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"Okonkwo's act of killing Ikemefuna is not an act of cruelty" --- Things Fall Apart By "Chinua Achebe"

Things become different based on one’s culture, custom, believe, ritual, tradition etc. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the protagonist, Okonkwo, killed his foster child, Ikemefuna, whom he brought from another village Mbaino as compensation. By taking part in the killing of Ikemefuna, neither Okonkwo heard the advice of Ezeudu nor did he give shelter to Ikemefuna when he went for shelter to Okonkwo after the first blow given by a man. All these acts prove that Okonkwo is a cruel man but I have arguments. This article aims to prove that Okonkwo was not a cruel man at all by bringing coherent references and arguments from different sources.
First of all it is important to keep in mind that Ikemefuna was the sacrifice for the murder of Udo’s wife. So it is a common phenomenon that Ikemefuna will be killed (sacrificed to god) at any time. After three years, the Oracle decides to kill Ikemefuna. Okonkwo has nothing to do with it. It is their custom and we all know that Okonkwo is a firm believer of his custom.
This argument may seem ridiculous to someone. But if we think deeply and carefully, we will find it as much logical as anything else. For instance, in Islam, Muslims always celebrate Eid-ul-Adha by sacrificing millions of animals including camels, lambs, goats, and cows by slaughtering their throats in the name of Allah (swt). It might be a cruel act to other customs and religions but not to us. For Christianity, according to Holy Bible Prophet Abraham was nearly going to kill his own child Isaac to obey the command of his Lord (Genesis: 22). Can we call him cruel for his motive to his own son? Actually Abraham was bound to obey the command of his God. At the same way we cannot blame Okonkwo for killing Ikemefuna as a command of his God (Oracle).
Now one may ask why Okonkwo did not hear the advice of Ezeudu. Yeah, it is true that Okonkwo would have stayed at home. Actually it is a sort of tactical decision. Ikemefuna did not know that he was going to be killed rather he knew that he was going back to his own village, Mbaino. So to give him mental support Okonkwo accompanied Ikemefuna. We can also say that Okonkwo might have thought that if he went with Ikemefuna he could save him though he did not do it out of fear because he was afraid of being thought weak.
After the first blow why Okonkwo did not give Ikemefuna shelter rather he “drew his machete and cut him down”. Is not it an act of cruelty? Actually Okonkwo did not want to take part in the killing of Ikemefuna. He looked away during the time of first blow. If the initial blow was strong enough then Ikemefuna might die in the hand of a man but he was injured by the first blow. It was hard for a father to see his son in such a terrible situation. Though Okonkwo loved his foster son he was chained by the law, custom and religion. If he gave shelter Ikemefuna it would be a denying of the command of his God which was considered as a greater sin in his society. For the injury Ikemefuna was in a great pain. It was quite certain that he was going to die after some time because of the first blow. Okonkwo could not tolerate it that is why he cut Ikemefuna down to give him a quick death.
To justify the murder of Ikemefuna, we can also look into the character of Okonkwo. One of the major aspects of Okonkwo’s character is the way he set himself to be completely different from his father, who was thought to be weak. Therefore, throughout the novel, Okonkwo deliberately pushes himself to show everybody, including himself, how manly he can be. What drives Okonkwo to participate in the killing of Ikemefuna therefore is his fear of being perceived as weak; if he hung back and did not participate.

To conclude, Okonkwo was a man of action. He killed many man and on auspicious occasion he drank palm-wine from his first human head. This greatest man of his youth could not eat for three days after the killing of his foster son, Ikemefuna. It proves that this courageous man has great affection for his foster son. He was bound in the hand of culture, custom, believe, ritual and tradition. He did not willingly kill Ikemefuna rather it was situation that made him to kill Ikemefuna. So it can be said that Okonkwo was not cruel in the case of killing Ikemefuna. . As Shakespeare says, “I must be cruel only to be kind; thus bad begins and worse remains behind” .


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