Along with his religion and government, the white man has also brought about some economic changes. A trading store has been built and there has been much exportation of palm-oil and palm-nut kernel. Money flows freely in Umuofia. This attracts many of the Igbo and quells their resistance to the European influence.
Mr.Brown, a white missionary, is the only person who makes the effort to understand the Igbo form of worship. He requests the members of the Church not to degrade those individuals who still want to hang on to their old ways even though he tries to convince the people to send their children to his school. Eventually people of all ages begin to attend his school. Among them is the son of Akunna, one of the great men of the village. Akunna and Mr.Brown often meet, and exchange views on their beliefs. Heavy work eventually takes its toll on Mr. Brown’s health and he is forced to return home. Before leaving he goes to Okonkwo’s home to tell him that his son Nwoye, who is now Issac, has gone to a teaching school in a distant town. Okonkwo however is very angry and throws him out of his house.
Okonkwo’s return is not as memorable as he had envisaged, because too many things have changed in his village. Okonkwo mourns for his clan, “ which he saw breaking up and falling apart”. This phrase is another reference to the title of the book.
The village has begun to thrive economically now under the European influence. Money is pouring in and Western education has become a part of their lives. Commerce to the outside world although it may bring initial monetary benefits to the community will eventually undermine Igbo self-sufficiency and destroy their local economic system. By highlighting these developments, Achebe is trying to point out to the readers how the British managed to convince the local people to accept them in spite of their disruption of the life and customs and also he fairly reveals that not everything about colonialism was destructive. Education and health care were some of the benefits of the colonizing mission. However the question to be debated is whether or not these seeming benefits are really better than the old ways or mere compensation for the havoc imposed on the Igbo and their destruction of their culture.
But Okonkwo still refuses to give in. He had expected his village to remain the same and had been expecting a grand welcome. Because of the changes in the village, Okonkwo finds himself overlooked and disempowered. There are too many other things to talk about and so Okonkwo’s return is barely noticed. Okonkwo mourns “for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women.” He had been expecting Umuofia to be different in their attitudes towards the white men than Mbanta, but now he sees they are the same. This is a source of alienation and depression.
After Mr. Brown’s departure, the arrival of his successor, Reverend James Smith, is marked by his rigid adherence to Christian doctrine and his intolerance of Igbo culture. He does not believe in compromise or accommodation, and supenda a woman whose husband mutilated her dead child, thinking it an ogbanje. His fanaticism leads to a great conflict between the church and the clan in Umuofia during a sacred ceremony to honor the Goddess of the Earth.
On this occasion, Enoch, who is a very zealous convert, dares the egwugwu to touch a Christian. Although the egwugwu have tried to avoid the Christians, this comment makes one of them strike Enoch with his cane. Enoch is very angry and tears off the egwugwu’s mask. This is considered to be a great crime as it is believed that the spirit is killed by the unmasking. The next day, the egwugwu from all the villages assemble to discuss what needs to be done. They then go to Enoch’s compound and burn it. Enoch takes shelter in the church and the leader of the egwugwu gets into an argument with Mr. Smith who tries to stop them from entering the church. The egwugwu assure Mr. Smith that no harm will come to him but they will destroy the church that has been the cause of so many problems. Ignoring Mr.Brown’s request to stop, they proceed to destroy the church, leaving behind only a pile of earth and ashes.
Reverend Smith fits the stereotype of the inflexible Christian missionary. He openly condemns the customs of the clan by suspending a woman for allowing her old beliefs to pervade her new Christian ways, and he adopts a very high handed attitude towards how things should be.
Achebe seems to be making a critique of religious fanaticism here in the character of Enoch who acts as a catalyst for angering the Igbo clan by tearing the mask off an egwugwu and desecrates the Igbo religion. This act brings them together to destroy the church and which is ironic because Enoch through his actions would the true nature of the egwugwu. He had wanted to expose to the people the hollowness of their belief in the egwugwu who were actually the village elders. Instead, the people are outraged as their traditional beliefs had been defiled and are momentarily galvanized as they go on to destroy the church.
Yet in their confrontation with Reverend Smith, the egwugwu leader realizes that the two groups are at an impasse. “We say he is foolish because he does not know our ways, and perhaps he says we are foolish because we do not know his.” This revelation may be perceived as a move towards impending surrender to the more powerful force of the British colonial system.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on Things Fall Apart".
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