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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

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Part 3 begins with Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia. He has been planning his return since he was first exiled, but his plans are waylaid by Nwoye’s conversion to Christianity. He’d been hoping to initiate his sons into the ozo, one of the ranks of titles in the clan, but because of Nwoye, he can’t rely on this to make his return glorious. So he must turn to Ezinma, his daughter, who has, in the seven years of exile, grown into a great beauty. She’s actually called the "Crystal of Beauty." Many men in Mbanta want to marry her, but at Okonkwo’s request, she agrees not to accept any of their proposals but instead to wait until they return to Umuofia.

Upon his return, Okonkwo finds that many otherwise respectable men have joined the Christians and that their colonial government has built a court nearby. Their court messengers, the kotma—or, as the villagers like to call them, Ashy-Buttocks (after the color of their shorts)—have imprisoned men of title and forced them into demeaning manual labor. Okonkwo shakes his head at this. He doesn’t want his people to be like the foolish men in Abame; but it’s too late, Obierika says. The white men have converted too many of the Igbo, who help to uphold the colonial government. It would be difficult to throw the white men out without incurring the wrath of their government.

Obierika tells the story of Aneto, a man who killed another man in a land dispute and attempted to flee to Aninta to avoid the wrath of the earth goddess, much as Okonkwo had done. The white men heard of the murder and hunted down Aneto, taking him to Umuru to be hanged. Okonkwo says nothing, but the reader understands that the same thing could easily happen to Okonkwo.


Obierika’s story about Aneto, the man who was hanged, foreshadows Okonkwo’s own suicide by hanging at the end of the novel, which can in many ways be blamed on the white men, who have imposed a foreign law on the Igbo. For more on this, see chapter 25, Themes: Suicide.


Disappointment. Okonkwo has been disappointed by many things in life: his father, his son, his exile, and what he sees as the weakness of men in his village. His disappointment stems from his nearly impossible standards, which no one, not even himself, can truly live up to. This disappointment leads him to feel frustrated and angry, and, as the reader knows, when Okonkwo feels frustrated, he becomes violent. It’s easy to see how this could lead to disaster.

Justice. Chapter 10 afforded readers a glimpse into the justice system the Igbo have developed. This makes it all the more difficult to stomach the imposition of the white colonizers’ foreign government. Whereas in Igbo culture, it’s possible to pay for one’s crime with cowries and nonviolent forms of punishment, like exile, the white men employ an "eye for an eye" sort of mentality, which dictates that one crime (such as murder) be punished in kind, using equal or, on occasion, greater force, such as when the entire Abame clan was destroyed for the murder of one white man. It should be noted that this isn’t a fair justice system and that it’s designed to wipe out African natives who would threaten white authority. It isn’t justice. It’s self-serving.

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Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis