My 9th graders and I spent the last months of the 2017-2018 school year studying two texts: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. They found the latter shocking, unpleasant and to put it in their word, ‘disgusting.’ If you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, you’d understand why. But I’m particularly glad that the text gave me the opportunity to talk to them and hear their thoughts on issues as sexual assault and the sometimes thin line between rape and consent.

This post though is about the essays I assigned them to write on any topic that piques their interest in Things Fall Apart. Entering their grades tonight, I’m impressed by a student’s paper and so I’m sharing some excerpts here:

‘The role of women in the society has changed remarkably over the course of the years. Today, women around the world are allowed to vote, and even be eligible to be president. However, this was not the case in precolonial Africa as depicted by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart . In those times women were not allowed to work or go out of their homes, they were to stay at home and take care of the children. Men considered it an insult when they were called women. But no one seemed to recall that even though women were of no importance to men, there would be no Umuofia without them…

In Eastern Nigerian precolonial times, it was considered an insult to be called a woman. Because of their vulnerability and patience, people tended to see women as weak: the mentality was that “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man.” The men in Things Fall Apart also liked to exert their power over women through physical violence. Even for the smallest of things, women would get abused,“Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping”. It was almost a culture for men to use assault to show their control over women…

There are many instances of subjugation of women in the course of the text. Chinua Achebe provides a contrast to this, by showcasing the role of the high priestess, goddess and mothers in the story. Achebe wants the readers to realize the culture of the precolonial Igbo tribes and how significant or insignificant women were to the tribes and the story.’

I’m so proud to see how far she’s come from providing bullet points as paragraphs and writing in monotonous simple sentences to producing the excerpt above. A list of words/phrases/writing style she confessed to learning from me:

  1. Subjugation
  2. ‘…provides a contrast to…’
  3. Blending in quotes from a text into your own writing.
  4. The use of colons.

I’m so proud and I hope she keeps at it.

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