Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart Chapter Twenty-One Quotes
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He [Mr. Brown] had just send Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, who was now called Isaac, to the new training college for teachers in Umuru. (21.22)
To signal his break from his old heathen ways (and probably his father), Nwoye changes his name to Isaac in an attempt to change his identity and Christianize himself.
Whenever Mr. Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his obi talking through an interpreter about religion. Either of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs.
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all the others are false. You carve a piece of wood – like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung) “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.”
“Yes,” said Akunna. “It is indeed a piece of wood. The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them for His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.”
“No,” protested Mr. Brown. “The head of my church is God Himself.”
“I know,” said Akunna, “but there must be a head in this world among men. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.”
“The head of my church in that sense is in England.”
“That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your country is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the District Commissioner. He is sent by your king.”
“They have a queen,” said the interpreter on his own account.
“Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person.”
“You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helps. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.”
“That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we are afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka – ‘Chukwu is Supreme.’”
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu is a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.”
“But we must fear Him when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna. “And who is to tell His will? It is too great to be known.” (21.5-18)
This dialogue between spokesmen of two different belief systems proves very telling. We find that the Igbo hierarchy of gods is not so different from the ecclesiastical system of Christianity. Both belief systems have a supreme god to whom all prayers ultimately go.
Okonkwo was deeply grieved […]. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women. (21.25)
The breaking apart of the Umuofia people is a signal to Okonkwo of their developing weakness and femininity. He greatly valued his people because they epitomized masculinity, and thus he mourns his clan and considers it of less value by seeing his clan as feminine.