Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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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...

(The entire section is 603 words.)