Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 4
In spite of Okonkwo's beginnings in poverty and misfortune, he has risen as one of the most respected elders of the clan. Yet others remark on how harshly he deals with men less successful than himself. For example, at a meeting to discuss the next ancestral feast, Osugo — a man without titles — contradicts Okonkwo, who in turn insults Osugo by declaring the meeting is "for men." When others at the meeting side with Osugo, Okonkwo apologizes.
Okonkwo's hard-earned success is evident because the clan chooses Okonkwo to carry the war ultimatum to their enemy, the enemy treats him with great respect in the negotiations, and the elders select Okonkwo to care for Ikemefuna until they decide what to do with him. Once the young man is entrusted to Okonkwo's care, the rest of the clan forgets him for three years.
At first, Ikemefuna is very unhappy — he misses his mother and sister, he tries to run away, and he won't eat. After Okonkwo threatens to beat him, Ikemefuna finally eats, but then vomits and becomes ill for twelve days. As he recovers, he seems to lose his fear and sadness.
Ikemefuna has become very popular in Okonkwo's house, especially with Nwoye and the other children. To them, he seems to know everything and can make useful things like flutes, rodent traps, and bows. Even Okonkwo has inwardly become fond of Ikemefuna, but he does not show affection — a womanly sign of weakness. He treats Ikemefuna with a heavy hand, as he does other members of his family, although he allows Ikemefuna to accompany him like a son to meetings and feasts, carrying his stool and his bag. Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo "father."
During the annual Week of Peace just before planting time, tradition permits no one in the village to speak a harsh word to another person. One day during this week, Okonkwo's youngest wife, Ojiugo, goes to a friend's house to braid her hair, and she forgets to prepare Okonkwo's afternoon meal and feed her children. When Ojiugo returns, Okonkwo beats her severely. Even when he is reminded of the ban on violence, he doesn't stop the beating. Because Okonkwo's violation of peace can jeopardize the whole village's crops, the priest of the earth goddess orders Okonkwo to make offerings at his shrine. Although Okonkwo inwardly regrets his "great evil," he never admits to an error. His offensive breaking of the peace and the priest's mild punishment are talked about in the village.
After the sacred week, the farmers of the village begin to plant their harvest. Okonkwo allows Ikemefuna and Nwoye to help him collect, count, and prepare the seed-yams for planting, though he continually finds fault with their efforts. He believes that he is simply helping them learn the difficult and manly art of seed-yam preparation.
Soon, the rainy season begins and the planting takes place, followed by the intense period of care for the young plants. During the resting time between planting and harvest, the friendship between Ikemefuna and Nwoye grows even stronger.
To secure his manliness, Okonkwo believes that he should beat members of his family (Nwoye, Ikemefuna, Ojiugo, and his wives) and that he should ridicule men who remind him of his father — even for slight annoyances. Although he may inwardly experience emotions of affection and regret, he cannot show these emotions to others, so he isolates himself through extreme actions.
Two more examples of traditional wisdom are used when talking about Okonkwo:
"Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble." This proverb means that a man whose success is a result of luck must not forget that he has faults. Okonkwo, however, had "cracked them himself," because he overcame poverty not through luck, but through hard work and determination.
"When a man says yes, his chi says yes also." This Igbo proberb implies that a man's actions affect his destiny as determined by his chi. Okonkwo's chi is considered "good," but he "[says] yes very strongly, so his chi [agrees]." In other words, Okonkwo's actions to overcome adversity seem justified, but because he is guided by his chi, his denial of kindness, gentleness, and affection for less successful men will prove self-destructive. (The chi itself is somewhat ambiguous. Review the discussion of chi in the Analysis for Chapter 3.)
The end of the chapter refers to Ikemefuna's favorite story about "the ant [who] holds his court in splendor and the sands dance forever." Watch for this story to reappear under tragic circumstances.
Osugo The name means a low-ranked person.
Week of Peace In Umofia, a sacred week in which violence is prohibited.
nza a small but aggressive bird.
nso-ani a sin against the earth goddess, Ani.
Amadiora the god of thunder and lightning.