This chapter reveals more details of Okonkwo’s father’s failings and his justification for despising him as he does. At a disadvantage, Okonkwo had not inherited a barn from his father like other young men and had to start with nothing. Once on a trip to the consult the Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves to find out the reason for his miserable harvest, Unoka was told that it was because of his laziness and not because he had offended the gods.
Unoka was so ill-fated that even his death was an undignified one. He died of a swelling in his stomach and his limbs, a type of disease that resulted in his banishment. Therefore, he was carried into the forests and left to die. This made Okonkwo feel even more ashamed of his father.
Another story reveals Okonkwo’s first signs of ambition and the desire to outlive his father’s legacy. While still young and supporting his mother and sisters, Okonkwo approached a wealthy man, Nwakibie, to earn his first seed yams. Nwakibie gave them to him, knowing him to be trust-worthy and hard working. It was Okonkwo’s bad luck that there was a great drought that year followed by very heavy rains. Both of which contributed to the failure of the season’s harvest. But Okonkwo was a fighter and he survived that year.
Several stories are told in flashback in this chapter that reveal Okonkwo’s growing resentment of his father as well as his desire to transcend his shameful heritage through ambition and hard work.
The custom of consulting the Oracle is mentioned in this chapter as an integral part of this culture. The Oracle was Agbala and many people came to consult him even though the journey was very difficult and entailed entering a small hole, and crawling on one’s belly until sighting the priestess. Nobody had ever seen Agbala as he spoke through a priestess, a woman in the village called Chielo. This is one of the few positions of power for women in this culture as she is a conduit to Agbala’s wisdom and prophecy and therefore gains much respect.
Another custom described is that of leaving a sick man in the evil forest to die. The swelling in the stomach was a sickness considered an abomination to the earth, therefore the body could not be buried in the soil. Though, in these modern times, the custom may seem inhuman, it was an accepted custom in Africa in those times and could have something to do with a disease that was infectious or easily contracted.
The division of gender roles is seen here in the classification of crops into women’s and men’s as well as the marginal role women have in wine drinking. They are allowed to take sips but must leave after they have finished.
What is most intricate about Igbo culture is their use of proverbs that shape their beliefs as well as bring an elevated symbolic level to their discourse. In the scene between Okonkwo and Nwakibie and other men of the village, many proverbs are shared that comment on individual character or life in general. For instance, “the lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did” means that Okonkwo feels that since he has no one to speak for him, he has to speak for himself.
Another proverb “Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching” means that Okonkwo has become wise with the ways of the world yet he has learned to be stingy with his yams. The poetic nature of this language represents a sophisticated and sensitive ability to reflect on oneself and life without directly referring to the self.
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