Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Chapter Twenty-One

By Chinua Achebe

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Chapter Twenty-One

  • Although Okonkwo strongly believes that the white men should be forced out of Umuofia, not everyone in town agrees. The white men have brought trading stores, goods, and money to the area, which many of the villagers appreciate.
  • Not all of the missionaries are bad. The white missionary in Umuofia, Mr. Brown, is well respected.
  • Mr. Brown does everything in his power to keep his flock of converts from harassing the clan. He doesn’t appreciate fanaticism and tries to prevent his converts from going off in the direction of extremism. When trying to convert people, he speaks logically and respectfully.
  • This chapter recounts such a conversation between Mr. Brown and Akunna, a respected man of the clan. The two men frequently visit with each other to speak about religion, although neither has been able to convert the other to his side.
  • Akunna finds parallels between Christianity and the Igbo polytheistic belief system. He argues that the two are not so different after all.
  • Akunna calls Mr. Brown and his kotma the human messengers of their God, and equates the men to the lesser gods in the Igbo pantheon who serve the supreme god, Chukwu. One must approach Chukwu or God through the lesser vehicles first out of fear and respect. Only when those channels fail does one directly address the supreme god.
  • Mr. Brown uses his new understanding of the Igbo faith to convert people. He realizes that a direct attack on their gods will not work and instead goes from family to family, begging them to send their children to the missionary school. Those that agree are rewarded with official positions; they become court messengers or clerks or schoolteachers.
  • The year that Okonkwo returns to Umuofia, Mr. Brown leaves for health reasons.
  • Okonkwo is distressed because his return doesn’t cause the great stir he had imagined since his exile.
  • The missionaries – their church, their government, and their trading stores – are occupying much of the Igbo’s thoughts and time.
  • Though his daughters receive good marriage proposals, Okonkwo is frustrated that his return has gone largely unnoticed. Hspends most of his time lamenting that the formerly warlike men of Umuofia have become too soft and womanly to resist the Christians.

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