Gender Roles in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:03 Gender Roles
  • 0:45 Women's Roles in Daily Life
  • 1:52 Men's Roles in Daily Life
  • 2:42 Inheritance
  • 4:03 Marriage
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

The African clan of Umuofia described by Chinua Achebe in ''Things Fall Apart'' is highly differentiated by gender. In this lesson, you'll learn about the different roles men and women serve in the novel.

Gender Roles

Think about the different jobs you see people do every day. Can you think of any that women do but men do not, or vice versa? It's probably pretty difficult, if you can think of any at all. Our society is not strictly differentiated by gender. There are not really any aspects of society in which men or women are not allowed to participate. In some societies, though, this is not the case. We see very strict gender roles, or functions and social positions performed and held specifically and only by one of the two sexes, in the Umuofian society of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Women's Roles in Daily Life

In Umuofian society, there are certain tasks designated to women that men simply don't do. One of these is dinner. Women are expected to provide dinner for their husbands and children, usually at a certain time. When a man has multiple wives, each of them brings him part of his meal and provides dinner for her own children. When this expectation is not fulfilled, it creates tension in the novel.

We see an example of this with Okonkwo's youngest wife, Ojiugo. She goes to a neighbor's hut to get her hair plaited and does not come back in time for dinner. One of the other wives has to feed Ojiugo's children without being asked, and Okonkwo notices her absence when he waits for his dinner and she does not show.

Okonkwo is so angry when Ojiugo returns that he beats her even though it is the Week of Peace, when any fighting or punishment is forbidden. As a result, he has to make sacrifices and offerings to the Earth Goddess, whom he offended by breaking the sacred peace. Here is a clear example of tension caused when a gender role isn't filled as expected.

Men's Roles in Daily Life

The men also have set roles in everyday life. They are in charge of village laws, making sure rules are followed and determining appropriate punishment. The exception is when punishment is ordered by the Earth God. His commands come through his Oracle, Chielo, who is a woman.

Men are expected to be protectors and providers. If there is war or conflict, they're expected to fight. They are also expected to provide for their families. If a man's farm fails, and he can't provide for his family or must borrow from neighbors, he is seen as less than a man. This brings tension in the novel between Okonkwo and his father. His father is in debt and is a notorious coward, which makes Okonkwo, a very manly man who strictly adheres to gender roles, angry and frustrated.


In Umuofian society, it is sons who inherit from their fathers and help them in their work. Daughters cannot inherit and typically don't help their fathers the way a son would. Here again, we see gender roles creating tension in Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo's daughter Ezinma is his favorite child. She knows him best and they get along better than any of the other children. Yet she cannot inherit, and even though she wants to help him, he won't let her do any of the things boys are supposed to do, because of his rigid adherence to gender roles. Okonkwo regularly laments the fact that Ezinma was not born a boy, because he wants her to be able to inherit and help him the way a son would.

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