Things Fall Apart: Chapter 6 Summary
At the wrestling contest, an important part of the culture, Ekwefi meets with Chielo, the priestess of the Oracle. They are talking about Ezinma’s destiny since all of Ekwefi’s past children have been ogbanje, or evil children who die and then re-enter their mother’s womb to bring them pain. Chielo refers to Ezinma as “my child”.
We learn the greatest cause of Ekwefi’s sadness, which was only hinted at in the last chapter. From her conversation with Chielo, we learn that she has had children other than Ezinma, but that they have died. In Chielo, we see an example of a powerful woman among the Igbo. Her orders supersede even those of the council of men; no great decision is made without her. Yet the two women discuss Okonkwo‘s recent attack against Ekwefi. Even as we see examples of women in power, we are reminded that Igbo women are vulnerable to their husbands’ rages.
The wrestling matches are more of Achebe’s documentation of Igbo life. From the enormous amount of exposition and commentary, it is clear that Things Fall Apart is not a book meant for Igbo readers. In fact, Achebe seems to assume that the reader has little or no knowledge of Igbo culture. We see the joy of festival time and the excitement of the Igbo New Year. Achebe wants us to appreciate the beauty and strength of the Igbo people; sympathy and respect for the Igbo make the end of the novel all the more painful.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 7 Summary
Ikemefuna has been a member of the family for three years. He makes an impression on Nwoye who has become a quite masculine character which makes Okonkwo satisfied. Okonkwo often tells stories about wars to the boys. During these stories, however, Nwoye wishes again for his mother’s stories but does not voice this thought.
An invasion of locusts begins an event that everyone celebrates in Umuofia. That night, everybody starts to collect them, because though there had not been an invasion of locusts for many years, everyone knows instinctually that they are good for eating. Ogbuefi Ezeudu visits Okonkwo in order to inform him about the Oracle’s decision: Ikemefuna must be sacrificed. Okonkwo is shocked but he hides his feelings. Ezeudu warns Okonkwo that he should not take part in the murder since he is called “father” by Ikemefuna.
When the chosen clansmen take Ikemefuna out of the village to commit the sacrifice and strike him once, he runs away to Okonkwo for help. Since the strong leader of the clan does not want to be seen as weak, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with great cruelty. Once he realized what he has done, everything falls apart inside him.
Ikemefuna is depicted as a perfect son and brother. He succeeds where Okonkwo cannot: he helps Nwoye to be more self-assured and confident. The exaggerated shows of masculinity Nwoye start to make are contrived and for the pleasure of his father, but Nwoye is becoming more comfortable and confident. Ikemefuna’s, with his gentleness and his love of folktales, has provided Nwoye with the positive male role model that he needed. Ikemefuna is also something of a Christ figure. He dies as a sacrifice for the good of the many; it is no surprise that Nwoye later converts to Christianity. Nwoye is disturbed by some of the practices of his own people. They fill him with a vague fear and sorrow, and he will later seek solace in a foreign religion.
The arrival of the locusts might initially worry the reader who knows that locusts are often disastrous for a community of farmers. These locusts pose no threat to the Igbo. However, they foreshadow a more dangerous swarm that will arrive later. Like the white man, they send scouts first and then arrive with strong numbers and force.
We see again Okonkwo’s terrible fear of failure, which includes a fear of being seen as weak. Despite sorrow and terror, he goes with the men when they kill Ikemefuna. He himself delivers the killing blow, even as the boy calls him “Father” and asks for his help. He was advised by the elders to stay home; to kill a relative is considered a terrible disgust to the Igbo. But Okonkwo is determined to prove himself unshakeable. In the proving, he does damage to himself and creates a rift between him and Nwoye that will never be healed.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 8 Summary
Okonkwo hides in his hat, he doesn’t eat and sleeps for two days. Ezinma tries to look after him and they talk with each other every day. With all of Ezinma’s help, Okonkwo can’t help but wish that she were a boy. Frustrated with himself, Okonkwo rebukes himself for not being able to put up with the death of one boy, and visits his friend Obierka. There, Obierka states that he would not have killed his son.
Later another man arrives and tells them that a great man has died and his wife died after catching the news. They will put off the burial of the man until his wife is buried.
Obierka invites Okonkwo to be present when he and another man deal with his daughter’s bride price. Once there, Achebe walks the reader through the ritual of dealing for a bride price: what the men do, what the women do, etc.
Okonkwo’s fear of effeminacy and weakness drives him to actions and emotions that do not always come naturally to him. He is disturbed by the death of Ikemefuna, but he is even more disturbed that he is worried. Any emotion approaching tenderness or softness must be contained.
Obeirika, Okonkwo’s good friend, shows that Okonkwo’s attitudes, though influenced by culture, are not exactly typical for an Igbo man. Okonkwo, with the image of the tragic hero, is an extreme example of his people. He carries their traits to excess. Obeirika, on the other hand, is a rich man and a man of sensitivity. He was not present at the Ikemefuna’s death, nor does he approve of Okonkwo’s participation in the act.
There are many digressions in this chapter, as we witness the Igbo traditions or courtship. The negotiations are civil and even joyous, as the men drink great quantities of palm wine. At the close of the chapter, we are given an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come. The men all dismiss the stories of approaching white men as patently ridiculous. Their reaction to the rumour shows how unready the Africans were for the coming of the European colonial powers. Everything we have learned about the Igbo shows that their concept of war and conquest is quite different from that of the European invaders: war is fought over questions of honour rather than a desire for material gain. And European military technology is beyond anything the Igbo have. The stories of white men seem so fantastic, so far outside of anything, the Igbo have experienced, that they are immediately dismissed as myth.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 9 Summary
For the first night in three days, Okonkwo sleeps. In the middle of the night, Ekwefi knocks at his door and tells him that Ezinma is dying. Ekwefi recognises the trials she went through, and still goes through, for Ezinma, from having a live child to sneaking her eggs, a delicacy. Okonkwo prepares medicine and tries to heal the child.
Igbo beliefs constitute one of the forces that hold their society together. Remember the title: we are reading about the disintegration of an old way of life and the end of independence for great people. High infant mortality is one of the unfortunate truths of Igbo life. Their religion tries to find meaning in this tragedy.
And although nothing supernatural happens in the novel, there are certain things in the Igbo religion that Achebe depicts as uncanny. When Okagbue searches for Ezinma’s iyi-uwa, the girl seems to go into a strange, trance-like state: she cooperates with the medicine man as if the iyi-uwa is real, and indeed, he does find a strange object in the location that she indicates. Achebe does not depict the superstitions of the Igbo as being necessarily true, but he does show that their religious beliefs often contain incredible insights. Later, the Oracle will predict with weird accuracy the methods of the white man.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 10 Summary
A trial begins in the village. The leaders of the justice are the egwugwus: masked men who represent the ancestral spirits of the clan. Although it’s forbidden to talk about it, everybody knows that one of the egwugwus is Okonkwo. This particular trial is about a man who beat his wife, who was taken away by her brothers. The trial ends with the egwugwus stating that if the husband gave the brothers the necessary wine, they would have to give back his wife. The brothers agree to do so and frighten the man that if he ever beat her again, they would cut off his genitals.
The ceremony of the egwugwu is clearly dominated by men. Only men are in the cult of the egwugwu, and so only men are involved in the administration of justice. But for the first case of the ceremony, Achebe chooses a case involving a woman’s well-being. Here and elsewhere, he tries to show that a woman’s place in Igbo society, though vulnerable, is not unappreciated. Mgbafo, the abused bride, is protected by her brothers. Her case is viewed favourably by the judge. Although Achebe shows us that the Igbo society is deeply patriarchal, he also strives to show that Igbo woman, in at least a limited capacity, is respected and guarded. There is an interest in justice and fairness. And to keep perspective on the issue, the reader should remember that women in 19th century England and America did not enjoy any more freedom than their equals in Nigeria.