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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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In the novel Things Fall Apart, how does Chinua Achebe show how proselytism leads to things falling apart?

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In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe contrasts the methods and characters of the two proselytizing British ministers, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith. While the former is the more sympathetic of the two figures, the essential contrast is not between the good and bad sides of proselytizing Christianity but rather between two different methods by which the community is undermined, one of which, the more subtle and insidious, prepares the way for the other.

The Christian community begins by accepting everyone. It is joined by outcasts and people of low status but, as it grows, its members become more confident and self-assured, challenging the power of the traditional hierarchy. Mr. Brown may be well-intentioned but he does not really understand the culture and religion of Umuofia and he cannot control all the firebrands in his congregation, such as Enoch. He undermines the community slowly by making Christianity and colonialism seem unthreatening.

By the time Mr. Smith arrives, the damage has been done and the church has grown strong. It can stand in more open and militant opposition to the traditional order. Achebe writes that:

The over-zealous converts who had smarted under Mr. Brown’s restraining hand now flourished in full favor.

This expansion of the church reflects the other colonizing influences. Even at the end of the book, there are not many white men in the region and the few there are would be easy to expel. However, they have gained enough converts and subverted the social order to the extent that even a fierce warrior like Okonkwo feels deracinated and powerless in the new order.

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