Things Fall Apart: Chapter 21 Summary
Everything seems to be calm. Mr Brown, the Pacific leader of the converters and Akunna, a leader of the clan often meet and discuss religious issues in public. They can’t convince each other but each accepts and tolerates the other’s views. Besides the church, the missionaries have built a school and a hospital as well. When Mr Brown tells Okonkwo that Nwoye goes to a training college and he is going to be a teacher, Okonkwo threatens him and chase him away.
Mr Brown’s strategy to conversion helps the early church in Umuofia get along relatively peacefully with the clan. Still, he is part of the forces that are destroying clan life. British imperialism also brings benefits, which help to mask the long-term damage being done to the Igbo people. Money from the trade centre, the promise of position and wages from DC, the possibility of education from Mr Brown’s church: these are all substantial benefits. But the clan also is losing its independence. Even the education at the church comes with the risk of brainwashing. Okonkwo’s worry is based on the loss of his people’s strength. He sees that they are being irrevocably changed, in many ways for the worse, by the arrival of the white man.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 22 Summary
Mr Brown gets sick and Reverend James Smith follows him in the leader position. He is an aggressive, rather violent man who refuses Mr Brown’s peaceful converting methods. He encourages the new converts to harass and degrade the heathen villagers. During a traditional ceremony, Enoch, one of the new converts, unmasks an egwugwu who burns Enoch’s house and the new Christian church the next day.
Under Mr Smith, reason and compromise become impossible. Enoch’s act is offensive in all senses. He is trying to start a holy war; when Mr Smith hides him in the parsonage, Enoch is disappointed. He wants blood. His inflammatory comment comes right after the egwugwu have made a generous concession. Though the clan tries to compromise with the new religion and new government, it proves impossible. The white man has no respect for Igbo ways, and the new religion is dogmatic and deceitful, preaching peace out of one side of its mouth while serving an imperialistic government. It appeals to troublemakers like Enoch, who uses the new religion to goad people towards war.
And the people of Umuofia are afraid. When the Mother of Spirits roams the villages, weeping for her son’s death, it seems that she is crying for the death of the clan. The people of Umuofia are being destroyed. Yet again, the response of the clan is something of a compromise. In spite of the grave offence that has been performed, they kill no one. They simply decide to remove the source of the problem. They will destroy the building.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 23 Summary
The District Commissioner asks to have a talk with the leaders of the village about the church burning. Okonkwo tells the leaders to bring their machetes, but even with these preparations, the District Commissioner’s men are able to capture them in the meeting room. The guards regularly whip and hit the leaders, who eat nothing they are given. In the meantime, the court messengers arrive in the village and demand a fine from the villagers, which they increase for their personal benefit.
The theme of justice is one of the preoccupations of the novel. Throughout the book, we have seen Igbo justice in action. Igbo laws and traditions preserve order. Justice is impossible under the new system. The DC is completely ignorant of local ways, and he has no intention of learning about them; the different ideas of justice ensure conflict.
The corruption of the system is also clear. The DC does not even speak the local language, giving them ample room for trickery.
Okonkwo is humiliated and “choked with hate” for the white man. The DC arrogantly speaks of the need for “good government” and “justice” under the reign of the queen. He is speaking to the Igbo like subjects of the Empire; little by little, that is what they have become.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 24 Summary
Once Okonkwo and the other leaders are released and return to the village, they start planning revenge. The most anxious and ambitious man is, of course, Okonkwo, who has been waiting for this day since he was banished. The only thing he wants is to show his courage and fighting skills to the clansmen. The villagers gather and discuss the issues. Okonkwo becomes the leader of the resistance killing the leader of the court messengers who tried to hinder the uprising. He thinks he gets back his honour with this act but he has to realize that the threat of the court messengers has frightened the clansmen: they are not going to fight. Okonkwo leaves the village.
Okonkwo aches for revenge. He has lost his son, the glory of a proper return, and his dignity at the hands of the white man. His people have lost their independence. They are no longer free to administer justice. The white man refuses to treat their leaders with dignity and lectures them on good government while his own revels in hypocrisy and violence.
At the same time, Okonkwo has no inkling of real warfare as conceived of by the white man. His glorious memories of Umuofia’s great war are revealing: 14 men were killed. Igbo wars are fought on a relatively tiny scale. They are not wars of conquest. Okonkwo has no way of knowing that for whites, thousands can die even in a tiny war. His rage, though justified, does not provide him with any real way of resisting the white man.
The final injury comes at the clan meeting. The white man is no longer satisfied with taking away justice: now, he wishes to destroy Umuofia’s primitive democracy. The British want to deny the people their right to assembly and group decision-making. This change would mean death for the last shreds of Umuofia’s self-determination. Okonkwo reacts the only way he knows how. He strikes the man down. But from his people’s response, he knows that they are not behind him.
Things Fall Apart: Chapter 25 Summary
The District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo’s compound with the aim of arresting him for killing his messenger, but when he arrives Obierika shows him Okonkwo’s dead body hung from a tree. The District Commissioner, complying with Obierika’s plea, tells his men to take down the body and bury it. Obierika accuses the District Commissioner of pushing Okonkwo past his limit, making him kill himself. The District Commissioner finds the ironic situation interesting, barely enough to include it in his book about Africa: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Okonkwo’s suicide, in retrospect, seems nearly inevitable. Prepared to fight the white man, alone if necessary, the betrayal by his people is more than he can bear. He realizes that he will resist alone, even after the outrage of the white man ordering a stop to the clan meeting. Okonkwo understands that his people have been broken. Instead of a war, he will have only the white man’s nose; he will not even be tried under his own people’s laws. He chooses suicide instead.
Long years of difficulty and disappointment have contributed to this moment. The accidental death and then exile darkened Okonkwo’s view of life. The betrayal of his son was a very heavy blow. Now, the betrayal of his people, and their inevitable subjugation pushes Okonkwo into despair. Okonkwo’s central beliefs have been undermined. He believed that a man was the master of his own fate; his exile and the loss of his son challenged that belief. He also had great faith in his clan, but now his clan will be a subservient people. He cannot bear this disgrace. Parallel to Okonkwo’s tragedy is the tragedy of his people’s subjugation. As a final bit of bitter irony, Okonkwo’s suicide violates the very traditions that are being menaced by the white man.
The DC’s intrusion at the end of the novel is a commentary on a certain kind of narrative. In European conceptions of Africa, the DC’s attitude is typical. Okonkwo’s death, a great tragedy, is worth only one paragraph of entertaining reading. The DC also reflects on the need to cut out any irrelevant detail. The book the DC imagines is in many ways the opposite of Things Fall Apart, with its focus on a great African man, its many beautiful digressions, and its loving and sympathetic portrait of Igbo culture.
The novel is in some ways a response to earlier depictions of “savage” Africa. Now that we have reached the end, the digressions pay off. In the course of following Okonkwo’s tragedy, we have learned a great deal about Igbo life. Now we know that the culture represented in the novel is a culture that in many ways no longer exists. Imperialism changed many aspects of life in Africa, and usually not for the better. The destruction of tribal social institutions and traditions led to great social and cultural voids, the negative results of which are still being felt in Africa today.