Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 14
Okonkwo arrives in Mbanta to begin his seven-year exile. His maternal uncle, Uchendu, now a village elder, welcomes him. Uchendu guesses what has happened, listens to Okonkwo's story, and arranges for the necessary rituals and offerings. He gives Okonkwo a plot of land on which to build a compound for his household, and Okonkwo receives additional pieces of land for farming. Uchendu's five sons each give him three hundred seed-yams to start his farm.
Okonkwo and his family must work hard to develop a new farm, and the work gives him no pleasure because he has lost the vigor and motivation of his younger days. He knows he is merely "marking time" while he is in Mbanta. He grieves over his interrupted plan to become one of the lords of his clan in Umuofia and blames his chi for his failure to achieve lasting greatness. Uchendu senses Okonkwo's depression and plans to speak to him later.
Uchendu's twenty-seven children gather from far and near for an isa-ifi ceremony. This final marriage ritual will determine if the intended bride of Uchendu's youngest son has been faithful to him during their courtship. The isa-ifi ceremony is described in detail.
The next day, in front of all of his children, Uchendu speaks to Okonkwo about his discouragement and despair. Through a series of questions no one is able to answer, Uchendu helps them all understand why a man should return to his motherland when he is bitter and depressed. He advises Okonkwo to comfort his family and prepare them for his eventual return to Umuofia, and, meanwhile, to accept the support of his kinsmen while he is here. If Okonkwo denies the support of his motherland, he may displease the dead. Uchendu points out that many people suffer more serious setbacks than a seven-year exile.
In this chapter, Achebe presents a paradox about the manly and womanly aspects of Okonkwo's circumstances. Okonkwo begins his exile deeply discouraged and unmotivated. While striving for even greater manliness, he committed a female murder — that is, he accidentally killed a boy during the funeral ceremony. Making things worse (in his mind), he has been exiled to the woman's side of his family. He thus feels that this transition is an extraordinary challenge to his manliness. His uncle reminds him, though, in the presence of his own large family, that Okonkwo should use the nurturing (womanly) quality of his motherland, accept his situation (which is, in fact, far less devastating than it could be), and recover. Okonkwo needs to maintain a positive, responsible leadership (including male and female qualities) of his own family in preparation for their eventual return to Umuofia. The womanly aspect of his mother's village is not to be ignored while Okonkwo waits for the right to return to his own manly village.
In earlier chapters, Okonkwo acknowledged the vital role of chi in his life. In this chapter, he seems to realize that his chi "was not made for great things" — a reluctant admission that he may not achieve everything he wants because his fate is predetermined. His acceptance of this possible limitation, however, does not last.
With the description of the isa-ifi ceremony, this chapter completes the reader's view of the complex Igbo marriage rituals.
twenty and ten years Igbo counting may not have a unique number for thirty, which is thus counted as twenty and ten. Similarly, in French, seventy is counted as sixty-ten, and eighty is four twenties.
It is female ochu. Crimes are divided into male and female types. Okonkwo's accidental killing of Ezuedu's son is considered manslaughter and therefore a female crime.
the nuts of the water of heaven hailstones.
isa-ifi the ceremony in which the bride is judged to have been faithful to her groom.
umuada daughters who have married outside the clan.