Why is the character of Ikemefuna significant in Things Fall Apart?What role does he play?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ikemefuna comes to Okonkwo's compound to live. Because a daughter of the Umuofian tribe had been killed by the Mbaino tribe, there had to be some sort of compensatory agreement made in regards to her death:

Ikemefuna comes to live with Okonkwo's family as a peace offering from Ikemefuna's home tribe to the Ibo for the killing of a Umuofian daughter.

Ikemefuna serves the purpose that Oknokwo's tribe will not go to war with Mbaino:

A young boy named Ikemefuna is given to Umuofia in order to avoid war.

While living with Okonkwo, Ikemefuna becomes like a son to Okonkwo. In fact, he is more of a son than Nwoye is. Ikemefuna is talented. He is hard working. He is a great hunter. Okonkwo admires Ikemefuna. He realizes that Ikemefuna is a good role model for Nwoye. Ikemefuna teaches Nwoye how to be a man:

Ikemefuna already knows much about the world and can do almost anything. He can identify birds, trap rodents, and make flutes. He knows which trees make the best bows and tells delightful folk stories.

Okonkwo begins loving Ikemefuna as his very own son. Okonkwo truly appreciates Ikemefuna for teaching Nwoye to be a man:

Nwoye begins to associate more with the men of the family and tribe, and to act more like the man that his father wants him to become.

Nwoye looks up to Ikemefuna. He respects his leadership. Nwoye loves him as if he were his brother. Truly, Ikemefuna becomes part of Okonkwo's family. He is loved and respected by all.

In his death, Okonkwo takes part in killing Ikemefuna. Even though Okonkwo was warned not to take part, he does so. This leads to severe consequences for Okonkwo. Okonkwo cannot sleep at night. He cannot eat. Most importantly, Okonkwo's killing of Ikemefuna drives a wedge between Nwoye and himself. Nwoye cannot accept the tradition of killing Ikemefuna. Nwoye cannot believe his father would take part and kill Ikemefuna. From this point in the story, Nwoye begins questioning the customs and traditions of his tribe. It is a foreshadowing of things to come. Nwoye will leave his father's home and join the Christians. Ikemefuna's death opened Nwoye's eyes to the senselessness of killing an innocent young man:

After Ikemefuna's death, Nwoye feels an emptiness that cannot be filled by the clan's traditions. He is plagued by old questions for which the clan has no answers.

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Things Fall Apart

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