Things Fall Apart Essay
The women stay at home cooking and cleaning, only to be sold off as brides to their husbands and bear children. Men are active and aggressive, fighting wars and providing financially for the family. They have the power to physically beat their wives if they’re behaving unsatisfactorily. In the book, the old Ibo proverb “Mother is Supreme” is portrayed when Okonkwo gets exiled to his motherland.
This proverb shows that no matter what happens between a child and their father, the child can always run to one’s mother. This holds the truth that mothers are the loving caretakers of the children in Ibo culture. The gender stereotypes divide the men and women in the society, creating separate spheres. Given the mother is supreme proverb, it is ironic that the Okonkwo society harshly oppresses its women. “Mother is Supreme” is the idea that one can always run to their mother where they are safe from their troubles.
Only $13.90 / page
When Okonkwo was exiled, he went to Mabanta, his Motherland, and was accepted with open arms by Uchendu, his uncle. This point was exemplified when Uchendu explains why mother is supreme, “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” (134). The mother is there to protect the child unconditionally against the father. Mother is supreme because she is the protector, the adult the child can always depend on. When Okonkwo gets exiled from his fatherland, Mbanta, his motherland, welcomed and cared for him.
Also “Mother is Supreme is shown when after Okonkwo told Nwoye that Ikemefuna was leaving, “Later, Nwoye went to his mother’s hut and told her that Ikemefuna was going home. She immediately dropped her pestle with which she was grinding pepper, folded her arms across her breast and sighed, “Poor child. ” (58). When Nwoye received the news, he fled to his mother’s hut to be comforted. The Mother Supreme proverb stands in stark contrast to the way women are treated in the Ibo society. Both men and women work together in the Ibo culture cultivating produce and participating in the government.
In the growing season the women weed and plant other produce while the men farm yams. “As the rains became heavier the women planted maize, melons and beans between the yam mounds” (33). The women still help with planting but in a smaller way than the men. “Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed” (33). Here, the men are cultivating the yams but not only were yams an important staple in their diet, a mans success depended on the number of yams he could produce.
Also both genders played a role in the government. Chielo, the priestess, was the advice giver of the town and the other main leaders of the community were men. “The nine villages of Umuofia had grown out of the nine sons of the first father of the clan” (89). This respected group is made up of nine male leaders, called the egwugwu. Different than normal women in the Ibo society, Chielo is a powerful authority, representing the feared Oracle. In both these instances, women and men are put into separate spheres, but both are critical in supporting their community.
Although the men play a large role in providing for the family, they dominate the household with force. The men provide for the family by planting and harvesting the yams. They freely discipline their wives without recourse as shown in the texts, “when she returned he beat her very heavily” (29). Okonkwo beat his wives into submission and in their society it goes unpunished. Even when they don’t do something wrong, “As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it…
” Okonkwo, being hot-tempered took out his anger on Ewifiki after thinking that she destroyed the tree. He doesn’t even respect her enough to engage in a debate with her to listen to her side of the story. He just smacks her “without further argument”. These examples show Okonkwo’s dominance over his wives, ruling his house with a heavy hand. If they make a mistake, he takes his anger out on them and make sure they remember not to do it the next time. “He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for women” (42).
In this passage, it portrays that Okonkwo only values women as something to “conquer” or “subdue”, not as equals. In contrast, women in the Ibo society are expected to submit to their husbands. They are lower in society, in submission to whomever they are married. “… Agbala was not only another name for a women, it could also mean a man who had taken no title” (13). This exemplifies that it is an insult for a man to be called Agbala, another name for a female. During the bride price, the brides are thought of as mere pieces of property, not as human beings.
“Her suitor and his relatives surveyed her young body with expert eyes as if to assure themselves that she was beautiful and ripe” (71) They are looking at “the soon to be bride” with objective eyes, keeping in mind the clothes she is wearing and her figure. They determine the price by her beauty and once that is decided, her husband now rules her. This point is also shown at the town hearing between Odukwe and Uzowulu. “The law of the clan is that you should return her bride price” (91). They are fighting over the woman as though they would fight over money. The Ibo women are also not always welcome are communal ceremonies and are thought of as outsiders.
“It was clear from the way the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men” (87). The women are clearly portrayed as being inferior to men. Chinua Achebe’s book depicts the separate spheres of genders in a culture like Okonkwo’s. Each plays a specific part in the community that was changed when the whites came to colonize. The arguable point of “Mother is Supreme” is overruled with the harsh treatment of women. While they are given some privileges, like contributing to the government and planting, the men plainly control them. They live in separate spheres and each have the stereotypes of their gender to up-hold.