Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Themes of "Real" Men and the Role of Women in "Things Fall Apart"

Recently, I read the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, a novel about the disintegration of traditional Nigerian tribal life caused by the arrival of Europeans. One of the main themes I noticed was the obsession of societal opinion, especially in the case of the men. For example, the main character, Okonkwo, strives his entire life to be the complete opposite of his father, a gentle, kind, but actionless individual. Because of this, although he is one of the most respected men in his tribe because of his physical prowesses, Okonkwo treats others physically weaker than him as inferiors. Physical strenght is the cure to everything: cowardice, lack of respect, or lack of title.

One of the issues I have with this theme is the portrayal of what a "real" man is. Supposedly, according to Nigerian tribal code, a man is one who is not afraid of blood or war. One who is, is considered weak and effeminate. Personally, I don't believe physical strenght is what defines a man. Taking responsibility for one's actions and behaving in a mature matter is what defines him. I understand the need for the strength part in that kind of culture, especially where the way of life was mostly a physical one rather than say, intellectual. However, it is unnecessary to degrade a male so much as to consider him weak if his interests do not include bashing someone's head to a bloody pulp. One of the events is the murder of Okonkwo's adopted son, Ikemefuna where the former believes that if he doesn't kill Ikemefuna himself, society will consider him weak, while in reality, it was the complete opposite (the elders thought the action unnecessary).

The second problem I have with the theme  is how women are treated in that particular society. They are inferior to men, expected to do the household chores, care for her children, tend the farm, cook for her husband, and obey his every command. In one scene, Okonkwo releases his pent-up irrational anger on one of his wives by shooting at her with a hunting rifle because she told him the truth. Beating one's wives is a completely normal thing to do. The epitome of cowardice and weakness is woman. The treatment of women should be both shocking and not so unsettling. Many societies, at one point or another throughout their histories have degraded their women and treated them unequally in regards to men. This also shouldn't be surprising in a society where physical strenght is revered. However, in a utilitarian community where both sexes work (the women plant and tend to the fields also), both men and women should be socially equal.

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