Things Fall Apart
How we cite our quotes:
Anasi was the first wife and the others could not drink before her, and so they stood waiting.
Anasi was a middle-aged woman, tall and strongly built. There was authority in her bearing and she looked every inch the ruler of the womenfolk in a large and prosperous family. She wore the anklet of her husband’s titles, which the first wife alone could wear.
She walked up to her husband and accepted the horn from him. She then went down on one knee, drank a little and handed back the horn. She rose, called him by his name and went back to her hut. The other wives drank in the same way, in their proper order, and went away. (3.15-17)
Families have very specific structures – multiple wives for a single man and a hierarchy of women within the household, all of whom are subservient to their husband.
[…] what made it worse in Okonkwo’s case was that he had to support his mother and two sisters from his meager harvest. And supporting his mother also meant supporting his father. She could not be expected cook and eat while her husband starved. And so at a very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house. It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes. His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. (3.28)
Okonkwo, unlike his father, feels an obligation to provide for his family, even his lazy and ungrateful father. Since Okonkwo’s father does not work to be a good provider for his family, he is failure as a husband and father based on traditional Umuofia values. Because his father didn’t live up to his role as provider, Okonkwo had to break the usual family model and become the head of the household, providing for his mother and sisters.
Even Okonkwo himself became very fond of the boy – inwardly of course…there was no doubt that he liked the boy. Sometimes when he went to big village meetings or communal ancestral feasts he allowed Ikemefuna to accompany him, like a son, carrying his stool and his goatskin bag. And, indeed, Ikemefuna called him father. (4.7)
After a while, Okonkwo becomes so fond of Ikemefuna that he comes to think of him as a son. Ikemefuna reciprocates the feeling, adoring Okonkwo enough that he calls him his father. Out of affection, Okonkwo extends his notion of family to include Ikemefuna even though the boy isn’t related to him by blood or even clan membership.