Shylock Essay, Research Paper
Understanding the beliefs of a different culture is often difficult. From birth, people are surrounded with cultural values and traditions that are soon accepted as normal. It may often be challenging to comprehend another culture s beliefs without immediately judging their culture as a whole, therefore being prejudiced. Set in the late 19th century, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the struggle of the Ibo of Nigeria is explained as we learn about their unique culture. Women play a role that in our society today would be considered atrocious. They are thought of as feeble and are ordered around as if they were meaningless slaves. Throughout the novel, Achebe demonstrates the lack of respect for women and mistreatment of them, but manages to portray women, as mothers, in the highest regard.
The main character, Okonkwo, is one of the many to abuse his wives. He has numerous wives who are often mistreated from the beginning of the book. Okonkwo gets furious when one of his wives asks a simple question about the length of Ikemefuna s stay (a young lad given to Okonkwo s tribe) debasing her and yelling. Later in the book, Okonkwo beats his youngest wife when she fails to cook diner and instead visits with her friend during the Week Of Peace. He beat her heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace It was unheard of to beat somebody during the sacred week. (p. 29-30) Soon after, he beats his second wife for calling him one of those “guns that never shot.” Wife beating is accepted in the Ibo society, but Okonkwo is pushing the envelope when it comes to his treatment of women. A big part of his violent actions are triggered by his paranoia of being seen as weak as his father once was. The rest is mostly due to his short temper.
Okonkwo views women as weak and helpless beings. Other than the respect given for being a mother, women, in the Ibo culture, receive almost no admiration.
Okonkwo expects different things from men and women. He expects for men to become highly respected, rich, and obeyed. However, he views a woman s best potential to be an obedient mother. Achebe shows us Okonkwo s beliefs through what he says and in the long-term way that he raises his children. The variances in his way of raising his children according to their sex show his stereotypical ideas. He says that, She [Ezinma] should have been a boy. (p. 64). She had the proper spirit, but her gender ruined all possibilities of success, at least in the eyes of Okonkwo. He pushes his son, Nwoye, to become less feminine and more brave and strong. Okonkwo s views on sex all add to the bigger picture of why he acts the way he does. He essentially detests anything the slightest bit feminine, just because he doesn t want to be seen as his father was. Okonkwo viewed his father as a girlish loafer. Okonkwo did everything he could to escape that view. Luckily, in Ibo culture, a man s personal success is not based at all on that of his father s, as it was in many other early cultures.
In the Ibo society, men hold the position of power in the home and the community. The author illustrates this by showing how women of the society were expected to serve their husbands. In the Ibo society, each night the wives of the men prepare their portion of the food that is to be brought to their husbands by their children. Okonkwo was sitting on a goatskin already eating his first wife s meal He uncovered his second wife s dish and began to eat from it. Obiageli took the first dish and returned to her mother s hut. And then Nkechi came in, bringing the third dish. Nkechi was the daughter of Okonkwo s third wife. (p. 44-45) Within the family, the men were the providers. Although the women participated in some farming, the men were responsible for the principle crop, yams.
Although women in general are portrayed as weaker and less important than men, mothers have a special status in the culture. In the same way that being able produce good yam crops was a sign of one s manliness – a woman was defined by her ability to produce children, particularly sons. At the wedding of Obierika’s daughter, the father of the bride expresses this importance as he states, We are giving you our daughter today. She will be a good wife to you. She will bear you nine sons like the mother of our town. (p. 117) In the giving of the bride he feels it necessary to tell the suitor s family that their son will have many children. A woman s identity was tied closely to her children. Women were usually referred to in the book as the daughter of or the mother of, instead of being given a name. To produce a male child was much more favorable than giving birth to a daughter. The women in the culture who are looked down upon for not being able to produce many children feel the effect and feel the lack of respect that is given to them. Nwoye s mother celebrated the birth of her three sons with feasting and music. Ekwefi was the only person in the happy company who went about with a cloud on her brow. (p. 79) Ekwefi was only able to produce one child who was able to live past the age of three, so she feels ashamed for not being able to have the number of children needed to earn the respect of her people. As if it was not bad enough, her only living child was a daughter.
Additionally, a mother was valued for her nurturing abilities. It s true that a child belongs to it s father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. (p. 134) In the Ibo society, the mother is the person who brings comfort. She has great respect from her children because she knows them and they know that when they are in trouble with their father, they can turn to her for love. She also knows that when they are in trouble later in life they will come to her where she is buried, the motherland, to seek comfort from her family and community. The mother represented home, love, comfort and security.
The ultimate portrayal of this valuing of motherhood is shown in the respect the Ibo people have for Ani, the earth goddess. Ani is the mother of all life. She provides the Ibo people with yams, family, and children. She decides whether or not the rain will last the appropriate amount of time so that the yams with grow successfully or whether it will rain for a long time and destroy their crops. The earth and the land were an essential part of Ibo culture. Ani also has great power over both the men and the women of the Ibo society. The Ibo people show great respect for Ani during The Week of Peace by not doing any work and by not inflicting pain on anyone. If someone died during this week, they were placed in the Forest of the Evil because they had not respected Ani and therefore were evil. The punishment given to Okonkwo by the priest is that he has now sacrificed the whole towns well being, that Ani might destroy not only his family but also the town. The community was very displeased by Okonkwo s beating of his wife because they respected the mother of the earth greatly.
Despite the little respect given to women, the Ibo understand the importance of mothers. To gain respect as a woman in Ibo society, you had to be a mother. Whether you were a mother of children or the land, you were shown respect. Even the men of this society could not underestimate the greatness of women s power to create life. In the Ibo culture, women and men have many differences. It is important to understand the differences between them and not to alienate or mistreat the other group, as were women in this novel. Often it is easy to push strong views of prejudice upon the minority, or weaker group. Demonstrating this understanding is crucial to have a functional, non-prejudiced culture.