Things Fall Apart


Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

The District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo's compound with an armed band of soldiers and court messengers and demands to see Okonkwo. Obierika says that Okonkwo is not there, and the District Commissioner grows angry, threatening to lock them all up unless they produce Okonkwo. The clansmen present discuss and then Obierika tells the Commissioner that they will show him where Okonkwo is and that perhaps the Commissioner can help them. The Commissioner is confused by this statement, and thinks to himself that “one of the most infuriating habits of these people was their love of superfluous words.”
The Commissioner's thought about the Igbo people's “love of superfluous words” reveals a lack of understanding as to how important speech-making and proverbs are to Igbo's oral traditions. It's one of the main sources from which the clan's and the white man's misunderstandings stem.
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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 find Okonkwo's body dangling. Obierika suggests that perhaps the Commissioner's men can help bring his body down and bury him, since it is against Umuofia custom to bury a man who has taken his own life. Only strangers may touch the body of someone who has committed suicide. The District Commissioner takes interest in this custom.
Okonkwo killed himself because it was the only option left to him as a way to preserve his independence. Yet at the same time it is an action that is deeply at odds with Umuofia traditions. The other men can't even touch him. Okonkwo's traditional insistence on masculine strength has, in this changing world, actually made him profoundly break with tradition and turned him, in death, into a kind of outcast. The Commissioner finds the Umuofia tradition of not touching the body of a suicide interesting in a kind of paternal way, as another indication of the unsophisticated savagery of these people (when we, as readers of the novel, know that the Umuofia are a complicated and sophisticated people, just like the white men themselves).
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The Commissioner orders his chief messenger to take down the body and to bring all the men to court. He walks away, taking a few soldiers with him, and thinks about all he has learned in the years he's spent in Africa. He thinks about the book he plans to write on his experiences, and muses that this suicide would make a good chapter. He's already decided on a title for the book as well, calling it The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
The Commissioner's condescending title, which calls the Igbo people “primitive,” reveals how little he has actually come to understand all the complex customs that are described throughout Things Fall Apart. It also draws attention to the power of written language—because the Commissioner's book will be written down, his words will be the authoritative viewpoint on the Igbo people, even though it's clearly biased. He thinks of them as primitives to be pacified, and so will the rest of the world. Yet in writing Things Fall Apart, and in putting the commissioners book within the context of his own book that depicts the Umuofia as complex, sophisticated, and made up of individuals with different passions and viewpoints, Chinua Achebe argues against this Western Christian view of the Igbo as primitives in need of pacification. He makes this case in written language, that permanent language of power, both to the white men and to his own people.
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