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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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Chapter 17

Summary

The missionaries remain in Mbanta for a few days as they want to speak to the titled men. They ask for a plot of land to build their church, and are given a portion of the Evil Forest, the “dumping ground for the potent fetishes of great medicine-men when they died.”

The missionaries begin building a church on that land and the people consider the missionaries to be fools as they have accepted the cursed land. But much to their surprise they build their Church without any difficulty and thrive in the Evil Forest, attracting new converts daily. Nwoye, at first, dares not go too close to them as he is afraid of his father’s wrath but as the converts grow he gains more and more confidence. The missionaries are successful in converting a handful of people to Christianity, among them is a pregnant woman called Nneka. Since she had been only bearing twins, that have all been destroyed, her family is not too upset about her joining the missionaries. Finally Nwoye is spotted among them, and Okonkwo is very angry with him. He ends up beating the truth out of him and is stopped by Uchendu. Nwoye leaves and never returns. Okonkwo is furious and then realizes that he is not worth getting angry over as Nwoye was too womanly and foolish. He wonders how many other sons he will lose to this new religion.

Notes

The villagers had thought that the white men wouldn’t accept the Evil Forest, but much to their dismay they do. The villagers assume that they would die, but they don’t. The villagers assume that the glasses worn by one of the missionaries has unbelievable powers, through which he could see and talk to evil spirits. This chapter reveals the power that the Christians are gaining in the village and their ability to make many of the village’s customs seem outdated and false. The Evil Forest does not contain the power that the villagers have imbued it with and therefore people begin to doubt the validity of many customs and beliefs.


The first converts are mostly those who are outcasts from society or those who have been judged harshly or suffered emotional trauma. Twins who were normally killed are now saved by the missionaries and brought up like regular children. They impose a new calendar on the community, ushering in the seven-day as opposed to four-day week. This minor detail is part of the missionary effort to bring the villagers closer to Western ideas and traditions and to forego their own. Nwoye is a perfect example of a villager whose doubts about Igbo customs results in him absconding from Mbanta. He takes refuge in another religion.

Okonkwo’s fury is understandable as Nwoye was his eldest son, on whom he had placed great hopes. Being a strong and an ambitious man, Okonkwo didn’t want to see any traces of failure in his family as failure reminded him of his father who had been unsuccessful in everything in life. His son’s behavior reflects his own personality in a negative light--“he, Okonkwo, was called a flaming fire. How could he have begotten a woman for a son?” Once again the rigid views that Okonkwo has of masculine behavior have succeeded in alienating his family members from him. Yet in the chapter, Okonkwo has a realization that his actions may have contributed to Nwoye’s departure when he thinks, “Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.”

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