Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Always impatient, Okonkwo insults an untitled tribesman at a clan meeting. Everyone takes the side of Osugo, the other man, and Okonkwo apologizes.

Ikemefuna is homesick and won't eat. Okonkwo forces food on the boy, who then vomits and is ill for three weeks. Once recovered, Ikemefuna seems over his sadness. Soon he becomes a favorite with Nwoye and other family members. Even Okonkwo is fond of him, but he does not show it.

Before planting their crops, the Igbo observe the Week of Peace, during which no one is to "say a harsh word to his neighbor" or to commit physical abuse. During the Week of Peace, Ojiugo, Okonkwo's third wife, leaves the compound to plait her hair without preparing food for the family. Enraged, Okonkwo beats her, violating the holiday in a serious transgression against the clan's religious beliefs. Ezeani, the priest of Ani, the earth goddess, reminds Okonkwo that they need Ani's blessing for their crops to grow. He commands Okonkwo to bring a sacrifice to the shrine.

When the holiday ends, each family clears land and prepares yams for planting. Nwoye and Ikemefuna help Okonkwo. He is deliberately tough on them. The two boys have grown close, and Ikemefuna now feels like a family member.

Analysis

In this chapter, the narrator, having related how Okonkwo's past has influenced his character, brings readers to the present day in Okonkwo's village.

Okonkwo has already shown he has little patience with people who are less successful than he is. When he interacts with such an individual, his impatience often emerges as brusqueness—as it does at a village meeting where he disrespects Osugo. Okonkwo is concerned about the opinions of others and is now taken to task by other clansmen, who remind him not to "forget to be humble."

Okonkwo's fondness for Ikemefuna puts him in an awkward position. Believing that to show affection is to appear weak, Okonkwo must keep those feelings under wraps. His only outlets are to demonstrate strength and to show anger, so he treats Ikemefuna in the same heavy-handed manner as he treats everyone else.

Okonkwo has no trouble venting his anger. Beating his wife during the Week of Peace seems justifiable to him until the priest points out that this transgression "can ruin the whole clan." Okonkwo is inwardly repentant, but his constant battle of strength versus weakness does not allow him to admit that he has made a mistake.

Okonkwo enters into the routine of yam-planting season with gusto. The skills needed for growing yams are crucial to success—a success that he wants Nwoye to share in. Although Ikemefuna and Nwoye are too young to take in the details of preparing seed-yams, Okonkwo wants to crush signs of laziness in Nwoye and instructs both boys with his usual harshness.

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