Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 8

Summary

For two days after Ikemefuna's death, Okonkwo cannot eat or sleep; his thoughts return again and again to the boy who was like a son to him. On the third day, when his favorite daughter Ezinma brings him the food he finally requested, he wishes to himself that she was a boy. He wonders with disgust how a man with his battle record can react like a woman over the death of a boy.

Okonkwo visits his friend Obierika, hoping to escape thoughts of Ikemefuna. He praises Obierika's son Maduka for his victory in the wrestling match and complains about his own son's wrestling skills and mentally likens him to his own weak father, Unoka. To counter these thoughts with a manly deed of his own, Okonkwo asks his friend why he didn't join the other men in the sacrifice of Ikemefuna. Obierika replies that he "had something better to do." He expresses his disapproval of Okonkwo's role in killing Ikemefuna. The act, he says, will upset the Earth, and the earth goddess will get her revenge.

A man interrupts them to relay the news of the death of an elder of a neighboring village, a former Umuofia leader. His wife, also later on the same day, complicates the announcement of the elder's death and funeral. The mourners recalled that they "had one mind" and that he could do nothing without telling her. Okonkwo and Obierika disapprove of this lack of manly quality. They also discuss with regret the loss of prestige of the ozo title. Feeling renewed by the conversation, Okonkwo goes home and returns later to take part in a discussion of the bride-price with the suitor of Obierika's daughter. After the preliminaries, the bride-price is decided using a ritual. Her price is negotiated between the bride's family and the groom's relatives by passing back and forth quantities of sticks that represent numbers.

The men eat and drink for the rest of the evening while ridiculing the customs of the neighboring villages compared to their own. They also refer contemptuously to "white men," comparing their white skin to lepers' white skin.

Analysis

In the scenes of Chapter 8, the reader can begin to see Okonkwo's growing separation from his family members as well as from his from peers in the village. Okonkwo asks Nwoye to sit with him in his hut, seeking affirmation that he has done nothing wrong by killing Ikemefuna. But his son pulls away from him.

Even Okonkwo's friend, Obierika, disapproves of his role in the killing of Ikemefuna. Obierika is presented as a moderate, balanced man and thus serves as a contrast to Okonkwo. Obierika periodically questions tribal law and believes that some changes can improve their society. Okonkwo tends to cling to tradition regardless of the cost, as the killing of Ikemefuna illustrates. Essentially, Obierika is a man of thought and questioning, while Okonkwo is a man of action without questioning.

However, both men seem to agree that manliness does not allow a man and his wife to be inseparable and outwardly loving to each other. (A village woman who has died before her husband's death can be publicly announced, but a wife's death soon after her husband's may be a sign that she is guilty of killing him.) The couple is known to be almost inseparable in their day-to-day life — a sign of weakness in the husband, according to Okonkwo and Obierika. The village must wait until she is buried before they can officially announce the death of the man who was once a great warrior.

An example of the economic customs of the village is the marriage negotiations for Obierika's daughter. The opening ceremonies — the costume and jewelry of the bride, the use of the sticks, and the drinking of the palm-wine — illustrate the complexity of Umuofian ritual. These African customs are reminiscent of marriage customs in other cultures in which the bride's parents pay a dowry or pay the cost of the wedding (although in Igbo custom, the groom himself pays the bride-price). Such customs refute commonly held notions about primitive and uncivilized African society.

The first shadow of "the white man" appears in community conversation, revealing their lack of contact with white men and their aversion to them (similar to their aversion to lepers).

Glossary

plantain a hybrid banana plant that is widely cultivated in the Western Hemisphere.

taboo any social prohibition or restriction that results from convention or tradition.

uli a liquid made from seeds that make the skin pucker; used for temporary tattoo-like decorations.

jigida strings of hundreds of tiny beads worn snugly around the waist.

And these white men, they say, have no toes The white men's toes are hidden because they are wearing shoes.

leprosy a progressive infectious disease caused by a bacterium that attacks the skin, flesh, nerves, and so on; it is characterized by nodules, ulcers, white scaly scabs, deformities, and the eventual loss of sensation, and is apparently communicated only after long and close contact.

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