One night, as Okonkwo is settling on his bed, he hears the beat of a drum and the voice of the town crier. The messenger summons every man in Umuofia to gather at the marketplace the next morning. Okonkwo wonders whether the emergency concerns war with a neighboring clan. War does not frighten Okonkwo, because he knows that it frightened his cowardly father. In Umuofia's most recent war, for example, Okonkwo brought home his fifth human head.
The next morning, Okonkwo joins the men in the marketplace to hear the important message. A powerful orator shouts a welcome to them by greeting them in all four directions while punching his clenched fist into the air; the assembled men shout in response. After silence returns, he angrily tells the crowd that a Umuofian woman has been killed in Mbaino while she was attending the market. The outraged crowd finally agrees that Umuofia should follow its usual course of action: Give Mbaino a choice of either going to war with Umuofia or offering Umuofia a young man and a young virgin as compensation for the death of the Umuofian woman.
Umuofian's power in war and magic is feared by its neighbors, who know that Umuofia will not go to war without first trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement and seeking the acceptance of war by its Oracle. Everyone knows that a war with Mbaino would be a just war, so the clan sends Okonkwo as their emissary to negotiate with Mbaino; he returns two days later with a young man and a virgin offered by Mbaino.
The elders of Umuofia decide that the girl should live with the man whose wife was killed and that the young man, named Ikemefuna, belongs to the clan as a whole. They ask Okonkwo to take fourteen-year-old Ikemefuna into his home while the clan decides what to do with him. Okonkwo then gives the care of Ikemefuna to his senior wife, the mother of Nwoye, his oldest son, who is twelve. Ikemefuna is quite frightened, especially because he does not understand what has happened or why he is in Umuofia, separated from his family. The elders decide that the teenage boy will live in Okonkwo's household for three years.
Because Okonkwo is continually afraid that someone may consider him weak, he rules his household with a stern hand and a fierce voice, causing everyone to fear his explosive temper. When he was a child, a playmate called his father agbala, which means woman and also a man who has taken no title. Okonkwo learned to hate everything his father loved, including gentleness as well as idleness. He also sees signs of laziness in his son Nwoye. To purge himself of the reminder of his father, Okonkwo nags and beats Nwoye daily.
In his family compound, Okonkwo lives in a hut of his own, and each of his three wives lives in a hut of her own with her children. The prosperous compound also includes an enclosure with stacks of yams, sheds for goats and hens, and a medicine house, where Okonkwo keeps the symbols of his personal god and ancestral spirits and where he offers prayers for himself and his family. He works long hours on his farms and expects others to do the same. Although the members of his family do not possess his strength, they work without complaint.
In Chapter 2, the reader begins to see beliefs and practices of the Igbo tradition that are particularly significant in the story — for example, the wide division between masculine and feminine actions and responsibilities. Respect and success are based on only manly activities and accomplishments; taking care of children and hens, on the other hand, are womanly activities.
In Okonkwo's determination to be a perfect example of manhood, he begins to reveal the consequences of his fear of weakness — his tragic flaw. Okonkwo hates not only idleness but also gentleness; he demands that his family works as long as he does (without regarding their lesser physical stamina), and he nags and beats his oldest son, Nwoye.
Achebe continues weaving traditional elements of Igbo society into Chapter 2. The marketplace gathering illustrates the Igbo society's reverence for what is "manly" — for example, the male villagers' loyalty to each other when they refer to the woman murdered by another village as "a daughter of Umuofia." This scene also illustrates the ceremonial nature of town meetings, as the speaker shouts the customary greeting to the crowd while turning in four different directions. In addition, the reader learns that Umuofian religious traditions include the worship of wooden objects representing not only one's personal god but also the ancestral spirits to whom one prays and makes sacrifices.
Achebe continues to use the art of traditional storytelling and references to legends and sayings of the time to illustrate what people believe and respect. For example:
- Okonkwo remembers from childhood when his father was called a woman.
- The proverb, "When the moon is shining, the cripple becomes hungry for a walk," represents a belief in the protective quality of moonlight in contrast with the fear of the darkness.
- The legend of the old woman with one leg explains, in part, why the other clans fear Umuofia.
Ogbuefi a person with a high title, as in Ogbuefi Ezeugo (the orator) and Ogbuefi Udo (the man whose wife was killed in Mbaino).
Ezeugo the name for a person of high religious significance, such as an Igbo priest.
about ten thousand men The nine villages of Umuofia unlikely have as many as ten thousand men. This saying probably means every man of the community — an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration not intended to be taken literally.
Umuofia kwenu a shout of approval and greeting that means United Umuofia!
agadi-nwayi an old woman.
Oracle the place where, or medium by which, the deities are consulted; here, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves.
a just war Societies throughout history have rationalized certain wars as justified for religious or cultural reasons. For example, in the fifth century, St. Augustine of the early Christian church wrote extensively about the just war; the Crusades of the late Middle Ages were initiated as holy wars; and today's Muslim word jihad means holy war.
emissary a person or agent sent on a specific mission.
obi a hut within a compound.
compound an enclosed space with a building or group of buildings within it.