Summary and Analysis
Initially, the church and the clan remain segregated from one another in Mbanta. The people of the village believe that eventually the Christians will weaken and die, especially since they live in the dreaded forest, where they even rescue twins abandoned in the woods.
One day, three converts come into the village saying that the traditional gods are dead, and the converts are ready to burn their shrines. The clan men severely beat the converts, after which nothing happens between the Christians and the clan for a long time. Eventually, rumors circulate that the church has set up its own government. But the villagers remain unconcerned about the church — until a new issue emerges.
The outcasts of Mbanta, the osu, live in a special section of the village and are forbidden to marry a free person or cut their hair. They are to be buried in the Evil Forest when they die. When the osu see that the church welcomes twins into their congregation, they think that they may be welcome also. After two outcasts attend service, other converts protest, saying that Mr. Kiaga does not understand the disgrace of associating with osu. But Mr. Kiaga says that the osu need the church more than anyone, and so he welcomes them, instructing them to shave off their mark of shame — their dirty, tangled hair. One prior convert chooses to return to the clan, but the others find strength and understanding in the missionaries' point of view. Most other osu become Christians, and the outcasts become the most dedicated members of the congregation.
A year later, one of the osu converts named Okoli is rumored to have killed the sacred python, the clan's most respected animal. The clan rulers and elders gather in Mbanta to decide on a punishment for the crime that they believed would never happen. Okonkwo, who has gained a leadership role in his motherland, believes the clan should react with violence, but the elders opt more peacefully to exclude church members from all aspects of clan life, much to Okonkwo's disgust.
The proclamation of exclusion keeps the Christians from the market, the stream, the chalk quarry, and the red earth pit. From the beginning, Okoli denies killing the python, but then he cannot speak for himself because he is ill; by the end of the day, he dies. The villagers see his death as an act of revenge by the gods, so they agree not to bother the Christians.
Okonkwo's views toward the Christians and his desire for a violent solution begin to separate him from the rest of his new Mbanta clan — which he thinks is a womanly clan. He feels that simply excluding the Christians from several public places is a weak solution.
Hoping not to come into conflict with one another, the church and the village are delicately maintaining an equilibrium by avoiding each other. When they do encounter each other, violence sometimes erupts, as when the three converts make fun of the old gods. In addition, as more new converts strengthen the church, they in turn weaken the clan, causing increased tension among the non-Christians as well as between the Christians and the non-Christians. When the church violates something sacred in the clan tradition, the precarious balance between church and clan is upset — a balance that is increasingly more difficult to maintain. Yet, even this crisis is resolved without violence.
The increasing strength of the new church is represented by the considerable preparations being made for the Christian Holy Week and Easter.
osu a class of people in Igbo culture considered outcasts, not fit to associate with free-born members of the clan.
caste rigid class distinction based on birth, wealth, and so on, operating as a social system or principle.
heathen anyone not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim; especially, a member of a tribe, nation, etc. worshiping many gods.
python a very large, nonvenomous snake of Asia, Africa, and Australia, that squeezes its prey to death.
defecates excretes waste matter from the bowels.
ostracize to banish, bar, exclude, etc. from a group through rejection by general consent of the members.