Things Fall Apart Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

One morning, the village is shaken by the news that Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in Iguedo, has died. Everyone attends his funeral. One egwugwu even gets violent in his grief. Ezeudu took three titles in his life, conferring him the right to be buried at night in a sacred ceremony. Before he's buried, there's much tumult and dancing, and guns are fired in his honor, as when a soldier is buried. A one-handed spirit then comes to beseech Ezeudu's spirit to be reborn just as he was: an infinitely brave warrior and a good man. Then, when the dancing begins again, Okonkwo's pistol explodes and a piece of shrapnel pierces Ezeudu's son's heart, killing him. For this accident, Okonkwo is exiled to his mother's village of Mbanta for seven years. Thus ends Part I.

Motifs

Fire. The day after Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu's son, Obierika and other men from the village burn Okonkwo's compound to the ground and slaughter his animals. This is their way of cleansing the land of their clansman's blood. Achebe again uses fire as a destructive force, allowing the fire to reduce Okonkwo's home to ashes. This symbolizes the end of Okonkwo's greatness.

Symbols

Blood. Blood has several different meanings. It can be shed righteously, as in war, or it can be shed in an dirty or offensive way, becoming like a pollutant that sullies the earth. In this context, blood isn't a symbol of glory or victory but, rather, a potent symbol of danger and evil. Its influence must be counterbalanced in order to appease the gods. Hence, the destruction of Okonkwo's compound.

Coffin. One of the egwugwu, a one-handed spirit carrying a bucket of water, wears a costume that makes him look like a coffin. This coffin is a clear symbol of death, emphasizing the fact that death can be ugly, smelly, and horrific. Men run away from this spirit. People give him room to speak. He's respected in the sense that he's feared.

Pistol. Okonkwo's pistol is again a symbol of violence and death. Unlike in Chapter 5, when Okonkwo's aim was so bad that he couldn't hit anything, his pistol proves chillingly effective, exploding with no warning amidst the tumult of Ezeudu's funeral. Prior to this, Okonkwo's gun had been more or less an empty threat, a joke that posed no real threat to anyone, but in this chapter it becomes the tool of death it was always meant to be. The thing Okonkwo was most proud of his (his strength and wealth, as evidenced by his possession of the gun) eventually causes his downfall.

Themes

Age. Old age carries great weight in Igbo culture, and the village elders are highly respected, with the greatest of them having taken as many as four titles, the maximum that a man can have. Ezeudu had taken three titles, making him one of the most prominent men in the village at the time of his death. Okonkwo aspires to be as great or greater than Ezeudu when he reaches that age, but, as is made clear in this chapter, that will never happen.

Death. This chapter marks the death of two men: Ezeudu and his sixteen-year-old son, the latter of whom was viewed as an intelligent young man who promised to be a great warrior and a credit to his people. Ezeudu's son's death is an affront to the gods, whereas Ezeudu's, having occurred naturally, earns him a raucous, glorious funeral that would've been perfect, had Okonkwo's gun not exploded. The general tumult seen at the funeral indicates that the Igbo peoples, though saddened by death, see funerals not as collective experiences of grief but rather as opportunities to celebrate the dead person's life. This isn't how most Western cultures view death and emphasizes the differences between the Igbo and the white men who colonize their country.