Brutalities of African Society Exposed in Things Fall Apart
David Carroll writes, of the novel Things Fall Apart, "This incident is not only a comment on Okonkwo's heartlessness. It criticizes implicitly the laws he is too literally implementing..." (Carroll) The incident that David Carroll refers to is the death of Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna was a young boy who was handed over to the village of Umuofia as compensation for the murder of one of that village's citizens. He is handed over to Okonkwo, a great man in the village, to whom he gives every affection. The brief life with Okonkwo and death of this innocent young man, and the life of Okonkwo himself, is a microcosm of life in Umuofia. Inconsistencies, brutalities, and conflict abound in even the highest of Umuofian life. And as Ikemefuna is led off to be murdered by the man he calls father, "the whole tribe and its values is being judged and found wanting" (Carroll).
When Ikemefuna first arrives in Umuofia, he is housed with Okonkwo because Okonkwo is a great man in the village. He had reached his prime and was a man of wealth. Ikemefuna quickly befriended Okonkwo's eldest son and began calling Okonkwo "father." Soon, however, this seeming peace and civility in the village and the life of the villagers disappears. Okonkwo receives a message from the village elders that the boy, the town's innocence, must be killed off. The boy is lead off to the slaughter completely unaware of his fate, and with his "father" in the company of the killers. When a machete is drawn and the black pot atop Ikemefuna's head is cut down, the boy runs to the man he loved as father. It is he who, lacking the courage to confront the others with his love for the boy, draws his machete and cuts Ikemefuna down.
The livelihood of the village of Umuofia follows a strikingly similar path into the period of colonization under British rule. Okonkwo's highest point of achievement parallels the village's highest point, and the assignment of care over Ikemefuna represents the village at its height. "... He belonged to the clan, and there was no hurry to decide his fate. Okonkwo was, therefore, asked on behalf of the clan to look after him in the interim" (Achebe, 12).
"Okonkwo ruled is house with a heavy hand," and the clan ruled is region with the same ruthlessness. (Achebe, 13) Life in Umuofia was "dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness" in an individual. (Achebe, 13) Yet, because Umuofia's ideas of strength and success were flawed, they carried a constant burden. The burdens of laws that punish minor crimes with heavy punishments, and yet encourage heavy crimes such as murder and child and spousal abuse. These faults, much like the black pot on Ikemefuna's head, they place on the head of their innocence. The village worships "gods of deceit who tell you to kill your fellows and destroy innocent children," and the faults of the system become the seeds of the culture's failure....