Things Fall Apart
How we cite our quotes:
And after a pause she said: “Can I bring your chair for you?”
“No, that is a boy’s job.” Okonkwo was specially fond of Ezinma. (5.59-60)
Although Ezinma is probably Okonkwo’s favorite child, he adheres very strictly to the norms of male and female action ascribed by Igbo culture. He does not allow Ezinma to do something as simple as carrying a chair to the festival for him because he considers it a boy’s task. Sadly, Okonkwo’s strict following of gender roles prevents him from showing his affection for his daughter.
The woman with whom she talked was called Chielo. She was the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. In ordinary life, Chielo was a widow with two children. She was very friendly with Ekwefi and they shared a common shed in the market. She was particularly fond of Ekwefi’s only daughter, Ezinma, whom she called “my daughter.” Quite often she bought beancakes and gave Ekwefi some to take home to Ezinma. Anyone seeing Chielo in ordinary life would hardly believe she was the same person who prophesied when the spirit of Agbala was upon her. (6.17)
Chielo is an example of a powerful woman – the lone priestess of major god – who leads a dual life. In the market, she is an ordinary woman and a good friend, but when the god takes possession of her, she changes drastically and becomes a figure to be reckoned with. It is only when a woman has supernatural power behind her that she is respected by men.
He [Ikemefuna] was like an elder brother to Nwoye, and from the very first seemed to have kindled a new fire in the younger boy. He made him feel grown-up; and they no longer spent the evenings in mother’s hut while she cooked, but now say with Okonkwo in his obi, or watched him as he tapped his palm tree for the evening wine. Nothing pleased Nwoye now more than to be sent for by his mother or another of his father’s wives to do one of those difficult and masculine tasks in the home, like splitting wood, or pounding food. On receiving such a message through a younger brother or sister, Nwoye would feign annoyance and grumble aloud about women and their troubles.
Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development, and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna. He wanted Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his father’s household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors. He wanted him to be a prosperous man, having enough in his barn to feed the ancestors with regular sacrifices. And so he was always happy when he heard him grumbling about women. That showed that in time he would be able to control his women-folk. No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. He was like the man in the song who had ten and one wives and not enough soup for his foo-foo. (7.1-2)
Ikemefuna’s presence makes Nwoye more willing to take on masculine tasks, however pretentiously. Okonkwo takes his son’s changing behavior as a sign of budding authoritative masculinity. Interestingly, Okonkwo defines men partially by their behavior towards women – males aren’t real men unless they can force women to do their bidding. Thus men can have free will, but women must be controlled and ruled over.