Exploring the Tension and Issues of Gender Identity in Things Fall Apart

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SWBAT examine how the structure of the text creates tension by analyzing the purpose of Okonkwo's exile and his inability to understand the feminine .

Big Idea

Okonkwo's exile is a matter of feminine identity. Or is it? Crime and punishment as seen through the masculine and feminine in Things Fall Apart.

Let's Get Started: Defining Masculine and Feminine in TFA

15 minutes

As the students sit down, I ask them to write their definition of the words "masculine" and "feminine" on a scrap sheet of paper.  I expect them to base their definitions on our American ideas about the words. 

Next I ask for volunteers to share their definitions.  I expect to get answers related to gender and identity.  Masculine refers to things that are man-ish and feminine refers to female attributes.  Since Tucson High has a couple of transgendered students, I may get some comments or questions connected to gender identity.  

After the brief discussion, I put this quote on the smartboard: "It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land.  The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent."

After giving the students a few seconds to think about the quote, I ask, "How does the Igbo culture define 'masculine' and 'feminine'?"

I expect to get answers based on earlier discussions about defined gender roles, but also answers that explore the idea of everything being either masculine or feminine. 

Then I pose the question, "How does the most masculine person in Umuofia committing a feminine crime create tension in the plot of Things Fall Apart (RL.9-10.5)?  At this point, answers will be somewhat generic.  Someone will bring up irony. I am looking for someone to bring up exile and Okonkwo's return to his mother's village.  Okonkwo will have to face his mother's heritage and the village of Umuofia will have to survive without Okonkwo's masculinity.  It is a plot twist.

Building Knowledge: Crafting Evidence Based Presentations

45 minutes

Now that I've captured their attention, I ask students to get out their homework, questions on chapter 11 to 13, and we look closer at the events that lead to Okonkwo's exile.   Each of the 12 questions deals with an event in the chapter.  Without seeking an answer to the question, I read each question and ask the class if the event/actions are masculine or feminine. In TFA, certain community responsibilities, behaviors, and crimes are classified as either masculine or feminine. Let's see if the students can distinguish the difference.  I also combine related questions. 

1. What did Chielo want with Ezinma?

2. What did Ekwefi do?  

3. What did Okonkwo do when Chielo took Ezinma?

Questions 1, 2, and 3 are about feminine issues and how Okonkwo handles these issues. 

4. What was the purpose of the uri ceremony?

5. What was the significance in the amount of wine the family brought?

6. What happened at the end of the ceremony?

I hope that the is somewhat divided on 4, 5, and 6. These questions deal with marriage, but it is the men who make all the choices for the women.  

7. Describe Ezeudu’s funeral.

8. How did the author describe a man’s life? How does this description connect to Achebe’s motivations for writing.

They will probably go with masculine--a man's funeral. 

9. What happened during the frenzy?

10. What was the result of Okonkwo’s action?

11. What was the reason for the clan’s actions against Okonkwo?

The book defines this as a feminine crime. 

12. What did Obierika think about after this calamity, and what was his conclusion?

Question 12 is neutral because it asks about one character's conclusion. 

Now that we have identified masculine and feminine, I chunk the homework into five sections (see above) which allows me to put the students in five groups. Each group is responsible for answering the questions for the class. They must use evidence to support their response (RL 9-10 1) and finally they have to make a prediction about what will happen to Okonkwo in his Mother's village and what will happen in Umuofia (SL 9-10. 1a).

I give them the option of creating a visual aid, but it is not required. 




Applying Knowledge: Gallery Walk with Docent

25 minutes

Instead of having each group get up and present, we are going to use a gallery walk with a docent at each table. A docent is an expert of that particular piece in museum.  Our docents are experts on their presentations. One person from each group volunteers to be the docent.  The other members of the group walk around to listen to the docent answer the questions with text-dependent evidence, and state the prediction on what could happen to Okonkwo (SL 9-10 4).

Groups have to discuss the uri ceremonyObierika's reaction to this calamity, and make a prediction about Okonkwo. 

 Once the group has returned to their original table their share their notes with the docent.  

Wrap Up: Lingering Questions and Homework

5 minutes

As the presentations draw to a close, I ask if there are any unanswered questions.  If so, since we have a student-centered classroom where, in this case, the students are experts, I encourage the students to  answer them.  

Then I remind them that they need to read and answer the questions for chapters 14 to 19 for homework tonight.