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Ikemefuna has been living in Okonkwo’s household for three years now. He is like an elder brother to Nwoye and has taught him how to be more manly. Okonkwo is glad that Nwoye is developing fast into manhood and he encourages both boys to be masculine and violent. He tells them stories of conquest and violence and they all make derisive comments about women. Nwoye participates in these activities yet still enjoys his mother’s stories more than his father’s yet he tries to please him and so goes to his hut at night.
Months pass, and then the locusts arrive in the village. This arrival is an unexpected one, but the people rejoice because locusts are considered to be very tasty and delectable. When the locusts swarm in and cover the entire area, the villagers slowly creep out and collect as many locusts as they can catch during the night. They are then roasted and spread to dry. It is then eaten with palm oil.
On that same day, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village comes to see Okonkwo and proceeds to inform him that Ikemefuna is to be killed and that Okonkwo should not participate in the killing. When Ikemefuna is told that he is to return home, he realizes that he is going to be killed but passively goes along with it. Nwoye is so upset that his father has to beat him. The next day, the villagers, along with Okonkwo and Ikemefuna march towards the forests. Once inside, a man raises his machete and strikes Ikemefuna. When Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo, he also draws his machete and cuts him down.
Nwoye is terribly upset by the death and feels similar to the time when he had been crossing the forest and heard a thin wail of an infant. Nwoye had known that twins who were born were considered evil and were hidden in earthware pots and thrown into the forest. Hearing the wail, something had given way inside him. Hearing of Ikemefuna’s death, the same feeling rises in him.Notes
The prominence given to a man’s masculinity is to be noted in this chapter. From an early age, boys are forced to emulate the behavior of their fathers. The culture of the village is such that the man is the provider of the family, and so he needs to be tough, hardy and resourceful. Control over the women folk is also an essential characteristic of a masculine man because “no matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and children (and especially his women) he near not really a man.” Therefore, jokes are made at women’s expense and reveal how easily it is for wife-beating to be condoned in a society where women are inferior to men.
Just as stories are told to all children in every household, stories are told in this village too, but the stories are gender divided much like the rest of this society. Those stories Nwoye enjoys are the fables his mother told to him that usually had a moral or lesson embedded in them. The ones his father tells him are tales of bravado and conquest.
The killing of Ikemefuna is a turning point in the novel and reveals how deep Okonkwo’s obsession to not be perceived as weak is. Not only participating in his killing but actually striking him dead after Ikemefuna called out for his help shows how distant he has become to his family as well as his friends. What makes this murder more poignant is the deepening friendship between Nwoye and Ikemefuna and their participation in manly activities as well as Ikemefuna’s last thoughts on how much Okonkwo had become like a father to him. This distressing act changes Nwoye deeply and his conflicted feelings about the outdated methods of his culture and his inability to be appropriate the proper behavior of a man will lead him to reject the life that Okonkwo demands him to lead. Although the act of retribution is justified by the murder of the woman many years ago, it seems irrelevant after three years and unjust after Ikemefuna has become part of Okonkwo’s clan.
Another seemingly heartless behavior is the custom of disowning twin children and leaving them to die. Twins were seen as unnatural products of some crime or evil deed, and so had to be disposed of in order to ward off more evil coming to the family. Here religion and superstition are equated and seen as inflexible, inhumane, and irrational, a critique that will be further elaborated on with the encroachment of the British civilizing mission and the introduction of missionaries into the area.