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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What does Okonkwo's participation in Ikemefuna's death reveal about his character?

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Okonkwo bases his self-worth on what other people think of him rather than following his own conscience. After he is asked to adopt Ikemefuna, a prisoner of war, Okonkwo comes to love him more than he loves his own son, Nwoye, who he considers weak. Okonkwo considers Ikemefuna honorable and hardworking. However, when the oracle decrees that it is time to kill Ikemefuna, Okonkwo does not do anything to protect him. Though Ikemefuna calls out to Okonkwo for help, Okonkwo kills him. Okonkwo is petrified of seeming afraid in front of other people because his father was deemed effeminate and weak. By attempting to seem strong in all circumstances, Okonkwo negates his own conscience. In the end, he suffers as a result, and he cannot ever reconcile himself to his biological son, Nwoye.

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Okonkwo's participation in the death of Ikemefuna shows how insecure Okonkwo still is. Okonkwo's greatest fear is that he will end up like his father, who was considered weak and died having no titles. So, Okonkwo has worked very hard to overcome the stigma attached to being the son of a man such weak "chi". Even though he is warned by Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village, not to take part in the killing of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo goes ahead and kills the boy whom he had come to regard as a son. He kills him because he is still afraid others may think he is weak. This shows how deeply affected and insecure Okonkwo is over the perceived weaknesses of his father and how far he will go to cover his insecurities.

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