Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 13

Summary

In the dead of night, the sound of a drum and a cannon announce the death of Ezeudu, an important man in the village. Okonkwo shivers when he remembers that Ezeudu had warned him against playing a part in the killing of Ikemefuna.

Everyone in the village gathers for the funeral ceremony of a warrior who had achieved three titles in his lifetime, a rare accomplishment. During the ceremony, men dance, fire off guns, and dash about in a frenzy of wailing for the loss of Ezeudu. Periodically, the egwugwu spirits appear from the underworld, including a one-handed spirit who dances and brings a message for the dead Ezeudu. Before the burial, the dancing, drumming, and gunshots become increasingly intense.

Suddenly an agonized cry and shouts of horror are followed by silence. Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son is found dead in a pool of blood in the midst of the crowd. When Okonkwo fired his gun, it exploded and a piece of iron pierced the boy's heart. In the history of Umuofia, such an accident has never occurred.

Okonkwo's accidental killing of a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, and he knows that he and his family must leave Umuofia for seven years. As his wives and children cry bitterly, they hurriedly pack their most valuable belongings into head loads to be carried as they prepare to flee before morning to Mbanta, the village of his mother. Friends move Okonkwo's yams to Obierika's compound for storage.

After the family's departure the next morning, a group of village men, carrying out the traditional justice prescribed by the earth goddess, invade Okonkwo's compound and destroy his barn, houses, and animals. Okonkwo's friend Obierika mourns his departure and wonders why Okonkwo should be punished so severely for an accident. Again, Obierika ponders the old traditions, remembering his own twin children who were abandoned in the forest because of tribal tradition.

Analysis

In the literary tradition of the tragic hero, Okonkwo's undoing continues with his accidental killing of Ezeudu's son. Early in the chapter, Achebe foreshadows the event with Okonkwo's memory of Ezeudu's warning about not killing Ikemefuna. The author builds dramatic tension by describing an increasingly frenzied scene of dancing, leaping, shouting, drumming, and the firing of guns, as well as the frightening appearance of the egwugwu. The action climaxes with an explosion of gunfire and then comes to a stop with the phrase "All was silent." Achebe emphasizes the gravity of Okonkwo's crime by saying that in Umuofia "nothing like this had ever happened."

As in Chapter 8, Obierika quietly questions clan traditions — this time, the tradition demanding that Okonkwo be banished for seven years because of an accidental killing. He also questions the tribal abandonment of twins, remembering his own innocent children left to die in the forest.

The chapter includes several intimations of impending doom for the clan and its traditions. Achebe ends the chapter dramatically with the proverb, "If one finger brought oil, it soiled the others," suggesting that Okonkwo's crime may lead to the ultimate downfall of Umuofia itself.

Glossary

Go-di-di-go-go-di-go. Di-go-go-di-go the sound of drumbeats on the ekwe, or drums.

esoteric intended for or understood by only a chosen few, as an inner group of disciples or initiates (said of ideas, literature, and so).

raffia 1) a palm tree of Madagascar, with large, pinnate leaves. 2) fiber from its leaves, used as string or woven into baskets, hats, and so on.

Mbanta The name means small town and is where Okonkwo's mother comes from, his motherland, beyond the borders of Mbaino (Ikemefuna's original home).

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