experience his feminine side, and allow himself to feel, or he will surely be doomed. However, Okonkwo is so fearful of appearing weak that he cannot listen to anyone. He cannot learn from his past, and grow to his future. Okonkwo is so set in his prejudices against femininity, that he cannot see how strong the women of his tribe really are, and how he could learn from them. In reality, the Ibo women rioted in the early 1900s, after the white men began their takeover of Nigeria. It was the women who stood up to the invaders, and so, Okonkwo misses an opportunity to learn much from the strong women around him

Ogbaa 66). In fact, Okonkwo misses many opportunities throughout the novel, and that is why he is a tragic figure.

Okonkwo's treatment of his wives, from beating them to ignoring them, also represents the brutal way the white man colonized Africa. The British missionaries in "Things Fall Apart" seem harmless enough, but they are bringing a new way of life that will someday erase the way of life the Ibo people know during the novel. British imperialism in Africa was all about money and power, and millions of people were thrown off their lands and forced to give up their rural ways. Some of the Ibo see this coming, and are afraid of the white man's encroachment. While the missionaries were only there to convert the "heathens," the white man in Africa was generally cruel and unyielding. In the book, the District Commissioner represents this prejudicial look at the natives, and his treatment of them is not that different from the treatment Okonkwo gives his family. It is diffident, violent, and disinterested, and that is the same way the District Commissioner handles the natives he hopes to dominate. Thus, the women in the book are a symbol. They are a symbol of outdated beliefs, such as women are subservient to men, but they are also a symbol of the white man, and his indifference to the suffering created by his encroachment on the natives' land, and way of life. The book, especially the beginning, spells out in great detail many of the intricate customs and celebrations of the Ibo, and reading the book illustrates just what these people lost when the white man came to Africa and forced them to adapt or die. One character warns Okonkwo about the whites, "We have heard stories about white men who made the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true" (Achebe 99). Okonkwo could not adapt, and so he left his family to fend for themselves when they needed him most.

In the end, Okonkwo mourns "for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women" (Achebe129). Even at the end of his life, Okonkwo cannot take responsibility for his own actions. He has driven away and disowned his son, he has alienated his wives and children by beating and berating them, and he has even gone into exile. Yet, he is still desperately afraid of appearing weak - like a "woman." He does not learn from his experiences, and he does not learn that there are far worse things than appearing womanly. His son, Nwoye, is happy in his life with the whites, but Okonkwo cannot even accept that happiness. He is a sad figure, and it seems right somehow that he commits the ultimate act of weakness, suicide, because it is clear from the beginning of the story that Okonkwo cannot learn and grow. He cannot adapt to change, even when the old ways no longer work. The only thing that he can understand is violence, and it is the only thing that he thinks solves problems… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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