Things Fall Apart Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

In the wake of the attack on the church, the District Commissioner asks six of the leaders of the clan, including Okonkwo, to visit him at his headquarters. Upon arrival, they're arrested and told to pay a fine of two hundred cowries to ensure their release. In jail, the men aren't given any food or water, and they sit in shame for days until Okonkwo finally says that they should've killed the white man, too. One of the court messengers overhears this and beats the men. When the six men refuse to ask their clan to pay the fine, the court messengers go and demand it from the villagers, adding a surcharge of fifty cowries for their troubles. The fine is paid, and the men are released.

Themes

Corruption. With government comes corruption, and the white District Commissioner, unable to translate the words of his court messengers himself, is either unaware of their corrupt practices (taking money from the villagers) or looks the other way. It's easy to see how the court messengers, who've been given a modicum of power in the new government, would feel entitled to abuse that power and to take advantage of the less educated, less powerful villagers. In their arrogance, the reader can see a kind of disdain for their heritage. This disdain makes it easier for them to destroy their culture.

Justice. With corruption comes an inherently flawed justice system. There's no real logic behind the laws imposed by the colonial government, and the court messengers frequently take advantage of this for their own personal gain. In comparison to the Igbo justice system, its colonial counterpart is a vicious and unforgiving system that rules with an iron fist. Achebe points out the vast corruption in the colonial justice system to indicate to his readers that it isn't really justice at all and that the colonizers don't care about the people they oppress.