Things Fall Apart Essay Example: Gender Norms in Igbo Culture

  • Category: Literature, Novels,
  • Words: 1075 Pages: 4
  • Published: 30 May 2021
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“We say that mother is supreme” (Achebe 134). Many perceive the molded positions of men and women as prominent in Igbo culture, as Okonkwo, but his bold assumptions do not match up to the reality of his society. Things Fall Apart is a novel in which Igbo culture is shown through the fate and chi of the main character Okonkwo. He is an authoritative leader, though his fortune does not treat him advantageously. The development of his character through tragic flaws reveals the complex social hierarchy within Igbo society, one in which Okonkwo fails to see. A tragic flaw is a characteristic present in a character, one in which leads to their ultimate downfall. In Things Fall Apart, author Chinua Achebe uses tragic flaws to develop Okonkwo, leading him to neglect gender roles within Igbo society, overall leaving Igbo citizens unwilling to fight in the face of cultural change. 

Hubris as a tragic flaw in Okonkwo develops his lack of understanding for the gender roles in Igbo society, as he looks down on even those who are capable. Ezinma, though skillful, is unable to get past Okonkwo's pride. “'I wish she were a boy,' … She understood things so perfectly” (Achebe 173). Hubris pushes Okonkwo to be bombastic in his ideas pertaining to the capability of someone based on their gender. He is unwilling to permit himself to be proud of his own daughter despite Ezinma proving herself. Even though she is more proficient than her brothers, Okonkwo is certain he has the ability to determine strength based on gender. Though men perform rituals, wrestling, and harvest crops, Igbo women carry out their own vital customs, such as preparing traditional food, participating in ceremonies, and passing down lessons by oral tradition. Hubris as an epic flaw in Okonkwo blinds him to the truth relating to women and their own assets in Igbo society. 

Even as respected members of Igbo society are lenient towards gender norms, Okonkwo is never unassured of his beliefs: 

“'It was always said that Ndulue and Ozoemena had one mind … He could not do anything without telling her.' 

‘I thought he was a strong man in his youth.'  

'He was indeed' … Okonkwo shook his head doubtfully” (Achebe 68). 

Hubris shown in Okonkwo disables his ability to comprehend the complex relationship between a resilient and esteemed man in Igbo society and his wife. But, in Umuofia men of title do not share the same opinions as Okonkwo, and manage to be respected, as shown with Ndulue and Ozoemena. The close-mindedness of Okonkwo leads him to become distant to his clan, as no one comes to support him when it comes time to defend their culture from the missionaries. When he does not budge to new ideas, the people of his society view him as hypercritical and closed off. 

Lack of self-control

The lack of self-control as a tragic flaw in Okonkwo develops the excessive pride he holds himself to and his immediate reaction to upsetting events. Prominent instances lie in the violence of Okonkwo towards his wives: “And when she returned he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace” (Achebe 29). Though beating someone, even a wife, during the Week of Peace comes with consequence, Okonkwo demonstrates no restraint. Self-control is known as a quality of someone of strength and discipline. Although Okonkwo views himself as strong due to Hubris, he does not consider his lack of self-restraint a weakness. Moreover, the women in Igbo society follow the traditional customs of behavior. Instead of lashing out towards their husbands, they demonstrate high levels of self-control, even when their husbands are beating them, their children, or other women. Okonkwo sees all women as weak, even when they have unwavering mental and physical strength every day. 

As Okonkwo faces exile, his pride hangs in the midst: “'Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring to your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted” (Achebe 134). Again, he displays fault. His lack of self-control moves him to brood, instead of making the best of his circumstances, as someone of strength. Okonkwo's wives and children at no time complain about the circumstance they are in because of Okonkwo, but instead carry on with their duties and traditions. Okonkwo caused his family to go into exile, yet he is the one who lets sorrow weigh him down. He neglects the strength of the women in his family, as they continue on with their lives in the face of errors done by someone other than themselves.  

Ambition as a tragic flaw used in Okonkwo leads to his determination to become strong in the wrong ways, causing him to neglect the strength established in the people around him. Even after exile, ambition causes Okonkwo to strive to be the best: “Okonkwo saw clearly the high esteem in which he would be held, and he saw himself taking the highest title in the land” (Achebe 172). Whether it is violent events, weather, or missionaries, Okonkwo's plans get destructed. Through it all, his family stays loyal and obeying, though his motivations turn flat each time. The tradition of gaining titles in Igbo culture is something Okonkwo strives to do, where as traditions performed by women is something he is repulsed by. Though his attempts at keeping Igbo culture alive fail, his wives succeed in passing down oral tradition. 

During events of celebration and culture, Okonkwo is unable to focus on the purpose of traditional activities of Igbo society. Instead, he strives to be the best: “When his wife Ekwefi protested that two goats were sufficient for the feast he told her that it was not her affair” (Achebe 165). The customary purpose of Okonkwo’s feast does not match up to the determination within his motives. In place of creating a rite to be appreciative for what was given during his time of exile, Okonkwo holds himself to another desire.

In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo is developed through tragic flaws, leading him to ignore the reality of his society, pushing the citizens around him to stand against him in his time of need. Okonkwo's underestimation of the women in his family allows him to wallow in his misfortunes. The missionaries come, and it is too late for Okonkwo to do anything impactful to save Umuofia. Similarly, prideful Westerners are unaware of the culture of many African countries. Instead, their heads are filled with a single story of a continent and do not realize the complexities of African societies. When African societies are painted primitive, outsiders become like Okonkwo, unaware of the intricate roles and traditions prominent in each African civilization. As Chinua Achebe said, “The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity … you have just one large statement.” To keep peace among diverse cultures, it is necessary to have tolerance and understanding.



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