Ikemefuna comes to Umuofia early in the book, as settlement for a dispute with a nearby village. Not knowing what else to do with him, Okonkwo lets Ikemefuna live with his first wife. Ikemefuna quickly becomes a well-loved member of the family. He serves as a role model for Okonkwo’s eldest son, Nwoye, and over time he also earns Okonkwo’s respect. But more important than the role he plays in Okonkwo’s family is the effect his death has on the unfolding events of the novel.
When the village elders decide the time has come to kill Ikemefuna and finally settle the dispute with the neighboring village, Okonkwo insists on taking part in the execution, despite the fact that the boy calls him “father.” Okonkwo ends up killing Ikemefuna himself out of fear that his failure to take responsibility would make him look weak. Ikefuma’s death irreversibly harms the relationship between Okonkwo and Nwoye. His death is also a bad omen that has a symbolic connection to Okonkwo’s later exile from Umuofia. In this sense, the death of Ikemefuna signals the start of things falling apart.