With the killing of Ikemefuna, Achebe creates a devastating scene that evokes compassion for the young man and foreshadows the fall of Okonkwo, again in the tradition of the tragic hero. Along the way, the author sets up several scenes that juxtapose with the death scene: The opening scene of the chapter shows the increasing affection and admiration Okonkwo feels for Ikemefuna, as well as for Nwoye.
On the journey with Ikemefuna and the other men of Umuofia, they hear the “peaceful dance from a distant clan.” In Chapter 2, the author comments that the fate of Ikemefuna is a “sad story” that is “still told in Umuofia unto this day.” This observation suggests that the decision to kill Ikemefuna was not a customary one. Before dying, Ikemefuna thinks of Okonkwo as his “real father” and of what he wants to tell his mother, especially about Okonkwo. These elements combined suggest that the murder of Ikemefuna is senseless, even if the killing is in accordance with the Oracle and village decisions.
The murder scene is a turning point in the novel. Okonkwo participates in the ceremony for sacrificing the boy after being strongly discouraged, and he delivers the death blow because he is “afraid of being thought weak.” At a deep, emotional level, Okonkwo kills a boy who “could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father” — someone whom Okonkwo truly loves as a son. Okonkwo has not only outwardly disregarded his people and their traditions, but he has also disregarded his inner feelings of love and protectiveness. This deep abyss between Okonkwo’s divided selves accounts for the beginning of his decline.
For the first time in the novel, Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, emerges as a major character who, in contrast to his father, questions the long-standing customs of the clan. Achebe begins to show the boy’s conflicting emotions; he is torn between being a fiercely masculine and physically strong person to please his father and allowing himself to cherish values and feelings that Okonkwo considers feminine and weak.