Things Fall Apart

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District Commissioner Character Analysis

The District Commissioner shows up in Umuofia after Okonkwo murders a white man towards the end of the novel. The District Commissioner plans to write a book on his experiences in Nigeria, and the title he chooses—The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger—reveals his superior attitude towards the Igbo people, whom he treats as objects of study rather than as actual people with their own complex customs and beliefs.

District Commissioner Quotes in Things Fall Apart

The Things Fall Apart quotes below are all either spoken by District Commissioner or refer to District Commissioner. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Things Fall Apart published in 1994.
Chapter 25 Quotes

One of the most infuriating habits of these people was their love of superfluous words, he thought.

Related Characters: District Commissioner (speaker)
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

When the District Commissioner speaks to Obierika about Okonkwo’s hiding location, he becomes frustrated at the clan’s ways of eluding direct questions. This annoyance leads to a general criticism on their love of proverbs.

Achebe encapsulates here the deep sense of cultural misunderstanding that has emerged between the white men and Ibo people. Describing proverbs as “superfluous words” entirely misses the series of complex social ceremonies that center around language—and reduces these practices to a set of unnecessary delays. To call into question the very nature of communication is to radically misunderstand the Ibo.

This preference for actions over words is also somewhat ironically in accord with Okonkwo’s beliefs. In a sense, both Okonkwo and the District Commissioner hold a preference for aggression that is simultaneously effective and narrow-minded. Both value straightforward communication in a way that alienates them from others, and both implicitly deny the efficacy of a novel as a form itself—for Things Fall Apart is itself full of proverbs, metaphors, and other language that would be deemed “superfluous words” by the Commissioner. Achebe’s text itself thus becomes an affront to the white men and a way for the Ibo linguistic culture to live on.

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District Commissioner Character Timeline in Things Fall Apart

The timeline below shows where the character District Commissioner appears in Things Fall Apart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 20
Tradition vs. Change Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...including some men of title. The white men have also built a court where a District Commissioner judges cases, and messengers called kotma guard the prison. The messengers are especially hated for... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Masculinity Theme Icon
...all the men in Umuofia walk around armed with a gun or a machete. When the District Commissioner returns from his tour, Mr. Smith goes to speak with him, and three days afterwards,... (full context)
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At the meeting, the District Commissioner tricks them, handcuffing the men while Ekwueme is telling the story of Enoch's crime. The... (full context)
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The court messengers, however, shave the men's heads as soon as the District Commissioner leaves. The court messengers do not allow the clan leaders to leave when they need... (full context)
Chapter 25
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The District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo's compound with an armed band of soldiers and court messengers and demands... (full context)
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Obierika leads the way with five or six others, and the Commissioner follows along with his men. They're led to a tree behind Okonkwo's compound where they... (full context)
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The Commissioner orders his chief messenger to take down the body and to bring all the men... (full context)