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Sexism and Language Use in African Written Expressions: The Case of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

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Qualitative research
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This study is based on the hypothesis that sexism in language use stays rampant in Chinua Achebe’s Things Full Apart. This research thus investigates or explores the different ways by which Achebe portrays sexism in his language use. To achieve this goal, the research was based on the Ambivalent Theory on sexism which is used to analyze the novel in this study.

In the course of this study, we found out that Chinua Achebe was merely portraying his patriarchal Igbo society as it was. It has thus been suggested by critics that Achebe, in portraying sexist practices in the tradition of his society was thus intended to satirize them. We, therefore, recommend that writers should thus avoid the use of “man” and other masculine pronouns like “he”, “his” and “him” as generic terms. Above all, writers should avoid portraying women in a negative manner, either as weak, inferior, or any other negative attributes.



 Background to the study

Sexism is the practice of discriminating against people because of their sex or gender.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary> defines sexism as “the unfair treatment of people, especially women because of their sex.”

Sexism has been a major issue affecting our society over the past years. Despite the fight against feminist inferiority, sexism still exists in all aspects of our culture. Historically, the “ Women’s Liberation Movement” in the late 1960s and the early 1970s seriously fought against sexism with the sole aim of uplifting the identity of women who were supposed to be given the same treatment as men.

Women in the past mostly played the role of housewives whose major pre-occupation was to take care of the household. They were considered powerless and subordinate to a man who was considered the center both in family and society at large. Surprisingly, even the English-speaking countries that hold the claim that “everyone is created equal” also discriminate against women. The existence of sexist language is due to sexism in society.

Sexism in literature can be depicted from the works of various writers such as Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (1982), Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899), The Concubine by Elechi Amadi (1966), The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta (1994) amongst others. But this study is limited to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958).

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic who has written several works exploiting his culture while staying true to its roots. Achebe has also been considered a sexist novelist in his depiction of women in many of his novels societal issues in Achebe’s novels deal with the appraisal of men with women playing limited and suppressed roles. This is true to Achebe’s most popular novel, Things Fall apart.

In this work, we shall be examining Chinua Achebe’s sexist portrayal of women in early Nigerian society. In order to examine various ways in which sexism can be wiped -out from the English language and the society at large, this study sets out remedies for others to follow. The findings of this work, it is hoped, will enhance my understanding of sexism as well as provide other learners and teachers with ideas to consider.

Definition of Terms

The American Traditional Dictionary defines sexism as “the discriminating of one sex group to another especially male to female to female.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines sexism as “the unfair treatment of people, especially women because of their sex.”

The word “dominate” as defined by the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary is “to control or have a lot of influence over somebody/something, especially in an unpleasant way.”

Sexism can simply be defined as the practice of discriminating against people because of their sex/gender. This concept is also similar to Racism (discriminating against people because of their race or skin color) and Ageism (discriminating against people because of their age).

Language is one of the major ways in which we convey meaning and influence thought and behavior. The passing of information from one individual to another is made possible by language.

Language use is therefore the style or manner in which an author uses language in order to pass across his message. Language use has to do with aspects like diction, grammar, vocabulary, and intonation.

African written expression simply put, is defined as the language used by an African writer to express his/her ideology.

Statement of the problem

Over the years, it has been noticed that sexism is dominant in written English from the works of many writers and more especially Achebe who is our focus. Written English they say plays a very important role in shaping the character and behavior of individuals and institutions in our society.

The problem of this study is therefore why sexism is being used as an ingredient to spice-up Achebe’s novel and the various ways in which it is being manifested.

Another problem that this study sets out to investigate is why women are being credited negatively in all aspects of society with very little or no role to play in it. My experience in reading those two novels greatly supports this view.

Research hypothesis

In order to properly investigate the issue of this study, the hypothetical or purpose statement is that sexism or gender discrimination stays rampant in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Aims or objectives of the study

This study has the following as its objectives:

  • This study aims at finding out the various instances in which sexism is being manifested in Achebe’s novel.
  • This study also sets out to investigate the reasons or factors responsible for Achebe’s sexist characteristics in Things Fall Apart.
  • To find out the reasons why women are being considered inferior, playing limited roles in society.
  • To explore the various forms of sexism in terms of words, expressions, names, quotes, and traditional norms in Achebe’s work.
  • In order to sensitize students on equity and the advantage of a society that is void of gender bias or sex inequality.
  • To fulfill one of the requirements for the award of a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts in U.B
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