Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis
When the six men return to the village, they're met with a silent, worried crowd who follow them without asking what happened. Okonkwo has no appetite, but eats a little to appease Ezinma and his friends. Everyone can see the lashes on his back. He's upset by what happened, but pleased in some ways, because he thinks this might lead to war. He hears a crier striking a gong, but doesn't catch what the crier says. He falls asleep thinking of how much he hates the white men.
The next morning, the members of the clan gather in the marketplace to discuss everything that's happened. One of the six former prisoners, Okika, speaks, asking if everyone from their clan is in attendance. He tells them no, they aren't, because the white men have broken their clan up, taking members away and manipulating them into turning against their own people. Okika calls for war, demanding that the clan "root out this evil" enemy, the white man.
Then five court messengers arrive, relaying the white man's orders that the meeting stop. Without even a moment's hesitation, Okonkwo draws his machete and beheads the head messenger. When the other four messengers escape, Okonkwo realizes that Umuofia will not go to war.
Achebe uses alliteration and repetition in the line: "This is a great gathering. No clan can boast of greater numbers or greater valor."
Machete. Okonkwo's machete is a symbol of his violent nature, his prowess as a warrior, and death. When he kills the court messenger, he knows that the white men will exact their revenge. His machete, his favorite weapon, thus becomes a symbol of his downfall.
Human Heads. In Chapter 2, Okonkwo was described as drinking out of a human skull, which he brought home as a trophy after winning a battle. Here, the severed head, instead of being a symbol of his power and success, becomes a symbol of his failure. Okonkwo will never win a war again.
Violence. Achebe has building up to Okonkwo's confrontation with the head messenger for the last several chapters (and, indeed, from the very beginning of this novel). The reader has always known that the culture clash between the white men and the Igbo would result in bloodshed, but still held out hope that Okonkwo would fare well in it. When the clan doesn't immediately rally behind him, it becomes clear to Okonkwo that there's no hope of beating the white men. They lost even before the war even properly began.
War. This novel opened with what Achebe called a "just" war. Men from Mbaino killed a daughter of Umuofia, and in response Umuofia sent Okonkwo to deliver an ultimatum to them, assuming he wouldn't be harmed along the way. This formal process of threatening and deciding to go to war isn't observed by the white men, who don't have any qualms about destroying Igbo culture. War in this context is both physical and ideological, but the Igbo didn't realize it until it was too late. The colonists, of course, were well aware of what they were doing.