The village of Umuofia prepares for the Feast of the New Yam, which takes place just before the harvest. All yams left over from the old year must be thrown away, and everything used in preparing, cooking, and serving yams must be thoroughly washed before being used for the new crop. Relatives and other guests are invited from afar for the feast; Okonkwo invites his wives' relatives. While everyone else seems enthusiastic about the coming festival, Okonkwo knows that he will grow tired of celebrating the festival for days; he would rather tend to his farm.
Near the end of the preparations, Okonkwo's suppressed anger and resentment about the feast explodes when he thinks someone has killed one of his banana trees. However, leaves have merely been cut off from the tree to wrap food. When his second wife, Ekwefi, admits to taking the leaves, Okonkwo beats her severely to release his pent-up anger. Then he sends for his rusty gun to go hunting — Okonkwo is not a hunter nor is he skilled with a gun. When Ekwefi mumbles about "guns that never shot," he grabs his gun, aims it at her, and pulls the trigger. Although it goes off, she is not injured. Okonkwo sighs and walks away with the gun.
Despite Okonkwo's outbursts, the festival is celebrated with great joy, even in his household and by Ekwefi after her beating and near shooting. Like most people of the village, she looks forward to the second day of the feast and its great wrestling matches between men of the village and men of neighboring villages. This contest is the same kind in which Okonkwo, years earlier, not only won the wrestling match but also won Ekwefi's heart.
Okonkwo's wives and daughters excitedly prepare the yams for the feast in anticipation of the contest. As his evening meal is served by daughters of each of his wives, Okonkwo acknowledges to himself how especially fond he is of his daughter Ezinma. As if to offset his soft feelings, however, he scolds her twice while she sits waiting for him to eat.
Chapter 4 repeatedly illustrates Okonkwo's volatility — his readiness to explode into violence at slight provocations. His feelings often differ from what he says or does. Although the people of the village respect him and his accomplishments, he does not quite fit in with his peers, some of whom disagree with his treatment of less successful men.
Okonkwo does not even enjoy the leisurely ceremonial feast as others do. His impatience with the festivities is so great that he erupts. He falsely accuses one of his wives, beats her, and then makes an apparent attempt to shoot her. Further evidence of his violent nature is revealed when he moves his feet in response to the drums of the wrestling dance and trembles "with the desire to conquer and subdue . . . like the desire for a woman." Okonkwo's need to express anger through violence is clearly a fatal flaw in his character. His stubborn and often irrational behavior is beginning to set him apart from the rest of the village.
In contrast, Okonkwo exhibits feelings of love and affection — his first encounter with Ekwefi and his fondness for Ezinma, his daughter. However, Okonkwo considers such emotions signs of weakness that betray his manliness, so he hides his feelings and acts harshly to conceal them.
The amount of detail included about the Feast of the New Yam, just before the annual harvest, underscores how closely the life of the community relates to the production of its food. The description of household preparations for the festival reveals two significant issues about Igbo culture:
- The roles of women and daughters to keep the household running smoothly and to prepare for special occasions even though they can hold positions of leadership in the village.
- The insignificant impact a wife beating and a near shooting have on family life, as if violence is an acceptable part of day-to-day life in the household.
For the first time in the story, Achebe mentions guns. Because of an outgrowth of Igbo trade with the rest of the world, Western technology actually arrived in the village before the Westerners did. Umuofia was not a completely isolated community.
calabash the dried, hollow shell of a gourd, used as a bowl, cup, and so on.
yam foo-foo pounded and mashed yam pulp.
cam wood a dye from a West African redwood tree that is used by women to redden their skins before decorating themselves with other patterns for special occasions.
bride-price in some cultures, money and property given to a prospective bride's family by the prospective groom and his family.
Ezinma Ekwefi and Okonkwo's daughter; meaning true beauty. She is also called Nma and Ezigbo, which mean the good one (child).
ilo the village gathering place and playing field; an area for large celebrations and special events.
making inyanga flaunting or showing off.