Things Fall Apart Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Not everyone in Umuofia feels the way Okonkwo feels. In addition to their foreign religion, the white men have brought a large market, and because of this the palm-oil market has boomed. If not for this, it seems, the missionaries wouldn't have done nearly so well amongst the villagers. When Mr. Brown, the leader of the Christian church, builds a school, he talks the villagers into attending, telling them that if they get an education they'll be able to speak to the white men (the oppressors) on their own terms. Many people join and go on to become missionaries.

Mr. Brown spends a lot of time debating the existence of God and gods with a man of title named Akunna, who argues that there is one great god, Chukwu, who created the lesser gods like Ani or Agbala to do his work, because he has too many duties for one god to handle. When these lesser gods fail, the Igbo turn to Chukwu, having exhausted all other options. They don't like to do this, because they fear Chukwu and don't want to worry him; but they honor him daily, and all of their praise for the lesser gods is indirect praise for Chukwu. It's the strength of this belief in Chukwu that leads Mr. Brown to establish the school. He realizes that a direct attack on the Igbo religion is impossible.

Five months after Okonkwo's return to Umuofia, Mr. Brown pays him a visit, thinking Okonkwo would greet him happily and take abut his son, Nwoye, who'd just been sent away to the training college for teachers; but the warrior drives him away. Okonkwo's return has been lackluster, and he's upset that nothing goes as planned. He mourns for himself and his clan.

Metaphor

Mr. Brown attempts to reduce the Igbo gods to metaphors when he says to Akunna, "You carve a piece of wood...and you call it a god." This metaphor seeks to strip the carvings of their symbolic import to the Igbo and in so doing undermine the Igbo religion.

Themes

Education. There's no formalized education system in Igbo culture. Elders are the primary teachers for the clan, and one's parents act as one's immediate teachers, teaching boys to prepare seed yams and teaching girls how to cook. With the white men comes an intricate education system involving a schoolhouse in Umuofia, a college in Umuru, and an administrative hierarchy that manages these institutes of learning. This is a Western form of education, of course, and the Igbo students at the schools won't learn practical skills to better life on the farm. They will instead learn to perpetuate the white man's government and aid the process of colonization.

Religion. Achebe has already established that religion is one of the most important themes in the novel. He has even hinted, through the themes of evil and justice, that the conflict between the Igbo and the Christians will become a deadly one, with at least one of these groups meeting a tragic end. From history books, the reader knows that Christianity overruns these native African religions and that it feels little to no remorse for doing so. In this chapter, it becomes clear that the missionaries are not merely attempting to spread their faith but that they're engaged in an insidious and systematic campaign to destroy other religions. Mr. Brown's contemplation of a "frontal attack" on the native African religions indicates that he isn't content to coexist with the Igbo. Like his fellow Christian missionaries around the globe, his attempt to "civilize" the Igbo is really an effort to destroy their culture.