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RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 2
Research based on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Throughout Chinua Achebe’s book “Things Fall Apart” (1959) masculinity remains a
key part of society. Oftentimes characters lean heavily on remaining masculine and frown on
anything they consider to be feminine. Being a man and doing manly things is considered one of
the highest honors in their lives but, every part of the culture is heavily influenced by women.
Women maintained every aspect surrounding the household and were the foundation for
sustaining life of the tribe members. Women also are responsible for all aspects regarding food
preparation and cooking which is a critical aspect to the survival of the tribe. Additionally,
women pass on the traditions and stories of the tribe by educating the children which makes them
important to the continuation of the culture. Next, the tribes worshipped many deities that were a
mix of both gods and goddesses but the earth goddess was considered the most powerful. Also,
the priestess was considered to be more powerful than the men in the tribe. Lastly, crimes
committed had both a male and female punishment but both included being exiled to the
mother’s homeland showing the importance of maternal lineage. Although, at first reading,
women were not respected within the tribe, they were actually the foundation of the tribe because
they were the homemakers, caregivers and educators, a crucial part of the religion and the
maternal lineage was held in high regard.
Women take care of the households and every other aspect of the home which make them
the foundation of the tribe. Dr. Derek Barker (2013) suggests that, “they are the nurturers and
caretakers of the people” (para. 9). Women are responsible for the maintaining the domestic
space for themselves and for their husbands. Each time a chore needs done, someone sick needs
cared for or a home cleaned the women are expected to do it. The men would never do one of
these tasks because they are considered feminine and would break a cultural taboo. When
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 3
someone was hurt or sick they were sent to the mother’s home for nurturing. After being beat by
his father for crying about the death of his friend, “Nwoye say in the mother’s hut and tears stood
in his eyes (Acebe, 1959, p. 59). The mother was the nurturer during his time of crisis and
helped to heal him both physically (from the beating) and emotionally. The women of the tribe
are crucial because they kept the property clean and the people healthy. Without them the tribe
would not have a place to go home to or a place to get healed.
The women have the sole responsibility of feeding the tribe which also is crucial to the
survival of the tribe. Gathering of crops, raising animals for food, the preparation of food and
cooking are the responsibilities of the women of the tribe. The only crop that is not harvested by
women are yams because they were considered a man’s crop. Women do all of the work for the
rest of the crops. The narrator mentions that “the women planted maize, melons and beans
between the yam mounds” (Achebe, 1959, p. 33). Women are extremely important to the
survival of the tribe because they are in control of every other bit of food besides yams. Not only
do the women plant most of the crops but they also “weeded the farm three times at definite
periods in the life of the yams, neither early nor late” (Achebe, 1959, p. 33). Without the
weeding of the crops, done by the women, the crops would die and the tribes would lose most of
their food for the year. These traditions help to emphasize the importance of the roles of women
in relation to the survival of the tribes. Women become the caretakers and nurturers of the crops,
similar to the way they are for every other aspect of the tribe. The women plant most of the
crops, tend to them while throughout the season and then prepares them to eat.
Another reason that the role of women is crucial to the tribe is that all of the storytelling
and passing on of traditions is done through the mothers which is crucial to the survival of the
tribe. The history of a society is important because it lets the people know where they came
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 4
from. The narrator states that Okonkwo heard voices and singing from the huts of his wives’ as
they told folk stories (Achebe, 1959). This storytelling is their form of educating the youth.
Women had the responsibility of keeping this tradition alive and ensuring that the next
generations knew them well enough to pass on to their children. Dr. Barker (2013) emphasizes
that, “It is through storytelling that the children learn important lessons about the human
condition, are taught the Ibo creation myths, such as the birds and the tortoise story, and master
the art of retelling the stories themselves (para 10). Learning the important lessons of life, the
history of their people and learning the importance of retelling the stories themselves is another
crucial part of the IBO society and is one of the reasons that women are the foundation of the
society. Without these traditions being passed on the society would have difficulties and
potentially would fail. The retelling of stories and educating of the people is one of the reasons
their traditions held together for so long and this is because of the women of the tribe.
Many of the deities that the tribe worshipped were goddesses and they were held as
crucial to the tribe’s survival because they controlled the crop growth and weather. Religion was
one of the most important cultural aspects of the tribes. Most of their traditions revolve around
the deities. “Both sexes are equally worshipped and are essential to the survival of the tribe”
(Hall, 1999, para. 7). The goddesses are as important as the gods and have similar amounts of
power over the tribe’s actions and thoughts. This means that feminine aspects are crucial to the
success of the tribe because they have to appease all of their deities, not just the males. The main
goddess in the society is “Ani” who is the earth goddess (Achebe, 1959). She is referred to as
“the ultimate judge of morality and conduct” (Barker, 2013, para. 6). She holds the highest
position and must be appeased or the crops will not grow. Okonkwo beat his wife during a week
of peace and was told “The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 5
increase, and we shall all perish” (Achebe, 1959, p. 30). The tribe gives the ultimate position of
power to the goddess Ani. She is regarded as in control of their yams crop even though it is
considered a man’s crop. The tribe holds an entire week of peace before the planting of the
crops to ensure she is satisfied and will make the crops grow (Achebe, 1959). The goddess is in
charge of one of the most important aspects of their culture and is thought of as the most
important to appease. This reinforces the idea that women are the most important aspect of the
culture and that feminine aspects overshadow the masculinity of the tribes.
Although most women were considered servants to their men, the priestess was held in
high regards and treated as extremely powerful. She was the only communication to the oracle
of the hills. Mezu (2006) suggests that “The only women respected in Umuofia are those like
Chielo, the priestess of the oracle of the hills and caves, who is removed from the pale of
normalcy (para. 17). Chielo did not have to follow the same standards as the rest of the women
because of her standing with the oracle. She was even able to raise her voice at men which was
punishable to other women. She screamed at Okonkwo when he questioned her on one occasion
and he backed off. The narrator describes the priestess as “full of the power of her god, and she
was greatly feared” (Achebe, 1959, p. 17). The fear of her illustrates that women were extremely
important to the tribe’s religion and culture because the priestess was given great power within
the tribe. She spoke with the oracle with powers given to her by the deities that the tribe
worshipped. This made her a key part of the history and culture.
Finally, when a crime was committed within the tribe the person who did the crime was
exiled back to their mother’s homeland showing that the maternal lineage was very important.
The people were members of their father’s tribes but sought comfort in their mother’s tribes.
The mothers were also sent back to their homelands to be buried. These roots showed the
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 6
importance of women in the society by demonstrating that the lineage of the mothers was
important. “When there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother
is there to protect you” (Achebe, 1959, p. 134). The mother is considered the ultimate refuge
when times are tough and the tribesman seek their comfort and heal. Going back to the mother’s
homeland during a time of distress shows the importance of the maternal lineage. The land
where the mother comes from holds the ties to the mother and the comfort given while raising
the tribesmen. “They are the constant that can be relied upon” (Barker, 2013, para. 9). The
mother is always there, even in spirit, in the homeland which gives great importance to the role
of women, especially as mothers, to the tribes. The mothers raise the men and comfort them
through their childhoods which is why they seek comfort with that lineage in times of despair.
Okonkwo’s uncle says that “mother is supreme” (Achebe, 1959, p. 134). The mother is the
ultimate of beings and deserve the highest of respect. She is the protector of all of her children.
Without the maternal lineage and the comfort provided by it the society would suffer. The
mother overshadows every part of the culture.
Masculinity is one of the most important parts of the society created by Achebe. Every
aspect of their lives is guided by the idea that they have to be manly and that any sign of
weakness is considered womanly. Even though being masculine is important, feminine aspects
overshadow every part of their culture. Women are the sole caretakers of the home and nurturers
to the sick. They keep the homes clean and the people healthy. Also, they raise many of the
crops, tend to them through harvest and prepare and cook them which makes them important to
the survival of the tribe. The women also educate the children and pass on traditions which
makes them crucial to the future of the tribe by ensuring their culture survives. Many of the
deities the tribe worshipped were goddesses and the most important one to appease was the earth
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 7
goddess who controlled the production of all the crops. Also, the only person who could speak
to the oracle was the priestess. She was considered to be chosen by the gods and was the only
woman who the men considered to have a higher position than them. Finally, when a crime was
committed against the tribe the people were exiled back to their mother’s homelands. They went
there because they were raised by their mother’s in that land and sought out the comfort and the
protection their mother’s provided. Although masculinity was at the forefront of society women
were the most important part of the culture and were crucial to the survival of the tribes.
RESEARCH BASED ON CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART 8
Achebe, C. (1959). Things Fall Apart. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Barker, D. (2013). Role of women in “Things fall apart”. Retrieved from
Hall, M. (1999). An underlying balance: An analysis of gender elements in “things fall apart”
Retrieved from http://gencobb.com/think/literature/novel-reviews/an-underlying-balance-
Mezu, R.U. (2006). Women in Achebe’s world. Retrieved from
Please use a “HOOK” thesis statement!
Outline points could be things like:
1. Women are foundational to maintaining the domestic space, which is fundamental to a society’s survival;
2. When a law is violated, a member is banished to the maternal side of the family for protection…
3. Many of the most revered deities are female (goddesses), and
4. Okonkwo expresses the ‘ideal’ masculine but ends up killing himself (could not sustain such expectations).
That would be a sample argument that one could make. Please use it in your own words
Research Based on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
The Portfolio Project is designed to require you to expand your understanding of Things Fall Apart by combining knowledge and application of content with your own interpretation and judgment. For the Portfolio Project, you will write a research paper about Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, supplementing your own interpretation with information from three to five other sources. Your interpretation of this novel should reflect an international perspective.
Essay Formatting Requirements:
· 5-7 pages.
· Minimum of five (5) sources (excluding the novel) – must be credible, authored sources; anonymous websites or sites like Wikipedia are not acceptable as one of your three main sources.
· Your final paper will be graded not only based on content but also based upon the quality of your writing, syntax, and grammar. Please be sure to pay special attention to the quality of your written work. It is highly recommended that you closely proofread your assignment prior to submission. In addition, you are again expected to provide support for your arguments based upon both the required and recommended readings for the course and your research, as well as to incorporate any relevant points culled from the discussion boards. Review the Portfolio Rubric, located in Course Information.
· Finally, you will take the particular research question that you are developing as the thesis of your Portfolio Project and contextualize it in such a way as to convey an international or multicultural understanding of the novel. For example, if you are developing a cultural analysis of the novel, you would need to answer, as a part of your research thesis, how one culture develops in direct competition against the emergence of another foreign culture. Or, if you are developing a feminist analysis, you would need to answer, as a part of your research question, how one culture’s treatment of women changes when confronted by another culture’s differing attitude toward women.
· In other words, any critical perspective from which you frame your thesis and overall paper needs to convey a sharper international or multicultural understanding of the novel and should be reflected in your outline and reference list.