Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
People are struck by Okonkwo's roughness in dealing with less successful men. An old man uses the following proverb to describe him: “Looking at a king's mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother's breast.” A week earlier, a man with no titles contradicted Okonkwo at a meeting, and Okonkwo responded that the meeting was for men. Everyone took sides with the other man, and Okonkwo apologized before the meeting continued.
Okonkwo's insult echoes the childhood insult of “agbala” directed at his father, showing how much that wound still stings. Yet from their response it is clear that his fellow clansmen do not share Okonkwo's absolute attitude towards less successful men. The old man's proverb also emphasizes the importance of language—which Okonkwo struggles to use.
Themes
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Masculinity Theme Icon
Okonkwo struggled against poverty and misfortune, earning success at an early age as the greatest wrestler in the land. The narrator asserts that this wasn't luck. At most, one could say that Okonkwo's personal god or chi was good, but the Ibo proverb says that “when a man says yes his chi says yes also.” The clan chooses Okonkwo to carry a message of war to the Mbaino unless they agree to give up a young man and a virgin to make up for the murder of Udo's wife.
The proverb about chi is akin to the American saying “fate favors the bold,” implying that a person can make their own fate by being aggressive. And this seems to be the case for Okonkwo, who earned his fame by working and struggling from poverty. The clan chooses him to carry the message of war based on his strength. Here we also see an example of Umuofia's response to an inter-clan transgression.
Themes
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Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The virgin is given to Udo as a wife, and Ikemefuna is placed in Okonkwo's care until the clan can decide what to do with him, which ends up taking three years. Ikemefuna is afraid at first, even though Nwoye's mother treats him kindly. When Okonkwo hears that Ikemefuna is refusing to eat, he stands over Ikemefuna with a big stick while he eats. Ikemefuna becomes sick for three weeks, but when he recovers, he's no longer afraid or sad.
Ikemefuna is again the perfect example of a character who lacks free will. Also note that the girl from Mbaino is given to Udo without dispute and considered a full replacement for his murdered wife, giving us a glimpse into Umuofia gender roles and the bias in favor of masculinity. The women are treated as interchangeable.
Themes
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Masculinity Theme Icon
Ikemefuna becomes popular in the household, and he grows very close with Nwoye in particular. Even Okonkwo grows fond of Ikemefuna, though he refuses to show it, since he believes that showing affection is a sign of weakness. However, he lets Ikemefuna accompany him to big village meetings or ancestral feasts, and Ikemefuna calls him father.
Okonkwo's idea of masculine strength prevents him from showing affection towards Ikemefuna, even though he allows Ikemefuna to take his son's place in accompanying him to events.
Themes
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Ikemefuna came to the household only a few days before the Week of Peace, during which no work is done and no violence is tolerated in anticipation of the planting season. However, Okonkwo is provoked when his youngest wife goes to a friend's house and doesn't return in time to cook the afternoon meal. He beats her heavily when she returns, breaking the peace of the sacred week. The priest of the earth goddess, Ani, berates him and commands that he bring sacrifices to Ani's shrine to repent. Okonkwo does so and feels apologetic; however, he doesn't tell his neighbors this, and they conclude that he doesn't respect the gods of the clan. Everyone gossips about the transgression over the week.
Religion and nature are closely linked for the Igbo, since their survival depends on the land for harvest—the earth goddess is therefore very important. When Okonkwo angers her, he does feel sorry—but his ideal of manliness prevents him from saying so, and his lack of language makes him appear disrespectful to his neighbors. The fact that everyone gossips about the transgression shows how major it is—and how carried away Okonkwo gets with his anger and desire to look strong, even when it would be better to hold back.
Themes
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After the Week of Peace, Okonkwo begins preparing his seed-yams for planting. Nwoye and Ikemefuna help by counting, and occasionally Okonkwo allows them to prepare a few yams each. However, he always finds fault in their efforts and berates them, even though he knows they're too young to fully grasp the art of preparing seed-yams. Still, because yams are a measure of manliness and ability, Okonkwo wants his son to start early.
Okonkwo wants to help his son by giving him skills his own father didn't give him, but his method is harsh, alienating his son instead. Also, Okonkwo has fully accepted Ikemefuna into the family by now, including him in activities with his own son.
Themes
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The planting of yams—“the king of crops”—begins, and is very labor intensive. The men plant them, and then as the rain grows heavier, women plant other crops between the yam mounds—maize, melons, and beans. As the rain increases even more and the village rainmaker no longer claims to be able to intervene without danger to his health, children sit inside and listen to stories. The heavy rain season brings a brief period of rest between planting and harvest.
Note how only the men are allowed to handle the yams—the most important crop in Umuofia—reflecting both their strength and status in society relative to women. Also note how storytelling is the main activity for children in the extreme rainy period, emphasizing the oral culture.
Themes
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Ikemefuna feels like a member of the family, telling his own folktales from the Mbaino. He and Nwoye have become very close. Nwoye looks back on this period fondly. As the rain lightens and children go out to play, they sing a song about someone named Nnadi cooking and eating alone as the rain is falling. Nwoye wonders why Nnadi should live by himself and concludes that he belongs in the land of Ikemefuna's favorite folktale.
Nwoye's attachment to Ikemefuna becomes very important to his later development and his further detachment from Okonkwo. His deep affection for Ikemefuna is demonstrated by the folktale he immediately thinks of upon hearing the children's song.
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