At dawn, Chielo exits the shrine with Ezinma on her back. Without saying a word, she takes Ezinma to Ekwefi’s hut and puts her to bed. It turns out that Okonkwo was extremely worried the night before, although he did not show it. He forced himself to wait a while before walking to the Oracle’s shrine. When he found it empty, he realized that Chielo was making her rounds to the nine villages, so he returned home to wait. In all, he made four trips to and from the caves. By the time he departed for the cave for the last time, Okonkwo was “gravely worried.”
Okonkwo’s family begins to prepare for Obierika’s daughter’s
Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s death is announced to the surrounding villages with the ekwe, a musical instrument. Okonkwo shudders. The last time Ezeudu visited him was to warn him against taking part in Ikemefuna’s death. Since Ezeudu was a great warrior who took three of the clan’s four titles, his funeral is large and elaborate. The men beat drums and fire their guns. Okonkwo’s gun accidentally goes off and kills Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son.
Killing a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, so Okonkwo must atone by taking his family into exile for seven years. Okonkwo gathers his most valuable belongings and takes his family to his mother’s natal village, Mbanta. According to the mandates of tradition, the men from Ezeudu’s quarter burn Okonkwo’s buildings and kill his animals to cleanse the village of his sin. Obierika questions why a man should suffer so much for an accidental killing. He then mourns the deaths of his wife’s twins, whom he was forced to throw away, wondering what crime they committed.
In the previous section, we see Okonkwo’s behavior the night of the incident with Chielo as it appears to Ekwefi: Okonkwo shows up with his machete and fulfills the role of the strong, manly protector. At the beginning of Chapter 12, though, the narrator focuses on Okonkwo’s internal state and we see his true feelings rather than his apparent ones. Because Okonkwo views affection as a sign of weakness, he forces himself to wait before following Chielo. Each time he makes the trip to the caves and finds her missing, he returns home again to wait. Not until his fourth trip does he encounter Ekwefi. Okonkwo is not the cruel, heartless man that he presents himself to be; rather, he is gravely worried about Ezinma’s welfare. His hyperbolic understanding of manliness—the result of his tragic flaw—prevents his better nature from showing itself fully. Chielo’s actions force Okonkwo to acknowledge how important his wife and child are to him.
The importance of kinship bonds manifests itself in the ramifications of the violation of such bonds. When Ikemefuna enters Okonkwo’s family as a surrogate son, he begins to heal the tension that exists between Okonkwo and Nwoye as a result of Okonkwo’s difficulty in dealing with the memory of his father. Ikemefuna is thus presented as a possible solution to Okonkwo’s tragic flaw. But Okonkwo fails to overcome his flaw and, in killing the boy who has become his son, damages his relationship with Nwoye permanently. Moreover, he seriously injures Nwoye’s respect for, and adherence to, Igbo cultural tradition.
Okonkwo’s accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son seems more than coincidence. We sense that it is a form of punishment for his earlier violation of kinship bonds. Just before the ill-fated incident happens, the one-handed spirit calls out to Ezeudu’s corpse, “If your death was the death of nature, go in peace. But if a man caused it, do not allow him a moment’s rest.” Although the explosion of Okonkwo’s gun moments later is not evidence that Okonkwo is, in fact, responsible for Ezeudu’s death, it seems to suggest that Okonkwo’s killing of Ikemefuna has been hurtful to the well-being and solidarity of the clan and its traditions.
Okonkwo’s punishment emphasizes the importance of strong, harmonious relations within the community. Although Obierika questions the harsh punishment that Okonkwo receives for such an accident, the punishment, in a way, helps stave off anger, resentment, and, ultimately, revenge. Despite the accidental nature of the death of Ezeudu’s son, it is understandable for Ezeudu’s close relatives to be angry with Okonkwo. The burning of Okonkwo’s compound displaces this anger onto his property, while Okonkwo’s exile separates him temporarily from the offended community. Over a period of seven years, any remaining anger and resentment from Ezeudu’s close relatives will dissipate, and the offender’s place in the community will be restored.