The Death of Ikemefuna

“As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his matchet, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow…He heard Ikemefuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his matchet and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.”

I think it’s fair to say that this passage of Ikemefuna’s death brought chills to the reader’s spine and an anguish to the reader’s heart. Out of a pang of fear, Okonkwo chose to partake in his own pseudo-son’s extermination despite Obierika’s strong suggestion otherwise.

What I find most tragic about this passage is the sort of character reflection of Okonkwo in Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna is an innocent victim, as he is ripped apart from his family for a crime committed by his father. Like Okonkwo, Ikemefuna rises above the unfortunate legacy of his father and makes a name for himself in his new home despite his young age. Ikemefuna is portrayed as an intelligent budding man, a role-model for Nwoye, and a beloved member of the family whom even Okonkwo inwardly develops fondness for. Although the village seemingly forgets about Ikemefuna’s presence, the village accepts the pair’s relationship as father and son, as gathered by Obierika’s response to Ikemefuna’s ordered death:

Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him…But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you father.”

Okonkwo’s decision to defy Obierika’s opinion in addition to delivering the fatal blow shows the reader that Okonkwo’s method of coping with loss is violence and the removal of his emotions. The second he became overwhelmed with fear, he reacted with violence. For several days after, Okonkwo berated himself for the depression that shrouded over him. Although Okonkwo acts out based on his fear of how society views him, he is ultimately the only one who doubts his masculinity. We get a clearer picture of Okonkwo’s internal psychological struggle when he attacks Obierika for not participating in the killing of Ikemefuna:

But someone had to do it. If we were all afraid of blood, it would not be done.”

Okonkwo in this passage becomes defensive of his actions, as he seeks affirmation in Obierika and instead receives criticism. Okonkwo implies that Obierika is not a man, but in reality, it is Okonkwo who needs outward confirmation of his masculinity as opposed to Obierika’s internalized acceptance of what it means to be a man.

(Obierika): “If the Oracle said that my son should be killed I would neither dispute it nor be the one to do it.”

Achebe drives home the irony of Okonkwo’s character when Okonkwo’s self-doubt leads him to commit the most cowardly and least-masculine crime of all in society’s eye: the taking of his own life.

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Posted on September 4, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This is the first time I read an African novel, and Achebe really surprised me in many aspects. Not only does he best depict a great representation of womanhood, the killing of ikemefuna by Okonkwo also tells us a deeper meaning about a parent and child relationship. It might be difficult for Okonkwo not to teach his children the way his father taught him. However, I agree with what you have said that his emotional instability would just ruin his reputation. Parenting is not an easy journey; there will be ups and downs along the way. Nevertheless, a child is also individual who has rights to live and to earn respect from his or her parents. To my understanding, Achebe wants the readers to reflect that violence is not always the best answer to educate a child. Despite the year when the novel was written, as a British educated writer, I would say that Achebe has come to understand a modern parenting style, which is not authoritarian. Over all, Achebe also seemed to describe how African parents in the past were used to be inflexible towards their children.

  2. kowlessarchristine

    The death of Ikemefuna is probably the most memorable scene in this book to me. I could not wrap my mind around Okonkwo’s decision to go against Obierika’s order and have a hand in Ikemefuna’s death. I sort of had this fantasy while reading about Ikemefuna’s transition from a complete stranger to part of the clan, to part of Okonkwo’s family that he would be some sort of hero in this book. It was difficult to remain detached from Ikemefuna seeing his growth as a young man, and being the victim that he is: taken away from his family, and basically having to start life over with the values of the Umuofia clan. I thought that it would be interesting to see how Ikemefuna’s relationship with Nwoye played out. The fact that their time together was cut short is heartbreaking, but at the same time I believe that it played a significant role in shaping Nwoye’s character. One could say that Ikemefuna’s ability to find strength in becoming part of a new world and experiencing life with new people was the drive behind Nwoye’s courage to depart from his clan to join the missionaries.

    I agree that Okonkwo doubts his own masculinity, and that it is ironic that Okonkwo takes his own life at the very end. As you said, suicide is considered the least-masculine crime in society and I think that the fact that Okonkwo was able to take his own life, but not spare Ikemefuna’s life (who was turning out to be this ideal son that he was fond of) just shows how bruised his psyche was as he wanted to remain disconnected from his father, be this great warrior, and still, he was not able to eat after killing Ikemefuna. I will admit that I was not shaken up at all upon reading that Okonkwo had died as much as I was shaken up by Ikemefuna’s death. I feel that the fear of how society viewed Okonkwo was nothing in compared to the fear Ikemefuna had when he cried, “My father, they have killed me!” (61).

  3. In response to the second comment, I agree with you wholeheartedly at the level of tragedy this death caused for the novel. Who knows where Nwoye would be had Ikemefuna not been sentenced to death? He may have been shaped into the man that Okonkwo had always wanted him to be.

    Ikemefuna’s death served as a catalyst for Nwoye’s eventual conversion into Christianity. It was his disbelief and lack of faith in his village’s ways that ultimately led him astray from the clan. Although Achebe never tells the reader, it seems that Okonkwo played into Nwoye’s decision to pursue his own spirituality. I wonder if Okonkwo had this thought…

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