Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Many people in Umuofia do not feel as strongly as Okonkwo does about getting rid of the white men. Although the white men bring a strange religion, they also bring a trading store, allowing money to flow into Umuofia. Even the religion is beginning to take hold due to the efforts of Mr. Brown, a white missionary who approaches conversion in a respectful and restrained manner, attempting to understand the clan's own traditions. He prevents members of the church from provoking the clan, particularly in the case of Enoch, a fanatical convert whose father was the priest of the snake cult.
Mr. Brown pursues a peaceful change, a change founded on respect. Undoubtedly his goal is to convert people of Umuofia to Christianity, which has and will continue to result in vast changes to Umuofia society. But he does so respectfully, and seems to see things of value in Umuofia culture. Put another way, he seems willing to be influenced by the Umuofia just as he is influencing them.
Themes
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Mr. Brown makes friends with some of the great men of the clan, and in one of the neighboring villages, he discusses religion with a great clansman named Akunna. Neither one of them succeeds in converting the other, but they do gain a better understanding of the other's religion. Akunna also points out several similarities between the clan's religion and the Christian faith, likening Mr. Brown's presence to the clan's wooden carvings—both are representations of God on earth, among people.
Mr. Brown wins friends in the clan by conversing with them, demonstrating again the power of language. We learn more about the complexity of the Umuofia religion as well. The clan members don't blindly believe in wooden structures and masked figures, but they regard them as conduits for their faith. White men who do not take time to converse with the Umuofia are likely to think of them as mere savages who think that those masks and wooden idols are real rather than symbolic.
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Mr. Brown uses his understanding to convert more clan members to the church. He builds a school and a hospital and begs families to send their children to the school. He says that clan leaders in the future will be those who can read and write, and his arguments begin to have an effect. More people begin to enroll in his school as they see the quick results of schooling, including earning a clerkship or becoming a teacher. Mr. Brown's health begins to break down, however, and he has to leave Umuofia shortly after Okonkwo's return. He attempts to greet Okonkwo with news of his son Nwoye upon Okonkwo's return, but Okonkwo drives him out with threats.
Written language begins to take over the oral tradition in Umuofia, as the ability to be literate becomes a mark of power and wealth in the clan (as opposed to, say, farming yams). As these new opportunities become evident, those who can benefit from them (i.e. those who are not or are unlikely to be) rich or powerful because they are not physically powerful or strong farmers, convert to the new religion and its associated values. Okonkwo's threats to Mr. Brown show that he still holds to the old traditions, though.
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Okonkwo's return is not as memorable as he hopes, even though his daughters do arouse interest among suitors. Umuofia is too busy with the changes brought by the new religion and government to pay much attention to Okonkwo's return. Okonkwo mourns for the men of Umuofia, whom he believes have become “soft like women.”
Okonkwo planned to have a memorable return based on traditional methods of gaining attention and status in the clan, but things have changed so much that his plans fall through. He blames this on the clan's loss of respect for masculinity and strength.
Themes
Tradition vs. Change Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
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