Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Chapter Seventeen

By Chinua Achebe

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Chapter Seventeen

  • The missionaries don’t seem to have much intention of leaving, and preach by day and sleep in the marketplace by night.
  • Within the first week of their arrival, the missionaries ask the rulers of Mbanta for land on which to build their church. Uchendu agrees, but gives them a section of the Evil Forest. No one in town wants the missionaries to stay, and they assume that any person with any intelligence wouldn’t live in the Evil Forest.
  • The respected men of Mbanta think that giving the missionaries a piece of the Evil Forest is a good joke. As Uchendu says, the missionaries “boast about victory over death. Let us give them a real battlefield on which to show their victory.”
  • The missionaries are so happy to have the land that they start singing. That wasn’t quite the reaction the men of Mbanta were expecting.
  • The villagers expect the missionaries, who are busy clearing forest land for their church, to die quickly. But they don’t.
  • The explanation for the missionaries’ success in the Evil Forest is that the white man with them can see the evil spirits through his glasses and communicate with them.
  • When none of the missionaries die, they win their first three converts.
  • During these first few weeks, Nwoye shadows the missionaries and lingers outside their church, but can't muster the courage to enter because of (justifiable) fear of his father.
  • The white missionary’s interpreter, Mr. Kiaga, has become the head of the new Mbanta church because the white man set up headquarters in Umuofia.
  • Mr. Kiaga invites everyone in the village to come worship at the church every Sunday.
  • Many of the villagers are still unsure about what the Igbo gods will do to the missionaries living in the Evil Forest. The gods sometimes let men do as they like to see if the humans will continue to defy them. However, the gods always exact revenge within 28 days.
  • The 28th day is fast approaching and the villagers eagerly watch and wait. Some converts even temporarily un-convert.
  • The 28th day arrives and Mr. Kiaga and the church are doing fine. They even win some more converts, including a pregnant woman named Nneka.
  • Nneka had previously given birth to four sets of twins, all of which were abandoned to the Evil Forest.
  • Okonkwo discovers though the grapevine that Nwoye has been hanging around the Christians and the news enrages him.
  • When Nwoye comes home, Okonkwo grabs the young man by the throat and angrily asks him where he’s been.
  • Nwoye doesn’t answer and Okonkwo starts beating him with a stick and threatening to kill him.
  • Uchendu arrives and tells Okonkwo to let go of Nwoye, which Okonkwo does.
  • Nwoye wisely leaves. He heads straight to the church and Mr. Kiaga to tell the church leader that he’s moving to Umuofia and join the white missionary’s school where he will learn to read and write.
  • Nwoye is glad to be rid of his father, though he vows to return to convert his mother and siblings.
  • Okonkwo is enraged and greatly troubled by Nwoye’s betrayal. He tries to calm himself by telling himself that Nwoye isn’t worth fighting for.
  • Okonkwo blames his bad fortune – his exile and worthless son – on his chi or personal god.
  • Part of the reason Okonkwo is so angry about Nwoye’s new religion is that he considers Christianity weak and effeminate, and we know how important manliness is to Okonkwo.
  • Okonkwo sees his father in Nwoye and can’t believe that he could father a son who’s so much like “a woman.”
  • In the end, Okonkwo realizes that “Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.”

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