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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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Chapter 13

Summary

In the middle of the night, the sound of a drum and a cannon announces the death of Ogbuefi Ezendu, the oldest man in the clan. Hearing this, Okonkwo remembers his last words to him about Ikemefuna and shudders.

The whole village attends the funeral as Ogbuefi was a man with three titles, an achievement that was rare. Since he was a warrior, the funeral abounds in warriors, dressed in raffia skirts. Once in a while an egwugwu spirit makes its appearances from the underworld. Some of them are quite violent and terrifying and often threatening. The most terrifying one is shaped like a coffin, and a sickly odor emanates from him.

The funeral is very befitting of a noble warrior. Before the burial the warriors dance, drums are sounded and guns are fired. A frenzied feeling fills the air as people bemoan the loss of Ogbuefi. The air is full of the smell of gunpowder. In the midst of this ceremony, a cry of agony is heard. Ezudu’s son is found lying dead in the crowd shot by Okonkwo who fired his gun and accidentally hit pierced the young boy's heart.

Okonkwo knows that killing a member of one’s own tribe is a crime against the Goddess of the Earth and therefore he is banished from his village for seven years. He and his family escape to the village of his mother called Mbanta. After daybreak, the men, dressed in garbs of war, set fire to his house, not due to vindictiveness, but to cleanse the land that Okonkwo had polluted. Obierika, his friend, mourns his friend’s calamity.

Notes

The climax in the novel is reached in this chapter. Although hints of Okonkwo’s undoing have been foreshadowed so far, such as his brutal killing of Ikemefuna and his infraction during the Week of Peace, this event signals a major downfall in Okonkwo’s status and a blow to his ambitions. In the midst of the funeral, Okonkwo commits the heinous crime of inadvertently killing his clansman, and therefore he has to bear the punishment of being ostracized from the village for seven years. Though Okwonkwo was an important and respected figure in the village, and though his act was inadvertent, the law has to be abided. This shows the importance of law and legal actions in a tribal village in Africa, where one has to accept his punishment, no matter how eminent he is. Like many tragic heroes, Okonkwo is cut off at the height of his powers from ever achieving his ambitions due to fate or bad luck. Yet what makes a hero is how he recovers himself when placed in a dire and difficult situation.


It is ironic that Okonkwo kills the son of a man who had warned him not to kill Ikemefuna, a boy who was like a son to Okonkwo. That there is no precedent for this kind of accident shows how singular this event is in the history of the village and how it will have repercussions even though justice has been dispensed. The chapter’s ending proverb that “If one finger brought soil, it soiled the others,” may allude to Okonkwo’s crime having even more significant repercussions.

Obierika mourns for his friend’s calamity because he cannot comprehend why a man should suffer for an offence he had committed inadvertently. But at the same time he remembers that this is part of the tribal tradition just as abandoning his twin children in the forest had been part of the tradition. Although he is not a vocal about his disagreements with the law, Obierika does question the legitimacy of those laws that tend to hurt more than bring retribution to the land.

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