Among the many factors that shape the age-old culture of Umuofia, some of the most unique are the defined roles of men and women. When the "white men," or missionaries, bring unfamiliar Christian beliefs and customs to the Ibo people, one of the significant differences is their view on gender roles. As they establish themselves and grow in size and popularity, the defined line between the roles of men and women is blurred, leading to the downfall of the Ibo culture. While at first glance Umuofia seems like an oppressive, male dominant society, the traditions and beliefs of the Ibo reveal that women too hold a sacred, valued place in society, respected in different ways. For centuries, Umuofia and its neighboring villages have valued men as the political and judicial leaders, protectors, farmers, and rulers of their households. "Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper." (p.13) Men possess the right to be aggressive at home, and if "unable to rule his women and children (and especially his women) he was not really a man." (p.53) Women assume the role of obedient, obsequious servants, doing everything in their ability to avoid a beating and please the father of the household, each wife following orders and preparing him a separate meal. In the Ibo culture, nearly all actions and tasks are given gender, from the yams being a "man's crop," (p.23), to Okonkwo telling his daughter to "Sit like a woman!" (p.44), and refusing her offer to bring him a chair because it's a "boy's job."(p.44) Even crimes are categorized into "two kinds, male and female," (p.124) the female crimes being of less significance.
While this distinct way of life seems uncivilized to the modern reader, the balance works for the men and women of Umuofia. Although women are beaten and ordered around, they are also valued as mother figures who raise the children, teaching them lessons and morals, and caring for them when they are sick.