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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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Chapter 4

Summary

Okonkwo was respected by all for his industry and success. Although Okonkwo is brusque towards less successful men, he deserves his success because he has worked so hard for it. It is because of the respect that the tribe has for him that Okonkwo is sent to negotiate with the enemy when the tribe seeks remuneration and that the young boy Ikemefuna is sent to live with him. In the beginning the boy was afraid, and missed his family. But being a boy of a lively nature, he gradually becomes a part of Okonkwo’s household. Okonkwo’s son Nwoye was always with him wherever he went. Okonkwo also becomes fond of him, but he never shows his emotions, as he considers affection to be a womanly sign of weakness.

During the Week of Peace, a period before planting time, no one is allowed to speak harshly to another. However, Okonkwo is provoked to anger by his third wife, who did not get home early enough to prepare the evening meal, and in his rage, Okonkwo beats her. He is called by the priest of the earth goddess to make amends for his actions as they can destroy the crops of the entire village. He is told to make an offering to the shrine of the Goddess. He agrees to pay for his crime by giving one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries. Although Okonkwo inwardly regrets his actions, he never admits to his error.

When Okonkwo goes to his fields to plant the harvest, he takes Nwoye and Ikemefuna with him but he rebukes them if they are slow in understanding what he wants them to learn quickly

When the rains begin great care has to be taken of the young plants. The children then sit around the cooking fire telling stories, or they sit with their fathers, roasting and eating maize. It is during the period of rest that the friendship between Ikemefuna and Nwoye becomes even stronger.

Notes

In Igbo society, every man apparently has his own personal God, or chi. Great belief is given to this chi which can be compared to what the Westeners call their destiny. The Igbo believe that every individual is given a chi at the time of conception. The individual’s fate and abilities are given to the chi, which in turn rule the individual. If the chi is good, the man has luck. However it is up to the individual to make the most of what has been planned through the chi by his actions.


Okonkwo considers displays of any emotion as unmanly, so even if he feels fondness for Ikemefuna, he never shows it and always treats him with a heavy hand. This inability to show emotion results in extreme emotions as when he rashly beats his wife for what is simply an annoyance and not a major transgression. His attitude towards other men who have not succeeded as he has is just as hard-nosed and others in the village comment on his abrasive comments about them. This reveals him to be outside the norm of Igbo behavior and sets him up as having certain flaws in his character that are noticed by others. Even though he is well respected and powerful, he is also impudent and inflexible, qualities that will hamper his chi.

Okonkwo’s disobedience during the Week of Peace reveals his arrogance and ignorance of a larger universal order. By breaching the respect of the goddess of the earth, he sets himself up for a fall as is often seen in Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus’ lack of reverence for the Oracle results in the Oracle’s prophesy coming true. His sacrifice is seen by him to be enough to restore the goddess’ faith in Umuofia, yet he does actually see his transgression as any great fault.

The importance of yams as signifiers of masculinity is also depicted here. Yams are equated with a farmer’s wealth and status and is gauged by the amount of yams that he possessed. Okonkwo, who feared any kind of failure, wants his son to be like him and not like his father. He therefore takes his son with him to the fields although he is too young to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The prominent role of nature in the life of a farmer has also been highlighted. The fickleness of nature can result in a bad crop. Therefore, even though one can be a great planter of yams like Okonkwo, he must ultimately leave the destiny of his crops in the hands of higher beings such as those represented by the gods and goddesses of earth.

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