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Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart

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In the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, gender stereotypes profoundly influence the entire village, the Ibo society has a strict system of behavioral customs that are assigned by gender. They have restricted the freedom of Ibo women to present that Ibo men are superior to women and gender plays a large role in the novel as it is structured around gender roles, masculinity and femininity.

The roles of male and female have been controversial since the beginning of time. As the significance of one’s culture has affected gender roles and allowed society to determine an individual lifestyle. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. An example of gender roles is the way that Ibo crops are being separated for both genders, an example from the book would be: “ his mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops was a man’s crop” as women are not supposed to plant the men’s groups because it was for the “kings” only and women are not “kings”. In this book, crimes were also characterized; “The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could not return to the clan after seven years.”, the crime was described in female terms since Agbala was referred to as a god before, Agbala is a woman and the earth was called a “goddess”, to wrap it all up together, the earth’s goddess is a female and Okonkwo has committed a crime against it; he has “committed the female”.

Reading the book in western culture can be seen that Things Fall Apart goes against the premises of feminist beliefs. Many stereotypes were mentioned in the book such as Women being portrayed as weak, uneducated and are usually caregivers. They also have certain roles that are worshiped and respected such as the role of priests “the priests had now reached Okonkwo’s compound and was talking to him outside his hut. She was saying again and again that Agbala wanted to see his daughter, Enzima… the priests screamed. Beware Okonkwo! Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!” in which they have identified that woman as a “god” and the priests were referred to as someone with a very high significance.

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Another example would be the concept of mother is supreme because “a man belongs to his fatherland and not his motherland. And yet Nneka- ’mother is supreme’. It’s true that a child belongs to his father. But when a Father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you.” which is a very straightforward quote, if a man has good news, he would speak to his father about it, if he has bad news then his mother comes in role because the motherland is where comfort exists. However, since Okonkwo was a very strong man, his wives feared him yet his wife Ekwefi was not intimidated by him as proved in the quote: “Okonkwo turned on his side and went back to sleep. He was always roused in the morning by someone banging on his door. Who is that? he growled. He knew it must be Ekwefi. Of his three wives, Ekwefi was the only one who would have the audacity to bang on his door.” even though Okonkwo has beat Ekwefi badly before and even threatened to kill her with his gun, she still does not leave her “women's rights” behind and acts courageous.

Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it was the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength. He mistakes bravado for bravery and anger for leadership. A great example of showing anger is when he started drinking lots of alcohol while killing his son Ikemfun to hide the fact that he felt miserable on the inside. “He drank palm-wine from morning till night, and his eyes were red and fierce like the eyes of a rat when it was caught by the tail and dashed against the floor.” Okonkwo shows his inability to deal with tragedy and covers it with anger.The imagery of “a rat caught by the tail and dashed against the floor” features Okonkwo’s inability to escape sad events. Ultimately, in the igbo world, men are dominant and they rule over their families such that “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest one lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper.”, his masculinity lead him to being the wife's main fear, so quick temper with his family was never portrayed as admirable, he unquestionably had the right to be aggressive at home and be the “king” since he is a man.

Stereotypes have always been present, whether it happened 20 years ago or right now; that is why it takes a huge role in the novel “Things Fall Apart”, most interactions were affected by masculinity, feminism and gender roles. Connecting that to real life, gender roles are used in advertisements, clothing shops or even tv shows; so a great example used to represent that idea is the way “Mr Clean” advertises its product, its Super Bowl commercial was titled “Cleaner of Your Dreams” because “Mr Clean” is actually a man. As men barely ever clean since it is a “woman's job to clean the house”, the word “dreams” over exaggerates the whole sentence because apparently “men never clean”. Now in this advertisement, gender was used to categorize women in the role of being responsible for the household chores since early age. This connects to the novel, as women and young females are both described as the less “educated” ones in a way that they are not allowed to interfere with a man's job; a great example is the way women are forced to stay housewives in “Things Fall Apart” and recently, the advertisement presented gender roles by stating that women should get back to the job that really matters (cleaning) on Mother’s Day by expressing it through a quote “This Mother’s Day, Get Back To The Job That Really Matters.”.

There are some expectations that grow familiar as time passes by, and those are called gender roles. Through my own experience; I was always told to do chores while my brother went out with his friends and that was the first thing that has shown me that genders are not always equal. However, that did not seem right to me, so I do not agree with gender roles because being a female does not define who I am, everyone has their own personality, ideas, thoughts and actions; and that is exactly what describes us as “people”. Moreover, gender roles for men and women have changed dramatically, men are no longer expected to do all the work and women are not expected to do the gatherings although that is exactly how things still work in some societies. To sum everything up, different environments mean different cultures and different gender roles.

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Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
“Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Dec. 2023].
Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Dec 4]. Available from:
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