Things fall Apart: Chapter 11,12
Summary of Chapter Eleven
At night by the light of the palm-oil lamp, Ezinma and her mother Ekwefi tell stories. Ekwefi tells the story of Tortoise the Trickster, who wants to go to a great feast in the sky with the birds. The birds know he is a mischief maker, but he has a sweet tongue. Each bird gives him a feather so he has wings. Because he is an orator, he is chosen to speak for the birds. He says they must all take new names and his name will be All of You.
When the feast was laid out, Tortoise asked, for whom is this feast? The sky hosts said, “For all of you.” Tortoise began to eat all of the food himself, and the birds got very little. The birds took back their feathers so he could not get home. He asked them to give a message to his wife to put out all the soft things in the house, but they told her to put out the hard things, and when Tortoise fell from the sky, he broke his shell. That is why it looks patched.
Ezinma begins to tell another Tortoise story when they are interrupted by the chanting of the priestess, Chielo. Chielo, in her mystic state, carries off Ezinma to see the god, Agbala, chanting and wailing in the night. This is a severe test for Ekwefi, for she does not know what the god wants with her only child. She follows in the dark, even when Chielo reprimands her. She bravely follows in pitch darkness to the caves and sits outside, listening, to see that no harm comes to her daughter. Suddenly, Okonkwo is there beside her with his machete, and they wait together. Ekwefi is grateful, and remembers how she ran away from her first husband to Okonkwo’s strong arms.
Commentary on Chapter Eleven
Both Okonkwo and Ekwefi are prepared to defend their daughter from the god should he want to harm her. This strain on the people between the commands of their gods and their own desires is important and builds to a climax once the Christians come. Ekwefi is already embittered with the gods for taking away eleven of her children. She is not about to give up her one remaining child. Okonkwo’s support means a lot to her, for he is a strong elder of the clan, one of the egwugwu, or ancestral spirit judges. Here we see him in the role of a father who wants to protect his favorite child, despite the tribal laws. We also see tenderness in him for once because he knows his wife is suffering. She remembers why she married him. Ekwefi reflects that he never spoke much, so it is plain that she understands, as Ezinma does, the deeper currents of his heart.
The tale of Tortoise is an example of folk stories and lore integrated into the larger story. The tale contains folk wisdom against selfishness and deceit, and we see the way the tales are told in the evenings before bed. They also illustrate the way in which animals, nature, and humans are all contained in the same moral framework. In this way, the stories are not exactly like Aesop’s fables that are strictly parables. The stories are closer to those of Native American tradition in which the animals are participants with humans and gods.
Summary of Chapter Twelve
The following morning is an espousal celebration for Obeirika’s daughter. The women are all preparing food, and Nwoye’s mother and four children and Ojiugo, the youngest wife, and her two, go on ahead because Ekwefi and Ezinma are tired from the night’s doings. Okonkwo too is exhausted, for he had stayed up all night, worrying and following his wife and daughter.
At the celebration, goats are slaughtered ceremonially and the doings of the market place are discussed among the people, including how a man may be robbed there. The women cook and decorate the bride. When the heat of the day is less, the men arrive with their goatskins and goatbags over their shoulders. The men drink, use snuff, and talk in Obierika’s hut. Fifty pots of wine from the bridegroom are a handsome gift. The women wear brass anklets and waist beads. The ceremony begins, binding the two families. There is singing and dancing. The bride presents a cock to the musicians and then dances. The man’s family takes the bride home to spend seven market weeks with the suitor.
Commentary on Chapter Twelve
This is another picture of the Igbo tradition, working to create harmony. Marriage is not a private matter. The families become allied. Two villages are more closely united and celebrate together. The bride-price indicates that women are highly valued, although it may appear they are sold by their families. Women obviously have a say in the matter, as Ekwefi did, who left her first husband for Okonkwo, and when she grows up, Ezinma will turn down many suitors before she accepts one. And a man who is brutal to his wife can be stopped by the clan, as was seen in the court case. The family interconnections are numerous and courtesy important. The exact number of pots of wine indicate something about the respect and wealth of the suitor. Women are a source of sons, and they are married young to ensure many children. As in many traditional societies, wives and children are counted as part of one’s wealth. This wedding is a moment of peace before a storm.