What Was the Role of Women in "Things Fall Apart"?

The society depicted in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is based around rigid gender roles, with women taking a passive position in society. Women’s function is primarily to bear children and support their husbands. However, the protagonist Okonkwo’s downfall shows the need for a balance between masculinity and femininity.

Although women play a lesser role in the Igbo society portrayed in the novel, a balance between both gender roles is shown in various aspects of the culture, from agriculture to the legal system. The feminine side, however, is still portrayed as the weaker half. Yams, the primary crop in Igbo society, are considered masculine because they are the most difficult to harvest, while lesser crops such as beans and cassava are considered feminine. When Okonkwo is banished from the village after accidentally killing a boy, his crime is deemed partially female because it is inadvertent.

While women are depicted as the weaker, lesser sex, Achebe’s narrative indicates the danger of disregarding the feminine in favor of the masculine. Always eager to prove his masculinity, Okonkwo frequently violates many of the society’s feminine values, such as adherence to family. Okonkwo’s refusal to embrace any aspect of femininity often causes him to act quickly and thoughtlessly. Eventually, his disregard for the necessary feminine values of the society lead to his own disgrace and death.