AD's English Literature : Igbo Society and Astonishing Variety of Women's roles in Chinua Achebe’s Novels make them Masterpiece

Igbo Society and Astonishing Variety of Women's roles in Chinua Achebe’s Novels make them Masterpiece

Contradictions if well understood and managed can spark off the fires of invention. Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity.”
Chinua Achebe (1930 - 2013)
Nigerian novelist, poet, and essayist.
Anthills of the Savannah
According to Charles Larson in The Emergence of African Fiction  Chinua Achebe has been praised as 'the most original African novelist writing in English'. Critics throughout the world have praised Achebe’s Novels as the first African English-language classic for tribal identity. Investigating through Chinua Achebe’s Novels, the article  is the search for women’s roles in Igbo society in south-East Nigeria of pre-colonial state. Apart from Igbo women identity, I am in search for a more general understanding of questions of tribal womanhood. The complex individual, social and tribal-political relations in the Nigerian pre-colonial state can be seen in Achebe’s novel. It will provide not merely the context for the search for Igbo women identity, but also to a large extent determine its intellectual conclusions. In fact, South-East Nigeria and Igbo tribe is one of the prime focuses of Chinua Achebe’s novels. They are set in Africa and describe the struggles of the African people to free themselves from European political influences. Women do a considerable job for their own rights and reconfigurations. Read More Modern Period

Along the things of the complex, ethnic, religious and regional divisions Achebe’s novels are characterized by understanding of the tribes and their custom. In that perspective, tribal woman in his novels deserve a thorough understanding. Achebe has shown these womenfolk and designed them carefully. They ensure that communities survive and they keep their dignity intact so as to give womanhood the pride of place it deserves in tribal integration and development. 

Igbo heartland in southeastern Nigeria Africa was the birthplace of the tribes-indigenous origin. However, recent estimates suggest that 50 percent are Muslims, 40 percent are Christians, and 10 percent adhere to traditional religions. Igbo are now worldwide spread but culturally they are marginalized. So the comprehensive study on them, particularly women, through the pages of Achebe’s Novels will bring them fresh lees of life. My study will also examine the subjugation of Nigerian women with regard to how their political marginalization constricts the public sphere, the resource centre of public opinion, which strengthens the ideals of democracy and good governance. The political marginalization of women in Nigeria is a rectilinear upshot of their low participation in government and politics necessitated by patriarchy. This patriarchal practice has animated the urgency of expanded public sphere as well as feminism, an ideological, aesthetic and cultural movement, steeped in agitating for the rights of women and expanding the frontiers of their participation in the political process. In the political novel Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe has deftly refracted the rise of new Nigerian women, who are generation changers. Beatrice represents Achebe’s new women; her portraiture in the novel interrogates postcolonial Nigerian politics of disempowerment, marginalization, shrunken public sphere and gendered space that occlude good governance.
                                                                                                                                                                    Primarily woman suffer great losses in Chinua Achebe’s novels- be it Things Fall Apart or   No Longer at Ease or, Arrow of God  or A Man of the People or Anthills of the Savannah. But also in certain circumstances, they hold tremendous power. Canadian feminist critic Florence Stratton sternly argues in Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender (1994) that Achebe gives men cultural roles that were actually occupied by women in traditional Igbo culture. We cannot deny the fact and the subsequent criticism. Yet it is not entirely true. And thus, truly relating to this, understanding of woman and femininity in general will add depth and sensitivity to the ultimate picture of Igbo land. Even, from the close scrutiny the entire tribal women in Achebe’s novels is so variegated that without them the tribal life looks dim and hazy. On Igbo women’s position in the household Don C. Ohadike said in his book Igbo Culture and History (page:XXXII) “Having several women in a household enhanced not only a man's status but also the prestige of the first wife. As the head woman of the household, she shared every title that the man might acquire. She presided over household deliberations, most men preferring not to get personally involved, except in emergencies. Junior wives enjoyed the security and prosperity that large households provided. In addition, Igbo women had rights and freedoms that they jealously guarded. They lived in their own separate houses, cooked for themselves, and raised their own children. They grew crops, part of which they sold in the marketplace, and kept the proceeds. Moreover, Igbo laws and customs permitted an unhappy wife to leave.” Read More Modern Period
wiki: Chinua Achebe
For Example, In the life of Okonkwo (Things Fall Apart) woman play vital role. However, the women can be read according to their self-perceptions, as well as societal awareness of them as women, wives, mothers and daughters. Ekwefi, ‘the crystal of beauty’, is overcoming disappointment and bitterness in her life.
Read More Novel In fact, Ekwefi’s losing nine children denotes an age when scientific and medical knowledge about childhood diseases was unavailable and a child was considered safe only after he lived for three to four years. Ezinma, the daughter who survives the early diseases, however, earns her father’s love and respect like that of a male child. Linda Strong-Leek said in her Reading as a Woman: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Feminist Criticism (African Studies Quarterly | Volume 5, Issue 2 | Summer 2001 ISSN: 2152-2448) that “There is one woman, or young girl who elicits pure love from all the lives she touches, even her father, Okonkwo. However, he cannot fully appreciate Ezinma as a person. Instead of admiring her for her strength and disposition as a burgeoning woman, Oknonkwo is saddened by the fact that she is not male.” Again it is interesting to study how the women in A Man of the People play an important role in Odili and Nangas' motive changes. However, in most critical treatise, No Longer At Ease Achebe shows how in corrupt Nigeria Men offer money, and women offer their bodies, in return for favors and services. Read More Modern Period

On the other hand, Igbo women control certain spheres of community life, just as men control other spheres. Women are perceived to possess superior spiritual well-being and headed many of the traditional cults and shrines. Things Fall Apart exemplifies these. For example, Chielo the priestess of Agbala, serves the oracle. Even none of the clan challenges her authority. Even in this tribal society mother tells stories to her children, even dares the superstitious beliefs to save her child. A tribal woman is wise to the ways of the tribe. Their words describe the feelings like pity and forgiveness. They try to adhere to sacred tribal customs but often time displays the courage of a tribesman. Again the annual cycle of productivity (planting and harvest) associated with the new moon also reinforces its connection the mother figure by evoking the monthly cycles of female fecundity in Arrow of God.                                                                                                                     

Igbo woman begins her life as an apprentice. If she survives the tender age (infant deaths), she assists her mother at home, on the farm, or in the marketplace. On the plight of infant’s death Don C. Ohadike said in his book Igbo Culture and History (page: XXXVI) “Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Igbo threw away twin babies soon after they were born. People today are very reluctant to talk about it, for they cannot explain why they often prayed to God (Chukwu) for many children, yet when twins or triplets were born, the infants were left in the forest to die.” Read More Novel However, as she advances in age, she learns hard work, marriage- duties, social advancement etc. Achebe’s novels covers the journey of Igbo women hood -female circumcision, Igbo courtship, marriage, marriage process, bride price, the wife’s position, polygamy, family ranking etc. 

i. Igbo Homepage. 1998. Web 23 Nov 2011
ii. Reading as a Woman: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Feminist Criticism (African Studies Quarterly | Volume 5, Issue 2 | Summer 2001 ISSN: 2152-2448) by Linda Strong-Leek 

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