Chinua Achebe’s novel entitled Things Fall Apart focuses a profound portion of its content upon the relative customs and ideologies within the homeland of Umuofia. In turn through the histories, stories and legends presented within the novel, Achebe exposes what constitutes individual identity among the Igbo people. The male identity, specifically seen through the motif of both physical and verbal abuse, deduces women as object in order to secure their own perceptions masculinity.
The presence of female abuse is seen most dominantly through the novel’s protagonist Okonkwo. In constant patterns Okonkwo releases his aggression upon his three wives in overbearing and irrational terms. His “heavy hand” addressed in the early chapters of the novel revolves around the soul ideology that “the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (28). In one sense, the villages diluted respect for his father, as well as Okonkwo’s own inherent embarrassment for his father’s failures has led him to strive for culturally accepted attributes of success and physical strength. Attaining these is the only means by which he can rightfully clear his own name. As a result, every aspect of his life must filter through these means of dominate control—including his wives.
Under Okonkwo’s umbrella of dominate control was working, fighting, and women upon which it is necessary for each relationship to ruthlessly foil any signs of femininity. Working and fighting are clear indicators of physical strength, where he takes on tasks that are generally uncommon for women. Even his farm work, by which the women have a shared responsibility, has clear recognition of male crops and female crops. Thus when Achebe draws the parallel connection between wrestling and pursuing women, their innate objectivity is exposed. Speaking of Okonkwo he writes, “He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for women” (42). In short, women are to be conquered and subdued and as a result become and object of possession by which beatings and verbal abuses are tangibly understood. More importantly however, is the use of the word “trembled” which connotes the perception that this yearning to dictate resonates from a fear of a loss of masculinity. Okonkwo’s women therefore become treated as object in order to stabilize a personal sense of masculinity.
The notion of women as object is additionally seen through Akueke’s marriage bargain. The men present, including Okonkwo, hold an air of privilege and superiority about them, and complete the deal through a game of sticks. This alone shows a certain disregard for a human life, yet the most telling aspect of the event is the physical assessment of the woman before the eyes of the men. Achebe writes, “Her suitor and his relatives surveyed her young body with expert eyes as if to assure themselves that she was beautiful and ripe” (71). The first and most obvious component of this statement is the use of the word “ripe” which alludes to a fruit or vegetable sold in the market not a human being, yet the men look at Akueke in this way. She is nothing more than an object decorated and presented to the men to procure a compromised price. More importantly however is the fact that the men surveyed her “as if assure themselves.” The “as if” sufficiently implies that she clearly is beautiful and they are taking in her body and demanding she present herself in a certain artful and elaborate form for no other means than to show they had the power to do so. The woman is then again objectified in order to compensate for the males to grasp their own masculinity.
The motif of abuses and the derogatory perception of women is as a whole a mere commentary by Achebe upon man’s perception of his own masculinity. That being said, feelings of ones own incompetency as depicted through Okonkwo permeates into an obsession with physical strength and an endless struggle for power. Each of these factors in turn leaves the women of the novel to be wrongfully objectified as the men seek their masculine identities.