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Discuss the representation of family in Things Fall

Apart and A Dolls House

The novel, Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe depicts the
culture and values of Igbo society and set in the pre- and post-
colonial time period of late nineteenth century Nigeria. The play, A
Dolls House, is written (originally in Norwegian) by Henrik Ibsen,
and set in late 1800s Norway. Both texts explore family issues and
structure, characterised by the social contexts, and reflecting the
values and expectations of the period and place in which the texts
are each set. Achebe and Ibsen essentially explore the
disintegration of family life through the principal male characters
mistreatment of, Nora from A Dolls House, and Nwoye from
Things Fall Apart. Hence, it can be said that both Achebe and Ibsen
are challenging the gender inequality and conformist attitudes
dominant in late-19th century Norway and Igbo culture, through the
representation of struggle and suffering inflicted, as a result, upon
the families in each text.

It could be said that in A Dolls House the strength of a family is

centralized and built upon wealth and societal status. Throughout
the play, Noras family is shown to be more of an isolated individual
entity, as opposed to a family connected to the surrounding
community. with the supposed head of the family, Torvald,
appearing to display selfish characteristics towards the end of the
play, where he exclaims, Nora, I am saved! disregarding anyone
elses wellbeing in his family until Nora reminds him of her familial
presence with the question And I? This perhaps signifies his slightly
superficial view of family viewing his wife to be an object of
admiration, who contributes towards his overall societal image, and
having minimal contact to his children. In contrast, Achebe presents
the idea of family in Things Fall Apart to have a larger and inclusive
meaning, for instance, when a young girl of the village had been
killed at a market in Mbaino she is referred to as a daughter of
Umuofia. Here the narrative voice indicates the whole of Umuofia to
be as one family, reflecting the strong sense of community found
in Igbo culture.
Though to an extent, Okonkwo can be seen to act on self-serving
motives to fulfill his aspirations in gaining more power, his
motivations for work can generally be seen to link back to the
wellbeing of his family
Both Achebes and Ibsens use of foreshadowing in the novel and
play re seen to hint towards the downfall and disintegration of
family life. In A Dolls House, the opening word of the play, hide,
hints towards to the lies and deceit revealed later throughout the
novel, and furthermore ultimately leads to the plays climax where
the family falls apart. In the same way, when Okonkwos passion to
hate everything his father had loved such as gentleness and
idleness, is revealed early on in the novel, this could be seen as a
foreshadow to later events and also to increase the readers
understanding of his actions. In addition to this, beating his wife
during peace week exposes the audience to his stern attitude,
revealing his character flaw and indicating that this is what is
responsible for the undoing of their family.

Symbols in A Dolls House can also be found to reflect the status of

the family tension, anticipating the conflict that is to ensue. Later on
in the play, the appearance of the Christmas tree prop transitions
from being decorated in anticipation for Christmas day to at the
beginning of Act Two, where the stage directions tell us The
Christmas Tree is [] stripped of its ornaments and with burnt-down
candle-ends on its disheveled branches, perhaps symbolically
reflecting the disheveled state of family life as a result of Noras
deceit and Torvalds artificial love for his family. The perception of
family life can also be shown through the perception of other
characters in the play and novel; in Things Fall Apart Okonkwo is
often compared to fire symbolizing his boundless potency and
masculinity, even having the nickname of the Roaring Flame.
However on realizing his complete disappointment in his son Nwoye,
Okonkwo has the realization that Living fire begets cold, impotent
ash, which ironically indicates his own power to be what creates
conflicts and destruction of those in his family, namely Nwoye and

The ways in which Achebe and Ibsen depict the structure of family
both appear to place men as the most important dominant figure in
the household, with women holding a much more restricted and
inferior position. In the opening scene of A Dolls House the stage
directions show Nora to tiptoe to her husbands door and listen[s],
perhaps indicating that she is not permitted to enter this area of the
house as it is seen as a masculine workplace, with no place for a
woman. Furthermore, later in this scene Torvald is seen to take her
playfully by the ear, perhaps to clearly indicate to the audience
that he holds the power in their family. In the same way, in Igbo
culture, within the compound in which each family resides, the
restriction of women from entering the Obi, where the husband
lives and sleeps, indicates the confining position of women, where
they hold a lower status than the male sons of the family. While in A
Dolls House verbal abuse is more prevalent, Achebe presents
Okonkwo to use physical violence towards his family to maintain
control and exhibit his power within his family and community.

Overall, it could be said that the depiction of family in the play and
the book reflect the values and expectations of the context of
production in which the texts are each set. The inferior position of
women within the family are explicitly presented in Things Fall
Apart, as Achebe normalizes the unequal gender roles to be an
aspect of the society along with the extremist masculine qualities
Okonkwo inflicts upon his family, presenting him as a product of his
society. In the same way, the significant androcentric qualities of
1879 Norweigen society are embodied in Torvalds character along
with the structure of his family. Hence, from this it could be implied
that Ibsen and Achebe criticize the societal values and norms,
holding them responsible for familial collapse.

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