Things Fall Apart: Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 16 Summary

When Obierika returns to Mbanta, he tries to get Okonkwo to tell the story of how Nwoye converted to Christianity, but Okonkwo does not wish to speak on the subject. Through his first wife, Nwoye’s mother, that Obierka discovers the details.

One day, the entire village of Mbanta went to see the white men who are to live there. They spoke of their religion and sang a hymn. Most of the villagers pay them no heed because their language is somewhat different. Nwoye, however, finds great comfort in the Christian belief but is not quite ready to convert.

Analysis

The disintegration of Igbo society is central to Things Fall Apart; the idea of collapse, on both an individual and social level, is one of the novel’s central images. This image also gives the book its title. The Christians arrive and bring division to the Igbo. One of their first victims is Okonkwo’s family. The new faith separates a father from son, and the Christians seek to attack the very heart of Igbo belief; such an attack also attacks the core of Igbo culture, as the tribe’s religious beliefs are completely essential to all other aspects of life. Not coincidentally, the first converts are people who stand to profit from a change in the social order. They are people who have no title in the tribe, and thus have nothing to lose.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 17 Summary

The converters would like to build a church and the villagers offer a piece of land in the Evil Forest because they think the white men will not accept it. Of course, the missionaries are not afraid of the villagers’ myths, so they start building the church. To the villagers’ surprise, nothing happens with the white man and the church is built within a few weeks. More and more villagers have been converted, including Nwoye. Once Okonkwo finds it out, he disowns and evicts his son from the village.

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Analysis

In Christianity, Nwoye finds comfort for things that have long disturbed him. But the religion also provides him with a way to rebel against his father. And the social effects of Christianity will be as bad as the Igbo fear. The new religion undermines the hierarchies of the culture; Achebe also points out that religion provides hope to those who have suffered under Igbo law. Although the men without title embracing the religion say little in favour of it (especially since Igbo society has a high degree of social mobility), Nneka’s defection to the new faith is telling. She was born four pairs of twins and has been forced to throw all of them away. Pregnant again, she is desperate to save her children. Not coincidentally, she bears the name that Uchendu mentioned earlier: “Mother Is Supreme.”

But just as Igbo faith is integral to Igbo society, the new religion also comes with social and political attachments. Once the land has been granted for the building of the church, the whites become difficult to dislodge. They bring their laws and their guns soon afterwards, and Igbo men and women are forced to live under the colonial yoke.

Okonkwo is not a man who learns. He cannot understand that his own harshness has driven Nwoye away. The boy is terrified of him, and he has suffered greatly because of his sensitivity. We see an array of different male role models. Uchendu provides a sage counterpoint to Okonkwo’s violent masculinity. Mr Kiaga and the men of the church provide another alternative; to escape his father, Nwoye goes with them.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 18 Summary

The white man’s church gains more and more converts; they even accept the osu, or rejects of the clan. Because their brothers have joined the church, the villagers cannot kill them, for fear of being kicked out of the village. Tensions rise between the church and the village, until one day a Christian kills the sacred python. Okonkwo suggests the use of violence on the men, but the clansmen decide instead to ostrasize them. In the end, the man accused of killing the python dies.

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Analysis

Achebe’s portrait of the Christians is as fair and balanced as his portrait of the Igbo; remember that his own parents were Christian missionaries. Although Christian intolerance leads to problems in the beginnings of the new community, Mr Kiaga’s wise and steady leadership is quite admirable.

We also see that the Christians fill a void in clan life; they do great good by rescuing the twins and providing comfort to outcasts. But it is also true that the Christians are the first wave of imperialism. The advent of the missionaries is the precursor to subjugation.

Okonkwo, characteristically, calls for war. Remember that he dislikes the Christians because of the conversion of his son. He is outraged when Mbanto chooses the softer penalty of ostracizing them. He believes that Umuofia would have chosen a different course. His hotheadedness and courage to fight the new faith with his fists are typical of him; we are reminded that when faced with a problem, Okonkwo only knows one way to fight back.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 19 Summary

Seven years have progressed since the exile and Okonkwo can return to his tribe. He coordinates a great feast for his relatives and thanks to them for everything, but inside he regrets that he has wasted seven years of his life with such cowardly people. Before he leaves, his uncle warns against the splitting of the clan.

Analysis

Okonkwo’s feast is in keeping with his greatness. He needs to be as generous to his mother’s clan as they have been to him. He also is celebrating finally being permitted to return to his homeland. The chapter ends on an dark note, foretelling the threats to the Igbo. The elder’s speech, placed at the end of the chapter, which is also the end of Part Two, hints that Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia may be far more challenging than he had hoped.

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Things Fall Apart: Chapter 20 Summary

Okonkwo is very enthusiastic: his plans include building new huts, marrying two more wives, getting titles for his sons, and convincing her daughters to marry young and strong warriors. But once he arrives in Iguedo, he has to realize that his village has changed: Christianity has overwhelmed most of the villagers.

Analysis

Note that since her night with the Oracle, Ezinma has grown into a healthy, beautiful child. Her sickliness has ended.

Okonkwo had hoped to return to his fatherland with joy and celebration, but he finds Umuofia sadly changed. The Igbo are no longer free to dispense justice. For the crime of manslaughter, Igbo custom requires the relatively lenient punishment of exile. The white man, in contrast, demands execution. White laws are not superior or more humane than the laws of Umuofia, yet the whites insist that Igbo laws are inferior. In building their courthouse, they rob Umuofia of its self-determination.

The religion and the new government are wreaking destruction on the harmony of Igbo life. Social instability and the threat of violence have arrived in full force, and armed opposition is impossible. The old religion is threatened; with shame, the Igbo are forced to bow down to white authority.

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