Essay Ikemefuna’s Death in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
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Ikemefuna’s Death in Things Fall Apart
Okonkwo’s participation in the slaying of his adopted son, Ikemefuna is a pivotal moment in Things Fall Apart. It is a moment of horror that cannot please Ani, the great earth goddess, the center of community, the ultimate judge of morality for the clan. It is a moment that changes the course of events, a moment eerily paralleled in the death of Ezeudu’s son. It is a moment that ultimately causes Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye’s to abandon his ancestors and become a Christian. It is a moment when the center of community life, the need to honor blood ties and the need to respect the earth goddess, can no longer hold. It is a moment when things fall apart.
"That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand…show more content…
Okonkwo justifies this killing of his foster son as a show of his own strength and manliness (66). He does not understand that this is no honor in killing a child who rushes to him for protection. He has in fact killed his own blood.
Obierika, Okonkwo’s best friend is wiser, refusing to go on the sacrificial march. He warns Okonkwo that the slaying of Ikemefuna does not please the Earth, and prophesizes, "It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families" (67). Shortly after Ikemefuna’s death, Okonkwo‘s rusted gun explodes at Ezeudu’s funeral, piercing the heart of the dead man’s son, killing the boy instantly. For killing a clansman, Okonkwo and his entire family are banished and Okonkwo loses his position in his village. It is during this time that Christianity establishes itself in Okonkwo’s village. Returning after seven years, he finds that everything he once knew has changed, as the white man’s law now takes precedence over village customs. The men of his village have become like women and everything is falling apart (183).
The impact of Ikemefuna’s death on Nwoye is devastating. Something gives way inside of him when he thinks of his father and the killing of Ikemefuna. The fear of his father and the horror over the sacrifice of Ikemefuna separates Nwoye from tribal customs and the sense of community. His family’s banishment isolates him further. Hearing the Christian hymns, which cater to
Nwoye is Okonkwo’s eldest son who Okonkwo considers irredeemably effeminate and very much like his father, Unoka. As a child, Nwoye is the frequent object of his father’s criticism and remains emotionally unfulfilled. Eventually, Ikemefuna comes to fill that void and Nwoye, in his adoration of his adoptive brother, begins to emulate him. In a strange way, Ikemefuna fills the role of both father and brother for Nwoye, providing him with a peer to share his thoughts and a role model.
More than any other character, Nwoye encapsulates an innocent child who is very sensitive to his surroundings and is baffled by the seemingly arbitrary cruelties being committed around him. His dominant characteristic is his incredible ability to feel and sympathize, even more so than some of the female characters. Though considered positive traits by modern women looking for a “sensitive man,” Okonkwo isn’t impressed and aggressively tries to keep his son from acting like “a woman.”
After Ikemefuna’s unjust murder, Nwoye grows increasingly alienated from his father and seems to lose respect for him. Without Ikemefuna’s companionship and influence, and with a loss of faith in his father, Nwoye reverts to his former gentle nature, instead of adhering to the false masculine one he pretended to have in Ikemefuna’s presence. Increasingly, Okonkwo comes to view Nwoye as a disappointment and extremely effeminate. Neither father nor son is unable to see and understand the other on his own terms.
Ultimately, Nwoye is unable to forgive Okonkwo for his betrayal in killing his adopted brother. Nwoye’s betrayal of his father by converting to Christianity can be read as an attempt to get back at his father for his crime. Christianity, too, has its appeal for Nwoye. The missionaries’ hymn about brothers living in “darkness and fear, ignorant of the love of God” touches Nwoye deeply. This missionaries’ message seems to speak of another way to live that Nwoye never knew about – a way of life in which fathers don’t kill their adoptive sons and twins are not abandoned to die in the Evil Forest.