Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe Summary and Analysis Part 3: Chapter 21

Summary

Not all members of the Igbo clan in Umuofia dislike the changes taking place. The Europeans are bringing wealth to the village as they begin to export palm-oil and palm nut kernels.

The white missionary, Mr. Brown, takes time to learn about the Igbo form of worship, often discussing religion with one of the elders of the clan. The two men debate the forms, actions, and attitudes of their respective gods. Mr. Brown restrains overeager members of his church from provoking villagers who cling to the old ways. Through his gentle patience, Mr. Brown becomes friends with some of the clan leaders, who begin to listen to and understand his message.

Mr. Brown urges the people of the clan to send their children to his school. He tells them that education is the key to maintaining control of their land. Eventually, people of all ages begin to listen to his message and attend his school. Mr. Brown's crusade gains power for the whites and for the church, but his diligence takes its toll on his health. He is forced to leave his congregation and return home.

Before Mr. Brown goes home, he visits Okonkwo to tell him that Nwoye — now called Isaac — has been sent to a teaching college in a distant town. Okonkwo drives the missionary out and orders him never to return.

Everything about the changed community of Umuofia displeases Okonkwo. His homecoming was not what he had hoped; no one really took much notice of his arrival. He can't even proceed with the ceremonies for his sons, because the rites are held only once every three years, and this year is not one of them. The dissolution of the old way of life saddens him as he sees the once fierce Umuofians becoming more and more "soft like women." He mourns for the clan, "which he saw breaking up and falling apart" — a phrase that again recalls the book's title.

Analysis

In this chapter, a third institution is established by the British in Umuofia — trade with the outside world. The Europeans buy palm-oil and palm kernels from the Igbo at a high price, and many Umuofians profit from the trade. These Umuofians welcome the new trading opportunities, though these activities are effectively undermining the clan and its self-sufficiency. Through narrative that gradually introduces these key, outside influences — religion, government, and commerce — Achebe shows how the British convinced so many Umuofians to welcome them in spite of their disruption of daily life and customs.

Indeed, the British seem to provide advantages lacking in Umuofian culture. The established members of the village welcome new opportunities for wealth. At the other end of the social scale, the disenfranchised members of Igbo society find acceptance in Christianity that they didn't experience in the so-called old ways. Mr. Brown builds a school and a much-needed small hospital in Umuofia; both institutions produce immediate and impressive results.

So the Umuofians now have more. Are they better off because of these additions to their lives? The British thought so and expected them to agree.

Achebe has said that he may have unconsciously modeled Mr. Brown, the white missionary, after G.T. Basden, a real-life missionary who worked among the Igbo in the early twentieth-century — a man who was a friend of Achebe's parents. Like Brown, Basden was a patient man who was willing to learn about so-called heathen traditions and values. However, Basden ultimately misunderstood Igbo culture, writing in Among the Ibos of Nigeria (1921) that "the black man himself does not know his own mind. He does the most extraordinary things, and cannot explain why he does them. . . . He is not controlled by logic."

Glossary

the new dispensation the new system; the new organization of society under British influence.

kernels the inner, softer part of a nut, fruit pit, etc. Here, found in the fleshy remains of the palm nut after its husk is crushed for palm-oil. The kernels can be processed by machine for the extraction of a very fine oil.

Ikenga a carved wooden figure kept by every man in his shrine to symbolize the strength of a man's right hand.

Chukwu the leading god in the Igbo hierarchy of gods.

the D.C. the District Commissioner.

singlets men's undershirts, especially the sleeveless kind.

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