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Feminist analysis of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Allie Fogle

on 12 December 2012

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Transcript of Feminist analysis of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

in Things Fall Apart Feminist Criticism Feminist Critcism Feminist Criticism: By revisiting the literary works of men, bringing recognition to the works of females, or philosophizing about the feminine language present, feminist critics seek to analyze the reflection of attitudes that have oppressed women throughout history. Thesis Men and women have always lived different lives in every classic literary work, open to the author’s personal biases, stereotypes or cultural traditions of the times. Chinua Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart" is no exception. The novel is told through a male protagonist’s point of view in nineteenth century Nigeria, and while it is a country where women had no civil rights, women wield heavy influence over the leaders of the clan. Most women in the novel are oppressed by western standards, but there are some instances where women free themselves from their oppressive chains and live lives of their own. Chielo, the priestess for the Umuofia lives on her own, is free of the dictatorship style marriages the rest of the women live. Ezinma, Okonkwo’s daughter is the pride and joy of her father; while he fails to express his love for her he clearly treats her better than his wives and sons, even worriedly waiting outside the cave while Chielo is healing her. Group Opinion Heather 1.There are 3 branches of feminist Criticism: American, French, British
2.French feminists focus on language and how that language is produced
3.Language forces women to choose whether to represent themselves as men or choose silence and stay unheard
4.Feminine Language: language that is rhythmic and unifying.
5.Gynocriticism: Study of women who have produced a literature of their own despite working in an oppressive culture and society.
6.There are 3 phases of feminist criticism: Feminine, Feminist, and Female.
7.Feminine: Women imitating masculine tradition
8.Feminist: Women protesting against the masculine tradition
9.Female: Women advocating for their own female tradition
10.Feminists believe that male oppression has been disguised as a world of opportunities for women to be successful- shown by women who have achieved much in their own sphere.
11. Feminist Critics use their own theories based on other disciplines, therefore, many different critical schools are put to use. Thesis Support Allie Zack Amber Matt Strengths & Weaknesses Things Fall Apart Strengths Tend to ignore the male perspective
Can create a close minded thought
Narrow focus
Can cause the bigger meanings and problems within the text to be ignored because they do not deal with gender studies
Can turn too political
Can be too theoretical Weaknesses Has created an awareness of social gender construction
Brings recognition to women in literature
Can be insightful to look back at history in this expective Discussion Questions “It was clear from the way that the crowd stood or sat that the ceremony was for men. There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders"
Times were strictly patriarchal; women were much suppressed, with a role that is limited. Women are seen but not heard.

“The elders, or ndichie, met to hear a report of Okonkwo’s mission. At the end they decided, as everybody knew they would, that the girl should go to Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife.”
Women are seen as replaceable, as they can be exchanged for one another.

“As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument, Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping.”
They are expected to be there for the men to beat if something goes wrong (even if it was not their fault). Women are seen as little better than slaves to men. Men take on more than one wife, many times within years; more wives mean more power to a man. The wives are expected to be there for the children but not to stand up for them.

[Odukwe]: “The law of Umuofia is that if a woman runs away from her husband her bride-price is returned.”
Women are treated like pieces of property, worth a set sum of money, which can be exchanged from man to man. However, women are allowed to run away from their husbands. There is no "punishable by death" law that keeps men and women together. They can separate, as long as the bride-price is returned.

“With two beautiful grown-up daughters his return to Umuofia would attract considerable attention. His future sons-in-law would be men of authority in the clan. The poor and unknown would not dare come forth. (20.14)”
Okonkwo cares not for having daughters, just that they will help him to get back on top by giving them up to men of authority. Then again, he is still proud of his daughters for being so beautiful.

“It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in it mother’s hut. 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. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.”
This is one of the few instances where women were perceived as higher then man. Throughout most of the book, women were put down as things, not people.

"Okonkwo pleaded with her to come back in the morning because Ezinma was now asleep. But Chielo ignored what he was trying to say and went on shouting that Agbala wanted to see his daughter . . . The priestess screamed. 'Beware, Okonkwo!' she warned" (101).
There is no other point in the novel in which we see Okonkwo "plead" with anyone, male or female, for any reason. We witness a woman not only ordering Okonkwo to give her his daughter, but threatening him as well. The fact that Okonkwo allows this is evidence of the priestess's power. The ability of a woman to occupy the role of a priestess, a spiritual leader, reveals a clear degree of reverence for women being present in Ibo society.

"Okonkwo was also feeling tired, and sleepy, for although nobody else knew it, he had not slept at all last night. He had felt anxious..."
This is another time when women have more power than the men know. Here, Okonkwo lost sleep with worry over his "women", even though society would point to the conclusion that the women are just property- nothing to actually care about. While women are vastly subjugated in the novel they are not oppressed for the times and the region they live in; in fact women show signs of independence from the tyranny of normality that so many generations of women in the region had endured. Using a feminist critique to analyze "Things Fall Apart" brings up interesting discussion and thoughts that are missed upon a general reading. By analyzing the novel through the feminist perspective, women can be seen as both oppressed and treated well at the same time. However, it still leads to the conclusion that women were definitely secondary to men. This is a positive of the feminist critique. It leads to a new world of questions and thoughts and ways to look at the cultural setting of the novel.

Despite being thought provoking, the feminist critique can leave much meaning in the novel ignored. For instance, by only looking for the feminist part, it can be forgotten that Achebe was trying to make the novel as accurate for the time period as possible. He isn’t attempting to make some statement about the oppression of women; he is just telling the facts like it was back then. By focusing on that little part of the novel, the bigger conflict of the invasion of the white men can be forgotten or overlooked.
Using the feminist approach helps to provide a new perspective in the novel, "Things Fall Apart". Rather than just follow Okonkwo, we can get a slightly better idea of the woman's view. It has its disadvantages too, because if you rely on it too much, you can start to neglect other key information. I think it is useful to look at "Things Fall Apart" from a feminist point of view because it allows the reader to look at characters differently and also can help the reader understand the African society displayed in the book. Looking at the novel from a feminist point of view does highlight negative aspects of the society and of the characters, but I don’t believe the book was made to be sexist or to have a negative attitude towards women. The author, Chinua Achebe, was simply painting a picture of the African culture that the characters lived in. Using a feminist perspective when reading "Things Fall Apart" brings up the idea that women were suppressed in Africa. Though some women have power (those who are involved with religion), most are treated as nothing more than property for men. Yet, the purpose of "Things Fall Apart" is to show the Africans response to white men coming and taking over, not how women are treated in Africa. If a person is to look at only how women are treated, they miss the historical aspect of the book. They will miss the new perspective on the white people moving into other people’s lands just for their own gain. Looking "Things Fall Apart" through a feminist perspective is not the best way of looking at this book, as a reader would miss the essential point. While the feminist perspective gives the reader a new aspect of the novel I find it to be unnecessary compared to other analytical views. A large number of the famous feminist analysises are written by women who are biased against men write them with the sole purpose of making men look lesser, violent, or abusive, and in many of the famous novels they are. Okonkwo beats one of his wives during peace week and tries to shoot another, and while by western and modern standards this is completely unacceptable in nineteenth century Nigeria this was acceptable, in fact this book leans towards women becoming more independent from men, Chielo and Ezinma are prime examples. Both are strong willed and have the capabilities to lead their own lives free from the traditionally patriarchal society. While the feminist perspective of analytical views can be useful for a reader trying to view characters in a different way, the perspective is too easily biased not only by some sexist men readers but female readers as well. •Does reading this book from a male or female point of view change how you interpret the story?
•In feminist criticism, is it more important to recognize forgotten female works or to look at works by male authors from a women’s point of view?
•With the Western imperialism in the novel, how would the role of women change?
•Do you believe that women in this society were unhappy with their roles or they accepted and understood that was how their society was?
•Does the author being male have any influence over feminism in the book or is he just accurately representing African society?
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