Summary and Analysis
Nwoye and Ikemefuna spend all their time together like brothers. In the evenings, they sit with Okonkwo in his hut and listen to his manly stories of violence and bloodshed. Nwoye still enjoys his mother's folk tales and legends, but he tries to impress Okonkwo by acting masculine by pretending to dislike the women's stories and by grumbling about women. Okonkwo is inwardly pleased as Nwoye grows more tough and manly, and he credits the change to Ikemefuna's good influence.
One day while Okonkwo and his sons are working on the walls of the compound, a great black cloud descends upon the town. The villagers are joyful because they recognize the coming of the locusts, a great delicacy in Umuofia. Everyone sets out to catch them for roasting, drying, and eating.
As Okonkwo, Nwoye, and Ikemefuna are happily eating the rare food, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man of the village, calls on Okonkwo to speak to him privately. He tells Okonkwo that the Oracle has decreed that Ikemefuna must be killed as part of the retribution for the woman killed three years before in Mbaino. He tells Okonkwo to take no part in the killing since the boy calls him "father."
Later, Okonkwo tells Ikemefuna that he is going home to Mbaino, but the boy does not believe him. When Nwoye hears that his friend is leaving, he bursts into tears and is beaten by his father.
Many men of Umuofia accompany Ikemefuna to the outskirts of the village and into the forest. With Okonkwo walking near him, Ikemefuna loses his fear and thinks about his family in Mbaino. Suddenly, Okonkwo drops to the rear of the group and Ikemefuna is afraid again. As the boy's back is turned, one of the men strikes the first blow with his machete. Ikemefuna cries out to Okonkwo, "My father, they have killed me!" and runs toward Okonkwo. Afraid to appear weak, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with his machete.
When Nwoye learns that Ikemefuna is dead, something changes within him. He recalls the feeling that he experienced one day when he heard a baby crying in the forest — a tragic reminder to him of the custom of leaving twins in the forest to die.
With the killing of Ikemefuna, Achebe creates a devastating scene that evokes compassion for the young man and foreshadows the fall of Okonkwo, again in the tradition of the tragic hero. Along the way, the author sets up several scenes that juxtapose with the death scene:
- The opening scene of the chapter shows the increasing affection and admiration Okonkwo feels for Ikemefuna, as well as for Nwoye.
- On the journey with Ikemefuna and the other men of Umuofia, they hear the "peaceful dance from a distant clan."
In Chapter 2, the author comments that the fate of Ikemefuna is a "sad story" that is "still told in Umuofia unto this day." This observation suggests that the decision to kill Ikemefuna was not a customary one. Before dying, Ikemefuna thinks of Okonkwo as his "real father" and of what he wants to tell his mother, especially about Okonkwo. These elements combined suggest that the murder of Ikemefuna is senseless, even if the killing is in accordance with the Oracle and village decisions.
The murder scene is a turning point in the novel. Okonkwo participates in the ceremony for sacrificing the boy after being strongly discouraged, and he delivers the death blow because he is "afraid of being thought weak." At a deep, emotional level, Okonkwo kills a boy who "could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father" — someone whom Okonkwo truly loves as a son. Okonkwo has not only outwardly disregarded his people and their traditions, but he has also disregarded his inner feelings of love and protectiveness. This deep abyss between Okonkwo's divided selves accounts for the beginning of his decline.
For the first time in the novel, Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, emerges as a major character who, in contrast to his father, questions the long-standing customs of the clan. Achebe begins to show the boy's conflicting emotions; he is torn between being a fiercely masculine and physically strong person to please his father and allowing himself to cherish values and feelings that Okonkwo considers feminine and weak.
eneke-nti-oba a bird that flies endlessly.
entrails the inner organs of humans or animals; specifically, the intestines; viscera; guts.
tie-tie a vine used like a rope; from Pidgin English to tie.
harbingers persons or things that come before to announce or give an indication of what follows; heralds.
pestle a tool, usually club-shaped, used to pound or grind substances in a mortar, or very hard bowl.
ozo a class of men holding an ozo title; it also refers to the ritual which accompanies the granting of a title to a person.
Eze elina, elina a favorite song of Ikemefuna's about how Danda the ant holds court and how the sand dances forever; it was introduced as a story at the end of Chapter 4.
twins two born at the same birth. Here, according to Igbo custom, twins are considered evil and must be placed in earthenware pots and left to die in the forest.