In 1958, Chinua Achebe published his first novel, “Things Fall Apart,” as a reaction to the carefully manufactured dominant colonial discourse that reduced Africa to a place of darkness inhabited by savages whose culture required the intervention of the enlightened colonisers to rescue them and take them out of their self-imposed immaturity and ignorance. The book attempted to challenge the prejudicial impression of Africans established by literature such as “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. Achebe sought to enlighten the world about pre-colonial African culture, its values, norms, and customs, as well as how social and political forces unleashed by white men devastated African communities.
The objective of this piece is to evaluate the deeply rooted patriarchy that exists in the Igbo community, as exemplified by the protagonist Okonkwo. Patriarchy is the dominant philosophy in the community. It is a social construct that shapes the relationships between men and women, with males occupying the dominating and privileged position. Patriarchy requires the subjugation and oppression of women and the restriction of their position in life to that of child-bearing machines. The patriarchy prohibits women from playing any part in the political or economic realms. Okonkwo, the misogynistic protagonist of Chinua Achebe’s Umuofia, embodies this patriarchal worldview. Umuofia’s social life is governed by patriarchal philosophy.
In the Igbo culture, gender discrimination is a common occurrence. Okonkwo, the “Things Fall Apart” poster boy, is a male chauvinist who refuses to acknowledge women, is obsessed with his manhood, and considers women inferior, subservient, and weak. His terrible weakness in the story is his fear of being perceived as weak, which drives him to perform heinous deeds such as assaulting his wives, nearly shooting his youngest wife, killing his surrogate son Ikemefuna, and driving away his true son Nwoye. This is not an isolated incident but rather the result of misogyny with deep roots in the Igbo culture.
This raises the question of whether the author Chinua Achebe was a sexist who brought his own thoughts to the forefront through the character Okonkwo. Based on circumstantial evidence, the answer is no. A well-refuted, well-educated writer who enjoys an international reputation is unlikely to have such a restricted perspective. The novel’s patriarchy might be read as the author’s attempt to expose Igbo culture’s errors, flaws, and failings. Achebe illustrates the role women play in Igbo society not because he loves it, but because it exists and has for millennia in this community.
To comprehend patriarchy in “Things Fall Apart,” we must understand how the feminists refer to patriarchy. Patriarchy refers to a social structure in which men retain greater authority than women. Patriarchal culture is characterised by a power structure dominated by men in both organised society and private interactions. In such a culture, males have exclusive social, political, and economic rights. When modern sociologists and feminists refer to a “patriarchal society,” they indicate that males occupy the positions of authority and have more privileges: head of the home, leaders of social groupings, bosses at work, and heads of government.
Since the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, patriarchy has persisted as a societal ill in many societies around the world for generations. Women have always been perceived as weak, inferior, and lacking intellectual and physical power. As illustrated by Achebe, the same or worse kind of gender discrimination may be observed in Igbo society. The Igbo people believe that women should not intervene in social, political, or economic matters. It is believed that women cannot make logical, sensible judgments. In the story, women are unaware of their rights, responsibilities, and place in society. They are not regarded as a vital element of the surrounding activity. They must consent to all choices made by males in their vicinity.
Women in “Things Fall Apart” lack any claims to uniqueness and are therefore often nameless. Violence against women, such as wife beating, is not recognised a crime. Even sexual connections are characterised by masculine dominance in the story. Males are regarded as active and initiators, while females are considered docile. As indicated by the song sung during Obirieka’s daughter’s wedding, women are deprived of control over their sexual pleasure. “If I take her hand, she tells me not to touch! If I touch her foot, she says, “Don’t!” However, when I grip her waist beads, she feigns ignorance.”
Okonkwo is the novel’s protagonist, and his character embodies patriarchy. He is a champion wrestler and has a powerful physique. He has achieved considerable success in life without the assistance of his father, whom Okonkwo despised for being weak. According to the story, he was a prosperous farmer with two barns full of yams. He has ten children. He loves his daughter Ezinma more than his son Nwoye, who he considers weak. Okonkwo desires Enzima had been a male. Okonkwo yells at her, “Sit like a woman.” When she offers to fetch him a chair, he responds, “No, that is a boy’s job.” His son Nwoye is disappointed since he believes he has followed in his grandpa’s footsteps. Okonkwo has always disliked his father Unoka for being a failure in his eyes.” Even as a young child, he loathed his father’s failure and weakness, and he vividly recalled the pain he had when a playmate informed him that his father was agbala.” This is how Okonkwo first learned that agbala was not just an alternative word for a lady but also a guy with no title. Thus, Okonkwo was driven by a single desire: to despise all that his father Unoka had cherished. One of these was tenderness, while the other was laziness.
The tragic flaw of Okonkwo is his unwillingness to adapt. All he cares about is appearing powerful. He strives to demonstrate and maintain his manliness. For example, he drinks from heads. Okonkwo is intellectually deficient. He lacks the capacity to make sensible decisions. He possesses tremendous muscular strength. “Okonkwo commanded his home with an iron fist. His wife, especially the youngest, and his little children lived in constant terror of his flaming anger”.
To demonstrate his strength and manliness, he murders his adopted son Ikemefuna. He did so because “he feared being perceived as weak.” Later, as he regrets the act and is overcome with grief over Ikemefuna’s death, he asks himself, “When did you become a shivering old lady, you who are renowned for your prowess in battle across the nine villages? Indeed, Okonkwo, you have become a lady “.
He feared showing love and compassion because he believes that anger is the only emotion his cultural values.
Similar to how white men view Africans as inferior, the Igbo culture views women as inferior beings created solely for the purpose of supplying males with pleasure. They are seen as personal property that men may handle as they choose. In “Things Fall Apart,” women are relegated to a subordinate role.
In “Things Fall Apart,” social rank is affected by the number of spouses one has. The better a man’s social standing, the bigger the number of wives he has. They refer to their spouses not by name but by number: first, second, third, etc. In Igbo culture, it is often held that more wives equal better social esteem. This demonstrates that patriarchy existed in people’s thinking. “There was a wealthy man in Okonkwo’s village with three enormous barns, nine wives, and thirty children. His name was Nwakibie, and he held all but one of the clan’s top titles. For this individual, Okonkwo laboured to obtain his first seed yams.”
As seen by the instance in which Okonkwo’s youngest wife went to her neighbor’s house to braid her hair and Okonkwo gave her a sound thrashing for such a trifling cause, it is commonplace in this community to beat women. People are expected to refrain from violence during the Week of Peace. However, Okonkwo does not adhere to this cultural norm.
Nwoye is Okonkwo’s elder son. Nwoye mirrors his grandpa Unoka in his attraction to kindness and music, despite his father’s disapproval of both pursuits. Okonkwo is dissatisfied with Nwoye because he fails to meet his father’s expectations. Okonkwo does his utmost to persuade him that physical prowess and social standing are the only factors that count. Okonkwo asks Nwoye to sit with him and share “masculine stories of violence and bloodshed.” Okonkwo desires for him to follow in the footsteps of his father, but all efforts prove useless. Nwoye has difficulty with this notion of masculinity. In an effort to gain his father’s approval, he acts violently, but the brutality repulses him in Umuofia ceremonies, and he converts to Christianity. There is a connection between Nwoye’s embracing of the white guys and Okonkwo’s regular assaults on him. Okonkwo’s uncle, Uchendu, told Okonkwo: “A kid does really belong to his father. When a father hits his kid, however, the youngster seeks comfort in its mother’s hut.” It is probable that Nwoye abandons his family to find peace in the supposedly more feminine and compassionate Christian religion.” Achebe does not shy from exposing the gender discrimination that women suffer from in Igbo society. Pre-planned crimes committed intentionally, such as the murder of the court messenger, are considered male, while those committed unwittingly, such as Okonkwo’s killing of Ezeudu’s son, are considered female. In the novel’s androcentric society, men are everything, and women are nothing. Men are everything that must be revered to the point of adoration. In this androcentric civilization, a man’s greatness is evaluated by his bodily strength, the number of wives, and the number of barns. No matter how wealthy a man is in the novel, he is not considered a man if he cannot control his ladies. Igbo males have coined the term “other,” which refers to women. They are excluded from significant Umuofia political, economic, and social concerns.