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Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

Chapters 7–8

Summary Chapters 7–8

Analysis: Chapters 7–8

Okonkwo disobeys the authority and advice of a clan elder in killing Ikemefuna. His actions are too close to killing a kinsman, which is a grave sin in Igbo culture. Okonkwo is so afraid of looking weak that he is willing to come close to violating tribal law in order to prove otherwise. No one would have thought that Okonkwo was weak if he had stayed in the village. In fact, Obierika’s opinion on the matter suggests that doing so would have been considered the more appropriate action. Instead, Okonkwo’s actions seriously damage both his relationship with Nwoye and Nwoye’s allegiance to Igbo society.

Nwoye shows promise because he voices chauvinist opinions, but his comments are really aimed at Okonkwo. In fact, Nwoye loves women’s stories and is pleased when his mother or Okonkwo’s other wives ask him to do things for them. He also seeks comfort in his mother’s hut after Ikemefuna’s death. Nwoye’s questioning of Ikemefuna’s death and of the practice of throwing away newborn twins is understandable: Obierika, too, frequently questions tradition. In fact, Obierika refused to accompany the other men to kill Ikemefuna, and Okonkwo points out that Obierika seems to question the Oracle. Obierika also has reservations about the village’s practice of tapping trees. Okonkwo, on the other hand, accepts all of his clan’s laws and traditions unquestioningly.

Interestingly, Obierika’s manliness is never questioned. The fact that Obierika is skeptical of some Igbo practices makes us regard Nwoye’s skepticism in a different light. We understand that, in Umuofia, manhood does not require the denigration of women. Like Nwoye, Ikemefuna is not close to his biological father. Rather, his primary emotional attachments to his natal village are to his mother and little sister.

Although he is not misogynistic like Okonkwo, Ikemefuna is the perfect clansman. He eagerly takes part in the community celebrations and integrates himself into Okonkwo’s family. Okonkwo and Ikemefuna love one another as father and son, and Ikemefuna is a good older brother to Nwoye. Most important, he is protective rather than critical. He does not allow Nwoye and his brothers to tell their mother that Obiageli broke her water pot when she was showing off—he does not want her to be punished. Ikemefuna illustrates that manliness does not preclude gentleness and affection.

In calling himself a “shivering old woman,” Okonkwo associates weakness with femininity. Although he denigrates his emotional attachment to Ikemefuna, he seeks comfort in his affectionate friendship with Obierika. Ezinma is likewise a source of great comfort to him. Because she understands him, she does not address his sorrow directly; rather, she urges him to eat. For all of Okonkwo’s chauvinism, Ezinma is his favorite child. Okonkwo’s frequently voiced desire that Ezinma were a boy seems to suggest that he secretly desires affectionate attachment with his actual sons, although he avoids admitting as much because he fears affection as a weakness. It is interesting to note that Okonkwo doesn’t wish that Ezinma were a boy because she exhibits desirable masculine traits; rather, it is their bond of sympathy and understanding that he values.