Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Gender Roles

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Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex, but are also endowed with qualities that make them worthy of worship, like the ability to bear children. The dominant role for women is: first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. The ideal man provides for his family materially and has prowess on the battlefield. The protagonist in the novel is extremely concerned with being hyper-masculine and devalues everything feminine, leaving him rather unbalanced. Much of the gender theme in the book centers around the idea of balance between masculine and feminine forces – body and mind/soul, emotionality and rationality, mother and father. If one is in imbalance, it makes the whole system haywire.

Questions About Gender

  1. What characteristics are considered distinctly masculine and distinctly feminine? Do such stereotypes hold true in the actions of the actual characters?
  2. Which characters cross gender stereotypes? What are their occupations or roles in society? How does society react (if at all) to the break from normal gender roles?
  3. What is the purpose of gender-coding almost every aspect of society – right down to the crops?
  4. How might Okonkwo’s “sins” be seen as the results of an imbalance between nurturing feminine and aggressive masculine forces?

Chew on This

Although Okonkwo spends most of his time expressing his masculinity, he often ignores or violates feminine tenets like peace and valuing one’s family. Shunning of all things feminine causes him to commit ever-escalating crimes that lead to his downfall.

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