Things fall Apart: Chapter 4,5
Summary of Chapter Four
Okonkwo’s success goes to his head, and once he becomes a respected man of power, he does not hesitate to put others in their place. He refuses to let a man without titles speak in a meeting, calling him a woman, thus irritating the others in the council. He is rebuked by an older man who says those who are helped by a benevolent spirit should be humble. Okonkwo apologizes, and the meeting continues.
The narrator insists that Okonkwo’s success was from hard work, not a benevolent spirit. It boils down to the Ibo saying that when a man says yes, his chi says yes also, meaning that a man’s desire is part of his fate.
The elders declared the captive boy, Ikemefuna, should be in Okonkwo’s care. Nwoye’s mother is kind to him and treats him as a son. He becomes popular with Nwoye because he knows everything, how to make flutes, the names of birds, and how to make bows. Okonkwo himself is fond of the boy but does not show it. He is afraid to show any emotion but anger, lest it make him look weak. Soon however, Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo father.
This is the year that Okonkwo breaks the Week of Peace by beating his youngest wife when she forgets to cook his dinner. His other two wives plead that it is a sacred week, but he will not stop. The neighbors are disturbed, since it is unheard of to fight during the Week of Peace. Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess, Ani, calls on Okonkwo and gives him a fine of a goat, hen, cloth and 100 cowries for endangering the whole tribe before the planting season.
Okonkwo is repentant and does as he is told, but it is said he does not respect the gods. This nso-ani, or sacred offense, is the talk of the village. The oldest man in the village, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, said in the old days men could be killed for such an offense, but that was stopped because it broke the peace even more.
Ikemefuna and Nwoye help Okonkwo plant the farms with yams in the following planting season, and Okonkwo is hard on them for any mistakes. Yam, the king of crops and associated with manliness, has to be planted carefully. In the rainy season that follows, people sit indoors and tell stories. Ikemefuna and Nwoye become deeply attached to each other as foster brothers.
Commentary on Chapter Four
Okonkwo’s individual story is told within the important cycles of nature and village life. It is made clear that the individual is subordinate to the tribe, and that anyone endangering the tribe’s relationship to the gods is out of favor. Yet, even sinners can make amends. The most important thing is balance, and when Okonkwo puts the tribal spirit out of place, he has to pay the price for ceremonies to restore his balance and the village’s.
Tribal law and custom, though it is a fixed framework, are flexible and evolving, as is seen in Ezeudu’s story about how penance during Peace Week changed over time. Oral tradition works by precedents handed down, along with their practical results.
Over and over it is shown that Okonkwo has trouble restraining his temper. He will not stop beating his wife, once he has started. He would rather do penance than back down. His pride and anger become more and more of a problem.
Summary of Chapter Five
It is the time of the Feast of the New Yam and the new year when the village gives thanks to the most important deity, Ani, the earth goddess, who is the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. She is in communion with the departed fathers of the clan.
This festival comes before the harvest to honor earth and spirits of the clan. New yams can’t be eaten until they have been offered, and old yams must be destroyed. Yam foo-foo and vegetable soup are so plentiful that guests cannot eat it all.
Okonkwo’s wives have scrubbed their huts with red earth and drawn patterns on them and then painted themselves. The children are painted and decorated. Okonkwo has a fit of anger and beats his second wife, Ekwefi, to relieve it, and shoots at her with a loaded gun, then is happy she did not get killed.
The first day of the festival is for feasting, the second for wrestling, While the women prepare the food, the drums beat from the village playground, and they will beat from noon to sunset when the crowd arrives. The daughter of each wife brings a dish for Okonkwo to eat in his separate hut, or obi, then they go to the wrestling.
Commentary on Chapter Five
The narrative shifts from the larger cycle of the earth festival to a close-up of Okonkwo’s family as they prepare for the holiday. The relationship of the family members is revealed as well as the customs that hold them together and hold them securely in the Igbo society. For instance, we see the harmony among the wives and children, who must work together. The wives care for each other’s children, share utensils and fire, and protect each other from their husband’s anger. Ikemefuna tries to protect Obiageli, Okonkwo’s daughter of his first wife, from being punished for breaking her water pot—an irony, considering his fate.
Okonkwo is lord and master and against his unreasonable anger there is no relief, even when he beats a wife or shoots at her. He is the provider and protector, so his word is law up to a certain point. As we see, however, he is as bound as the others to the law of Ani, the earth goddess, who is the ultimate judge of morality. There are a number of sins mentioned that offend her, and to offend her is to risk the livelihood of the whole clan. Therefore, the individual has freedom only within the law of the earth and the clan.
We see more deeply into Okonkwo’s flaw. He clearly has no control over his anger. His wife had done nothing to provoke it; it is deep inside. He shoots first and worries after. Anger is the only emotion he shows. He feels affection towards his children, Ezinma, for instance, but never shows it, for fear of seeming weak.