Gender Classification in Things Fall Apart, the Tempest, Waiting for the Barbarians, and This Earth of Mankind
The society has reached a turning point in its era, wherein people have established classification and its two strict ideals, being man or woman. This concept is heavily dictated by societal perceptions and furthered by the imposed principles that are strictly bounded. But albeit its forceful in nature, there is a certain kind of beauty that is delivered through the greatness of literature, and its candid ability of exposing and re-examining notions perpetrated throughout time and then, discerning what course of action is required in diminishing the confinements and restrictions of the matter produces the important concept of gender equality. The portrayal of man and woman and their positions in society in Things Fall Apart, The Tempest, Waiting for the Barbarians and This Earth of Mankind, indicates how powerful gender classification is and how its rampant standards evident in literature serves as a mirror of borders and constraints to the world’s reality.
The concept of classification is not modernistic in anyway; in fact, it originates from the olden days. Dating back to the prehistoric times, the biological makeup of a man and woman is primarily responsible for setting the standards that we are inflicted with in this age. As a man’s body frame is bigger and stronger, the task of hunting and navigating through the wild was placed upon them and the women, with less muscle mass, received the task of picking plants and cooking once the men were through with their kill. The job placements that were exhibited before, was a result of the environment that the people lived in, where technology was underdeveloped and the economy and government were not as progressive as today. But through evolution and continual progress, the present society is not only equipped with state of the art technology, and on a more organic perspective, the strenuous process of attaining food, which was the initial reason for men being deemed stronger, is an activity that now requires little to almost no physical strength. However, the progression of a more modernistic approach on gender classification did not concur with the development of technology, economy, and administration. The society still exists within the bounds of prehistoric attributes and the ideas of the past formed out of necessity, are ideas that are not dispelled until today. And the probing matters is a consequence of the regulations the society dictate, severely outdated, and yet nevertheless, allow men and women to continue existing as victims of obsolete ideology.
Immediately, the differences between men and women are presented in the play The Tempest and the novel This Earth of Mankind as the concept of a diminished responsibility becomes exceedingly apparent in both sexes. Men are presumed to do work that are more physically engaging and women are not driven participate in strenuous activities. Therefore, men are reduced to performing tasks related to manual labor and women to less rigorous duties. An example of this would be in The Tempest with Ferdinand who, had been working rigorously in his attempt of gaining Prospero’s approval in courting Miranda, carries on transporting heavy logs with his statement: “No precious creature. I had rather crack my sinews, break my back, that you should such dishonor undergo while I sit lazy by.” (3.1.25-29). His assertion in this endeavor, is seen as a consequence of how restricted responsibilities are brought out to the surface due to a preconceived ideology of men preforming better in physical activities. Coetzee advances this as his character, the Magistrate, treats the barbarian girl with utmost care, which is of stark contrast to his treatment of the other barbarians he saw previously:
I help her off with the coat, seat her on the stool, pour the water into the basin, and begin to wash her feet… I was slowly, working up a lather, gripping her firm-fleshed calves, manipulating the bones and tendons of her feet, running my fingers between her toes. I change my position to kneel not in front of her but beside her, so that holding a leg between elbow and side, I can caress the foot with both hands. (28)
A matter most evident in The Tempest and This Earth of Mankind, is the incomprehensible double standard which dictates women to be virgins. Miranda, in her discussion as regards to marriage with Ferdinand says, “Hence, bashful cunning, and prompt me plain and holy innocence! I am your wife if you will marry me. If not, I’ll die your maid.” (3.2.83-85). Likewise, Ferdinand, upon laying his eyes on Miranda reveals, “Oh if a virgin, and your affection not gone forth, I’ll make you the queen of Naples.” (1.2.51-53) These lines exacerbate the notion that there appears to be a barrier that is held demeaning for women but considered “manly” when crossed by men. Other examples would be, Nyai, Annelies’ unwed mother, albeit successful, she is the subject of many rumors and gossip painting her to be brazen and improper, and Minke’s mother who remains overly cautious in dealing with her husband as to refrain his aggravation. Both constantly tread on thin ice and are additionally mindful with the opposite sex as to not be labeled with derogatory terms that would undermine their value in society. Clearly, the depiction of respected women and the unjust treatment they receive in 1610’s The Tempest does not deviate far from 1980’s This Earth of Mankind.
Linking words that could only be used by a particular sex further broadens the disparity between genders. With the association of words such as “womanish and womanly,” to women and “manly and mighty” to men, the division from opposite sexes becomes more obvious. And, it is important to take into account that not only are these words used in the description of physical traits and biological makeup but through the evolution of language, being called a woman or a man as of present, could be delivered and considered as either a jab or an insult depending on its usage. “If any one of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse him. If you turn against me when I’m dead, I will visit you and break your neck.” (Achebe, 172) Nevertheless, this passage serves as a mirror of reality on how stepping outside the inflexible categories that people are placed in, not only is deemed wrong but is also attacked with animosity and contempt. In the construction of gender classifications, the young are not spared from the constricting platforms, and the expectation that they must abide is more penetrating as these years are considered to be formative. Therefore, constant reinforcement is exercised and the manner of disciplining employed is more severe.
“Inwardly, Okonkwo knew that the boys were still too young to understand fully the difficult art of preparing seed-yams. But he thought that one could not begin too early. “(Achebe, 33). Initially, Okonkwo sees that forcing the boys to master the yam preparation is not suited for their age but a protuberant force propels him into thinking that “learning how to be man” outweighs the fact that he is eliminating his children’s’ privilege of self-expression and individuality early in their years, and that force, is brought upon by the reoccurring ideology that the absence of being “able” automatically connotes the manifestation of being “weak”.With the example being Miranda from The Tempest who, is believed to be 15 years of age, this idea does not only hold true for boys but also for young girls. Miranda weeps, “Alack, for pity! I, not remembering how I cried out then, will cry it o’er again. It is a hint that wrings mine eyes to ‘t.” (1.2.122-135) And later on tearfully speaks, “Oh my heart bleeds to think o’th’een that I have turned you to, which is from my remembrance! Please you, father.” (1.2.63-65). Herein lies a sense of acceptance regarding a young girl’s penchant for drama and tears, more so in which pleading and weeping appears to be taken as ordinary especially, for a girl of merely 15. This is where the problem of gender classification in young people rests, with a boy chastised for not being “strong” enough and with a girl’s cries overlooked and considered normal. By enforcing a severe standard, as the young grow into more functional citizens, imbued deep within them is the strong belief that a man who acts “manly” would be a man who is great and a woman who performs “womanly” would be a woman better respected in the society.
Coetzee writes, “Through wraiths of steam, I see a body seated and preparing food. I concluded it is the kitchen girl.” (46) Despite the conscious efforts of postcolonial and colonial literature, stereotyping is still not fully obliterated. What is most astounding is the casual tone in this statement, as if it were a comment meant to be taken in stride. But with a careful examination, it is quite apparent that the Magistrate hastily presumes that a person in the kitchen preparing food is and, in his generalization, a girl. In support to the claim on stereotyping, in Things Fall Apart, Achebe writes as the character Okonkwo, “…and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed. Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer and a great man.” (33) This implies that roles of men and women assigned by society allow the stereotypes already present to become more definite. Recounting history, women of lower ranks were more often than not, placed to be servants and maids whilst men, regardless of their status, given that they are capable of providing for their family, were venerated and idolized.
As if the inequality between the male and female societal roles and the attached representations in literature were not enough, peculiarly, featured in the Things Fall Apart, This Earth of Mankind, The Tempest and Waiting for the Barbarians as the mighty, and tasked to be in command, are men. In Prospero’s conversation with Miranda he silences her by giving emphasis to her limited knowledge regarding other worldly matters such as the appearance of a man beyond the confines of the island. This is seen as his method of reestablishing his power and he does so by reinforcing the fact that Miranda, in the context of the play, is unlearned, and he deliberately undermines her intellect in order to prove superior. The Magistrate then commands his subordinate: “I call the guard in, ‘Get these men to clean themselves, and hurry.’” (Coetzee, 2) and more so, his authority is ascertained in the context of the old man speaking about his sister’s son:
“Excellency,” he says. His voice croaks; he clears his throat.
“Excellency, we know nothing about thieving. The soldiers stopped us and tied us up. For nothing. We were on the road, coming here to see the doctor. This is my sister’s boy. He has a sore that does not get better. We are not thieves. Show the excellencies your sore.” (Coetzee, 5)
The masculine figures in these texts impose authority, but also in deeper aspects, foster fear and uncertainty from the people belonging in lower ranks. The lines, “No pray thee. I must obey. His art is of such power, it would control my dam’s god, Setebos, and make a vessel of him.” (1.2.374-376) /“It was torment did make wolves howl and penetrate the beasts to lay upon the damned, which Sycorax could not again undo. It was mine art, when I arrived and heard thee that made gape the pine and let thee out,” (1.2.290-295) spoken by this spirit Ariel and Prospero, respectively, gives support to men being considered to be the supreme, and in consequence, generates a fearful response that becomes hardwired in people portrayed to be less significant. This is typified in the figures (the Magistrate and Prospero) with their powers, may it be fantastical or literal in nature, seen as absolute and in a sense unbounded, which can then be contrasted to god like attributes.
Gender classification does not only bring forth ideas that divide people but also prevents self-expression and emotional growth for the reason that it binds people in a single framework which is, being man or woman and purposely derides concepts that deviate from its objectives. Gender classification is not a concept of the new era; it is an under-developed principle that continues to control men and women’s choices in responsibilities. It serves as the basis for double standards and further division of both sexes. It allowed language to be restricted to a certain identity that also affects the youth. Moreover, it established a convoluted idea of what authority entails and how it should be conceded to appear. Humanity sanctions the depiction of man and woman with an archaic framework that exists only to belittle and demean. And proven in literature, it is imperative for the new millennial to break free from the reality where straps and constrictions have become a norm as we require a society that looks onwards and forwards in unceasing movement.
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