Women in the Ibo society are lower in the hierarchy than men; however, they are still holders of very important roles in the Ibo society. Women seem to be useless and without any power, but at a further look into their role, a bigger significance is revealed. Even though wife beating is allowed and women are discriminated in several other ways, they still possess significant roles, such as householders, educators of the children and caretakers of crops. Women also function as spiritual leaders and other important roles in the Ibo religion.
Women in “Things Fall Apart” are in general thought of as the weaker sex. At a first glance, women are the laborers, and the producers of children. They are not respected as real people, but are more just the men’s property. All they have to do is to be good housewives, and make sure to please their husband at all times. For this reason, women have no identity of their own; but are defined by the status or position of their husband. Women are discriminated in several ways throughout the novel. As an example on page 21, Okonkwo beats up his first wife for not returning home to cook the afternoon meal.
In this specific example, he has to pay a penalty for beating up his wife during the ‘week of peace’, although it seems perfectly normal and acceptable for the men to beat up their wives on other times of the year. Similarly, it is okay for the men to talk down to the women, and treat them however they want. The men are in control, and women have no say when it comes to decision-making around the house. It is an insult for a man to be called a woman. For instance, Okonkwo call his own father, Unoka, a woman because of the way he lived, taking loans and surviving in debts.
He is ashamed of him and of being his son, so Unoka is only worth the title of a female. Another example is where Okonkwo kills his new ‘son’, Ikemefuma and command himself to not “become like a shivering old woman. ” (45) He doesn’t want to appear weak to the people, and ‘a shivering old woman’ is the equivalent of weak. But, women have important roles in the society as well, so the characterization made so far is rather limiting. Women are, first off, the primary educators of the children. Through storytelling and using their own experiences, they educate the kids and socialize them at the same time.
They are also the only labor when it comes to cooking and taking care of the household. In addition to these roles, we also observe women doing other stuff of importance throughout the novel. As an example, “the women weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early or late. ” (24) This is a really important job, because if it’s done incorrectly, the yam harvest will fail. Sometimes women take spiritual roles in the novel. Chielo, “the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the hill and the Caves” (49) is a good example of this. She is the priestess in the novel, and her authority is unquestioned.
When she comes to pick up Enzinma, Okonkwo asks her to come back the next day instead, but she disagrees; “‘Beware Okonkwo! ‘ she warned. ‘Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware! ‘” (71) She is not only going against Okonkwo’s will, but also threatening him at the same time. As a respond, Okonkwo does nothing but accepts it and shows respect because of her spiritual role as priestess. This is the only time in the novel that Okonkwo plead with anyone, male or female. Another example of a woman possessing a spiritual role in the Ibo religion could be the earth goddess, Ani. Ani played a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And what more, she was in close communion with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth. ” (26) It doesn’t make any sense that a society who views women as the weakest, would present their most powerful deity as a woman. Ani is very important to the Ibo society. The week of peace, for instance, is only to honor the earth goddess, so the crops will be okay. This statement is strongly supported by Okonkwo’s example when he breaks the peace of Ani and beats his wife.
It all goes down to honor the women. On the whole, there’s a strong sense of repression of the women, but they still have great significance to the Ibo society. They fill out roles that the men are not able to fill out. They provide their labor to the household in form of cooking and cleaning, they teach the kids through storytelling and they help out in the crop fields as well. In religion they are honored more than men. Chielo and Ani’s roles as priestess and earth goddess, respectively, are of great contribution to the importance of women in the Ibo culture. To sum up, the culture and the religion wouldn’t survive without the women.