Last Updated on December 31, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413
When Mr. Brown leaves Umuofia because of his failing health, he’s replaced by Reverend James Smith, a more aggressive, less tolerant man who encourages the zealots in the church to lash out, stirring up trouble in the village. One man, Enoch, unmasks an egwugwu during a ceremony (an act that...
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When Mr. Brown leaves Umuofia because of his failing health, he’s replaced by Reverend James Smith, a more aggressive, less tolerant man who encourages the zealots in the church to lash out, stirring up trouble in the village. One man, Enoch, unmasks an egwugwu during a ceremony (an act that the Igbo consider one of the highest sins a man can commit). In retribution, the men burn Enoch’s compound to the ground, then burn the church to the ground, pausing only to allow Reverend Smith to come out where it’s safe.
Drums. There’s a saying in Umuofia: “as a man dance[s] so the drums beat for him.” This was the case in previous chapters, when Okonkwo wrestled or remembered wrestling with a fiery passion raging inside him. These drumbeats are meant to quicken the heart, speed up the action, and drive men to violence. Reverend Smith’s association with these drums emphasizes his aggressive religious zeal.
Fire. In chapter 13, Achebe foreshadowed the destruction of Enoch’s compound and the church when Obierika and the villagers burned down Okonkwo’s compound. Now it’s Okonkwo’s turn to burn someone’s house down. Though these events are necessitated by different crimes, and though the burning of the church was not specifically required to appease the gods, it must’ve felt like poetic justice for Okonkwo to turn the tables and do to another what had been done to him.
Colors. Traditionally (at least in Western cultures), the colors black and white have symbolized good and evil. Reverend Smith’s “black and white” view of the world is primarily a religious one, where black represents demons and the evils of men and white represents holiness and godliness. However, one can’t overlook the obvious racial connotations of the words black and white. In using them, Achebe implies that Reverend Smith’s hatred of the native Igbo religion is racially motivated.
Race. When Achebe says that the Reverend Smith sees the world in “black and white,” it’s hard for the reader to ignore the obvious racial connotations. Smith, a white man, views all Africans as heathens until they convert, and even then, he doesn’t think of them as worthwhile believers. All the religious and cultural tensions in the novel stem in some way from racism and the belief that Africans were uncivilized before colonization. This empiricist belief helped the colonists justify their genocide of the Igbo.