Illustration of a person holding their head next to a noose and a detached head

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Start Free Trial

Compare and contrast Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown in Things Fall Apart.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith are apparently similar in their backgrounds and beliefs, as well as their common English names, though their methods of spreading the faith are quite different. Mr. Brown is “very firm in restraining his flock from provoking the wrath of the clan.” Although he opens the...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

church to outcasts and people of low standing, he understands the structure of the community and gains the respect of great men, such as Akunna, with whom he spends hours discussing theology. Mr. Brown is prepared to explain his beliefs in ecumenical terms that Akunna will understand. He accepts that the Christian God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as Chukwu, and is willing to learn from Akunna.

Mr. Smith is introduced as the polar opposite of Mr. Brown:

He condemned openly Mr. Brown's policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw things as black and white. And black was evil. He saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness. He spoke in his sermons about sheep and goats and about wheat and tares. He believed in slaying the prophets of Baal.

Mr. Smith is distressed to find that Mr. Brown has discussed religion with the Umuofians and tried to explain Christianity in terms of their own ideas, rather than teaching them about such matters as the Trinity and the Sacraments. He believes that he is in Africa to civilize the people and that, as a Christian minister, he does not need to learn from them.

The names of the two men are two of the commonest English surnames. However, a point of contrast is that “Brown” suggests the natural world, particularly the color of the earth, emphasizing common humanity and connection to the world. It is also a color that is neither black nor white. A smith, in sharp contrast, is one who forges metal into shape with fire and hammer blows, a reflection of Mr. Smith’s harsher methods of proselytism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the British government moved forward with its plans to incorporate Igbo territory into its West African colony, the religious aspect of colonization was a crucial element of the strategy. The Christian missionary efforts played key roles in paving the way for African acceptance of a foreign presence that was distinct from political or military representation.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith have much in common. They are both white, Christian, English ministers who have traveled to Africa for the purpose of converting people to a foreign religion. Both are convinced that their method of conversion is the most effective.

Brown, the first to arrive, tends to be passive and patient. He understands that it can take time to break the ice and diminish the local people's mistrust of strangers. Brown seems genuinely interested in the Igbo ways of life, and he reasons that knowledge of the old gods will provide helpful ideas about how to convince people to abandon them. Although he is certain that his is the true religion, rather than trampling on others' beliefs, he "trod softly" on Igbo faith.

Smith is not only Brown's replacement but also represents the second wave of British colonization efforts. He favors a more aggressive approach, anticipating a rapidly growing congregation. Smith not only has more government backing but also understands the necessity of separating rulership from religion. Smith emphasizes the negative side of traditional beliefs and practices; he tries to establish conversion as necessary and inevitable.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the Christian missionaries first enter Umuofia, they are led by the tolerant, understanding Reverend Brown. Mr. Brown discourages the new converts from being over-zealous and provoking the clan for their traditional beliefs. Achebe writes that Mr. Brown is respected throughout Umuofia because he "trod softly on its faith." Mr. Brown also goes out of his way to learn about the Igbo culture and religion by having discussions with Akunna in his obi. Akunna explains the clan's religion to Mr. Brown, and he gains additional perspective on the native community. Mr. Brown then establishes a school, and many clan members have an opportunity to gain a Western-style education.

After Mr. Brown dies, Reverend James Smith replaces him. Despite the fact that he is also a Christian missionary with hopes of converting many natives, Smith openly condemns Mr. Brown's tolerant policy of compromise and accommodation. Unlike Mr. Brown, Reverend Smith has a narrow perspective and sees things as "black and white." Achebe writes, "And black was evil" (65). Reverend Smith is portrayed as an over-zealous, harsh leader who openly criticizes the clan for their "heathen" practices. Reverend Smith has a different view of Christianity than Mr. Brown, which is less tolerant and accepting of other cultures. As a result of Reverend Smith's intolerant, challenging nature, zealous converts thrive, and conflict ensues between the church and the villagers. Enoch eventually unmasks an egwugwu during a ceremony, and the clan responds by burning down the church.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Reverend Brown leads the mission with a cool head, calmness, and patience. He does not try to foist his religion on the tribe but leads by living example.

When Brown becomes ill and must leave, he is replaced by the zealous Reverend Smith. He is the total opposite of Brown, loud, pushy and believes that he is "right" and the tribe is "wrong". He has no compunction about shoving his own religious views down their throats. Anyone bold enough to go against him is thought to be a devil-worshipper.

Approved by eNotes Editorial