There are a number of murders committed in the novel “Things fall Apart.” Each murder has its own significance and each of the murder reveals Igbo society, its culture and how the centre falls apart.
The first murder committed in the novel is the murder of Udo’s wife Ezeugo, by Mbaino village which is announced after the town-crier has assembled the Umuofia people. Okonkwo is sent to Mbaino village as the “emissary of war” and Ikemefuna is sacrificed to Umuofia to avoid bloodshed which the murder of Udo’s wife would have led. It throws light on the unity of people of Umuofia as “Umuofia was feared by all its neighbors.” It also throws light on Igbo society and its culture according to which if any woman of the village is defiled or murdered by a man from another village, revenge is taken in the form of war or an offering. This murder also reveals that any man or woman of the village is considered to be a part of its family and therefore the villagers demand revenge. This murder reveals the position Okonkwo holds in Umuofia and it proves that “he was a man of action a man of war” like Othello, Macbeth or Hamlet.
Furthermore, the second murder in the novel which is Ikemefuna’s reinforces the element of unity and strict obedience to the traditions and customs of Igbo society. The Oracle of the Hills and Caves demands the death of Ikemefuna who must therefore be killed. Here the characterization of Okonkwo appears rather difficult. He has become fond of the ill-fated boy but he feels he must participate in killing him in order to show that he is not coward. The killing of Ikemefuna reveals that Okonkwo is compelled to kill Ikemefuna due to his own ego and his instinct of being consider weak. Although, Ezeudo gave him this option that “that boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death.” Okonkwo’s paternal feelings are also there as in his heart of hearts he is “fond” of Ikemefuna because he finds him more courageous and brave than Nwoye and these are the qualities which Okonkwo really admires. At the same time, “he was afraid of being thought weak.” He cannot afford to show cowardice and weakness–the very traits of his father as there is no place in society for such people. Killing of Ikemefuna reveals how orthodox tradition and customs rule the people of the society. Absolute loyalty and obedience to the tribal religion is inculcated into the minds of the people. It is the custom and tradition of Igbo society to follow the Oracle of the Hills and Caves and this very tradition binds them in unity. The Oracle is highly respected and so Okonkwo cannot go against the decree of Oracle. The very significance of this killing of Ikemefuna leads to the conflict and falling apart of Okonkwo’s character as his son Nwoye is badly shaken by Ikemefuna’s murder and is turned against his father and religion. He denounces his religion and father by declaring, “I am one of them (Christians). He (Okonkwo) is not my father.” He finds this new religion as being more compassionate. The question in his mind, regarding the twins crying in the bush and Ikemefuna being killed, has never been answered. They had just been submerged in his conscience, and this new religion that seems remote from such harsh concepts seems to provide an answer to these questions. “The words of the Hymn were like the drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth.”
Another seemingly heartless behavior is the custom of disowning twin children and leaving them to die. Twins were seen as unnatural products of some crime or evil deed, and so had to be disposed of in order to ward off more evil coming to the family. This incident shows that Igbo society strongly relies on superstitions, and people cannot move away from its customs.
Another murder in the novel is the killing of Ezeudu’s son during Ezeudu’s funeral, by Okonkwo. This event signals a major downfall in Okonkwo’s status and a blow to his ambitions. In the midst of the funeral, Okonkwo commits the heinous crime of inadvertently killing his clansman, and therefore he has to bear the punishment of being ostracized from the village for seven years. Though Okonkwo was an important and respected figure in the village, and though his act was inadvertent, the law has to be abided. This shows the importance of law and legal actions in a tribal village in Africa, where one has to accept his punishment no matter how eminent he is. Like many tragic heroes, Okonkwo is cut off at the height of his powers from ever achieving his ambitions due to fate or bad luck. It is ironic that Okonkwo kills the son of a man who had warned him “not to bear a hand in Ikemefuna’s death.” We also note that during the tenure of his 7 years exile, a lot of changes emerge in Igbo society. The colonizers start establishing their roots in African society and the very center of the society begins to be falling apart.
The next murder that takes place in the novel is of whitemen. After the release of six leaders of Umuofia by whitemen, the Umuofia people hold a meeting to discuss the recent events. When the meeting is still being addressed five messengers come to say that the white ruler of the clan orders the meeting to stop. Okonkwo’s patience reaches its limit. Seized by a convulsive rage, he murders the leader of the messengers. The horror-stricken people of Umuofia break into tumult. Okonkwo had thought that the people will rise and fight. But it is a stamped and not a war that follows. Okonkwo is finally abandoned in his opposition to the intruders to the clan. The fallen hero finds his final greatest hope of retaining the past in the present betrayed and ruined. The major theme arousing here is the British colonization and the conversion to Christianity of tribal people and how it has destroyed the traditional age-old way of life in African Igbo society. Okonkwo strongly believes in his tradition. His rashness and inflexibility leads to his fall. He refuses to break away from the traditional and religious values which result in his own death. He refuses to conform to the forces of domination.
The final murder in the novel is when Okonkwo commits suicide and murders himself. Okonkwo has thus committed a double abomination–murder and suicide. The customs of the clan for which Okonkwo has died now prevent any of his own people from touching and bringing his body down. The lamentable part of his death is that such a brave warrior would not get the burial he deserved, because taking one’s own life was an offense against the earth. Okonkwo’s fall and suicide symbolize the destruction and final falling apart of the Igbo society. The Igbo society gives away its traditions and customs to the colonizers. The old way is gone forever. As, according to W.B Yeats:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Keeping in view, the comparison of the murders, we note a great similarity between the murder of Udo’s wife, the murder of Ikemefuna, and the killing of twins. These murders reveal the structural unity in Igbo society which is later on shattered. The contrast we find is that those clansmen who were together and approved these murders, are no more the same, because when Okonkwo murders the whiteman, he expects the same unity from his clansmen but to his great surprise no one comes to help him. The unity that held the centre together is absent and the centre is finally fallen apart.
As far as Okonkwo’s banishment on account of Ezeugo’s murder is concerned his punishment is justified according to African mindset. The killing of twins is highly abominable according to western context.
THINGS FALL APART
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE