Things Fall Apart Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

Shortly after the missionaries arrive, they ask for an audience with the elders of the village. They asked the elders for a plot of land to build their church, and instead of refusing, as they should've, the elders gave the missionaries a plot of land in the Evil Forest, assuming that this would bring the evil spirits down on the Christians and destroy them. When the missionaries don't die, the Igbo begin to think that the white men have power, and this leads them to convert. At first, Nwoye isn't sure that he wants to join the church, but is drawn to their kindness. Soon, a pregnant woman named Nneka joins the church, because she's heartbroken that she has borne four sets of twins and had to throw them away. Her family has no problem letting her go, however, just as Okonkwo has no problem disowning his son. He's embarrassed that he fathered such a weak son.

Motifs

Fire. Near the end of this chapter, the reader learns that Okonkwo has earned the nickname "Roaring Flame." He's embarrassed by Nwoye's betrayal and feels implicated because Nwoye is "weak" and "womanly." He wonders how someone with such incredible passion could beget a more or less passionless son. As he says, "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." This proverb equates Nwoye with a lifeless thing, suggesting that Okonkwo's destructive, roaring flame has eaten him up and destroyed him.

Symbols

Chi. One's chi is one's personal god, which is physically represented by a totem and a shrine to which one makes an offering in order to curry favor from one's personal god. Okonkwo's chi appears to have turned against him (as it did when he was exiled) and threatened once again to strip him of his identity. In this way, Okonkwo's chi becomes a symbol of his fate and his failure as a father, which will lead to his death.

Evil Forest. Unsurprisingly, the Evil Forest is a symbol of evil, the physical manifestation of the fears that the villagers harbor. Evil spirits, diseases, abominations, and so-called changelings live in the forest, making "evil" a tangible thing that can be avoided and, therefore, set aside. If they obey the gods, the Igbo believe, then they can combat the machinations of evil and, hopefully, defeat it.

Themes

Evil. When the missionaries ask for land to build their church, the elders give them a plot in the Evil Forest, expecting the evil spirits to kill them. The missionaries, however, aren't afraid, and in this we can clearly see that the two groups have very different definitions of evil. The Igbo believe a few things that might seem monstrous to Western readers (for instance, that twins should be left to die in the Evil Forest, because they're abominations). The missionaries win converts in part by making evil an abstract thing, a kind of disembodied idea that has no physical obvious physical presence like the Evil Forest. This appeals to villagers who feel stunted by the fear ingrained in them by their elders. The converts, however, fail to realize that colonization is in itself evil and that it will result in the near death of a culture that has every right to exist.