Last Updated on December 29, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516
Ikemefuna has been living with Okonkwo’s family for three years. He has been a good influence on Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, whom Okonkwo thinks weak. Though Nwoye shows definite improvement, he stills dislikes the thought of bloodshed and prefers the folktales that his mother used to tell him about the Earth and the Sky and their heated quarrel. Then one day, locusts come to Umuofia, and the villagers go out every night to collect cicadas and roast them for snacks.
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This event is immediately followed by the bad news that Ikemefuna will be sacrificed, according to the will of Agbala. Ogbuefi Ezeudu informs Okonkwo of this, warning him not to have a hand in Ikemefuna’s death because it would be wrong, given that the boy calls him “father.” Okonkwo lies to Ikemefuna, telling him that he’s to be taken back to his village of Mbaino. During the long journey to his homeland, Ikemefuna is surprised when some of the men in their group attempt to kill him. He runs to Okonkwo for help, crying, “My father, they have killed me!” But Okonkwo strikes him down for fear of looking weak.
That night, Okonkwo returns to the village, and Nwoye knows, just by looking at the expression on his face, that Ikemefuna is dead. Something snaps inside Nwoye then, and he will never truly forgive his father.
Earth and Sky. Nwoye’s mother tells stories and folktales about the natural world and their gods. In one of these, Earth and Sky, personified as characters with unique and oppositional desires, quarrel over Sky’s refusal to bring the rain. Meanwhile, the crops die, and the human beings suffer. In this example, personification is used to suggest that the natural world has intentionality and that rain and shine are both determined according to the will of the gods and spirits.
Locusts. Like the broken pot, the swarm of locusts is a clear omen of doom. Achebe calls the first swarm “harbingers sent to survey the land,” where a harbinger is a kind of messenger that announces the arrival of another person or being (in this case, both the full swarm of locusts and the tragic death of Ikemefuna). Though the villagers of Umuofia collect the locusts and eat them as a snack, their presence symbolizes danger ahead and foreshadows Ikemefuna’s death, as well as the inevitable downfall of Okonkwo.
Family. With the death of Ikemefuna comes a reexamination of the theme of family, which means little to nothing to Okonkwo. When he kills Ikemefuna, it’s clear that his main priority is maintaining his public image as a brave and powerful warrior. Everything else is secondary, or even tertiary, and the fact that he doesn’t think twice before striking Ikemefuna down indicates that “family” has no real emotional weight for him. On the other side of the spectrum is Nwoye, who feels something give way inside him when he realizes that Ikemefuna is dead. For him, family means everything, and this, more than anything else, differentiates Nwoye from his father.