Even though Ikemefuna is killed rather early on in the novel, he still plays an important role in the plot of the story. The characters of Nwoye and Okonkwo are developed through their relations with Ikemefuna. There are three stages in the development of this character and in each he plays a role which advances the plot of this novel. At first he is taken from his village and brought to Umofia. Then he stays with Okonkwo’s family, accepts it as his own, and becomes an exemplary son of the family. And finally he is killed by the hands of Okonkwo whom he called father.
The series of event which bring Ikemefuna to Umofia serve to establish the character of Okonkwo. Okonkwo is shown to be trusted and well respected throughout the region. We see the trust of the village in Okonkwo when he is sent as an emissary of Umofia. His fame is shown when Ikemefuna’s village complies with his demands without any resistance. The fact that Okonkwo is given charge of Ikemefuna while they wait to decide what they would do with the young man demonstrates the importance of Okonkwo in the village. Ikemefuna is scared of the new village and Okonkwo doesn’t take much interest at him. This shows the reader the extent of the “being a man” complex Okonkwo has; since Ikemefuna is scared he is worthless as a man. Most of the events will occur because of Okonkwo’s role in the Ibo society. Therefore establishing the role of Okonkwo in his society is crucial to the plot. Chinua Achebe used Ikemefuna to set the foundations of the story. By the time Ikemefuna joins Okonkwo’s family, the reader has a clearer understanding of the step in the social ladder Okonkwo is on. It is shown that Okonkwo’s hardworking character has paid off and that he has achieved his goals.
After Ikemefuna integrates to the family, the reader sees relationships build between Okonkwo and Ikemefuna, Ikemefuna and Nwoye, and Okonkwo and Nwoye passing through Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna is the perfect son for Okonkwo. He portrays all the qualities Okonkwo wants in his sons. Okonkwo grows to be fond of him, and it is established that Okonkwo has feelings even though he hides them. Okonkwo’s character is developed through this relationship. Ikemefuna also makes Okonkwo happy since he has a positive influence on Nwoye. Although it has been said that Nwoye reminded Okonkwo of his father, the reader still has an unclear understanding of Nwoye’s character. Ikemefuna serves as a role model to Nwoye and pushes him to work harder and resemble Okonkwo’s father less than before. Nwoye becomes very attached to Ikemefuna and tries to be like him. This is key to the plot. Nwoye is greatly influenced by Ikemefuna’s actions and by what happens to him. Lastly Okonkwo has a little pride building up for Nwoye and starts to develop a relation with his son via Ikemefuna. Nwoye starts to appreciate his father and their relation starts to resemble the western idea of the father and son relationship. But this relation is fragile and could be destroyed easily.
The plot is developed the most with Ikemefuna’s death and the consequences of the death. Even though he has been advised not to participate in Ikemefuna’s death Okonkwo, not only participates but deals the fatal blow to Ikemefuna because his “being a man” complex takes over his thinking process. Okonkwo then enters a depression because he lost a son. The reader understands now that Okonkwo’s complex will be the cause of his demise. Okonkwo suffers from his complex but still sticks to it. It was the first time his complex failed him, as acting that way had brought him to the top of his society. The fragile relation between Nwoye and Okonkwo deteriorates and becomes worse off than before Ikemefuna came. Nwoye lost his role model and goes back to being lazy. Okonkwo and Nwoye become distant toward each other and Nwoye loses his respect for his father. As the story later progresses this will influence Nwoye’s actions. The death of Ikemefuna is the starting event of Okonkwo’s fall into a dark pit that will result in his death.
Although Ikemefuna only was in a short part of the novel, he had a great influence on the development of the story. The character was first used to set the general setting of the story. Then he showed the reader the complex relations of the protagonist. And finally he revealed the fatal flaw that would cost the protagonist his life.