In the previous section, we see Okonkwo’s behavior the night of the incident with Chielo as it appears to Ekwefi: Okonkwo shows up with his machete and fulfills the role of the strong, manly protector. At the beginning of Chapter 12, though, the narrator focuses on Okonkwo’s internal state and we see his true feelings rather than his apparent ones. Because Okonkwo views affection as a sign of weakness, he forces himself to wait before following Chielo. Each time he makes the trip to the caves and finds her missing, he returns home again to wait. Not until his fourth trip does he encounter Ekwefi. Okonkwo is not the cruel, heartless man that he presents himself to be; rather, he is gravely worried about Ezinma’s welfare. His hyperbolic understanding of manliness—the result of his tragic flaw—prevents his better nature from showing itself fully. Chielo’s actions force Okonkwo to acknowledge how important his wife and child are to him.
The importance of kinship bonds in manifests itself in the ramifications of the violation of such bonds. When Ikemefuna enters Okonkwo’s family as a surrogate son, he begins to heal the tension that exists between Okonkwo and Nwoye as a result of Okonkwo’s difficulty in dealing with the memory of his father. Ikemefuna is thus presented as a possible solution to Okonkwo’s tragic flaw. But Okonkwo fails to overcome his flaw and, in killing the boy who has become his son, damages his relationship with Nwoye permanently. Moreover, he seriously injures Nwoye’s respect for, and adherence to, Igbo cultural tradition.
Okonkwo’s accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son seems more than coincidence. We sense that it is a form of punishment for his earlier violation of kinship bonds. Just before the ill-fated incident happens, the one-handed spirit calls out to Ezeudu’s corpse, “If your death was the death of nature, go in peace. But if a man caused it, do not allow him a moment’s rest.” Although the explosion of Okonkwo’s gun moments later is not evidence that Okonkwo is, in fact, responsible for Ezeudu’s death, it seems to suggest that Okonkwo’s killing of Ikemefuna has been hurtful to the well-being and solidarity of the clan and its traditions.
Okonkwo’s punishment emphasizes the importance of strong, harmonious relations within the community. Although Obierika questions the harsh punishment that Okonkwo receives for such an accident, the punishment, in a way, helps stave off anger, resentment, and, ultimately, revenge. Despite the accidental nature of the death of Ezeudu’s son, it is understandable for Ezeudu’s close relatives to be angry with Okonkwo. The burning of Okonkwo’s compound displaces this anger onto his property, while Okonkwo’s exile separates him temporarily from the offended community. Over a period of seven years, any remaining anger and resentment from Ezeudu’s close relatives will dissipate, and the offender’s place in the community will be restored.