Misogyny in Things Fall Apart is not too different from Conrad and Racism

It is difficult to read Things Fall Apart without being very disgusted with the gender roles and the attitudes towards women in Umuofia. Okwonko’s treatment of his wives as lesser, weaker, stupid beings is unacceptable. His behaviour is very reminiscent of Blanca’s abusive husband in Until the Dawn’s Light.

Coming to terms with the misogyny in the novel, I am confused as to what Achebe is doing. Ultimately you could say the book is simply being historically accurate. Gender roles were probably just like that in Nigerian villages of the 1890s. Instances of misogyny are just part of the setting or “context”. However, wouldn’t he be doing the same thing as Conrad, whom he criticizes extensively?

Achebe did not like how Conrad depicted black people as primitive beings, “not inhuman” or sometimes mere body parts. Achebe says it is wrong for Conrad to use this racism as a background for his own story about European colonization. It seems to me that Achebe is then doing the same thing: using sexism as a way to tell his story about Okwonko’s damaged personality.

Apart from this, I am not even sure if either are wrong. If you write about something horrible taking place (racism, misogyny) is that the same as advocating for it? What does worry me is how quotes like “the birth of her children, which should be a woman’s crowing glory…” sound like statements of fact (77). This is said not by Okwonko, a character who we know is flawed, but the narrator.

Overall however, the novel has a lot to offer and I have enjoyed learning about Nigerian tribal culture in a very close-up and detailed way.

2 Thoughts.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. The misogyny in this text really stands out for me (whereas in Conrad the racism stood out for me more than the misogyny). My first reaction was, well, maybe this is just a depiction of how men may have thought and felt at that time and place. But your point about some of the statements coming from the narrator and not from Okonkwo is a good one–we can’t just attribute them to the misogynistic views of a flawed character. There is at least the point that the egwugwu criticize the man who beats his wife, when they hear the court case. I think we are to take Okonkwo’s beating of his wives (and his shooting at Ekwefi) as problematic, as something to be criticized. But he voices a lot of views of femininity that suggest that being a woman is something negative, and it’s hard to tell if any of that is presented in a critical way in the novel.

    I really like your connection here between what is going on in this text and what Achebe criticizes in Conrad’s: this text seems to dehumanize women for the sake of focusing on criticism of a man. At least, though, in this text women are at some times treated as valuable, such as Chielo the priestess, and how the wives are asked to come in and drink from the palm wine (though only after the men, of course, and they can’t join the group) on p. 20. And Uchendu says that they say “mother is supreme” because it’s to one’s mother that one goes when one endures suffering (133-134). But beyond a few examples, this is definitely a book focused on men. It is concerned with what they do, mostly. The women are more or less in the background (with the exception of the scenes with Ekwefi & Ezinma, and when Chielo takes Ezinma to the shrine and Ekwefi follows).

  2. I think Chinua may have seen more potential and value in relaying the story of Igbo culture as authentically as possible, rather than making it look any better what he sees as Conrad’s cultural (Eurocentric) tendencies. His intention was to criticize the racism of Western culture, not validate his own, and the best way to do this may be through telling the truth-even though it is a hard truth in this case, it is therefore undebatable, which strengthens his points.

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