Things Fall Apart Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Umuofia's elders marvel at Okonkwo's sudden rise to fame, noting with some displeasure that he has no patience for men who can't prove themselves the same way he did. His great success leads to his being charged with the care of Ikemefuna, the young boy from Mbaino who (rightly) fears Okonkwo and his rages. Gradually, however, Ikemefuna starts to think of Okonkwo as his father and grows to love him.

One day, Okonkwo's youngest wife goes to plait her hair at a friend's house and doesn't return in time to cook the afternoon meal. This angers Okonkwo so much that he beats her, even though it disturbs the Week of Peace. This upsets his elders, and he's forced to make an offering to the god Ani. However, Okonkwo feels no real guilt and goes back to fussing over his seed yams. He tries to teach his eldest son Nwoye and his charge Ikemefuna how to prepare the yams, but they're too young, and he's disappointed in both of their work. In spite of this, Ikemefuna still loves his new father and only rarely thinks of his home.

Symbols

Yams. As Achebe notes, "Yam stood for manliness." This further develops the yam as a symbol of great social status and masculinity. For more on this, see Chapter 3, Symbols: Yams.

Themes

Family. When Mbaino sacrificed Ikemefuna to Umuofia, they effectively broke up his family, separating him from everything he knew and loved. However, Ikemefuna gradually begins to see Okonkwo and Nwoye as his family, and they create a new extended family together. Unlike many Western cultures, the Igbo allow their men to have multiple wives, which creates a complex hierarchy of wives and children, with the first wife and eldest son having the highest rank after Okonkwo.

Fear. There are three instances in this chapter where a character feels great fear: when Ikemefuna first moves in with Okonkwo's family, when Okonkwo's first wife incites him to anger, and when the village elders fear that Ani will seek retribution because Okonkwo disturbed the Week of Peace. Each fear in some way stems from Okonkwo's tendency toward violence, which in itself signals that violence will lead to Okonkwo's fall.

Maturity. Okonkwo equates maturity with strength, wealth, and skill, such as the ability to prepare the seed yams. When Ikemefuna and Nwoye fail at this, he belittles them both, even though he knows that they're still too young. Okonkwo's idea of maturity, like his idea of manhood, is very rigid, and it leaves no room for serious emotional and intellectual development. His hardness will soon cause a rift between him and his children.

Violence. With Okonkwo's skill as a warrior comes a great propensity for violence, which we've seen in the past with his large collection of human heads. Here, his violence turns not against a rival clan but against his own wife, whom he beats savagely. His ability to do this without feeling pity or regret further characterizes him as a heartless and cruel person.