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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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PART THREE

Chapter 20

Summary

Okonkwo realizes that in the seven years he has been gone, he has lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administer justice and has also lost the opportunities to take up titles for himself. But he is determined to plan his return with a lot of fanfare and to make up for his lost time. He has even planned to initiate his sons into the ozo society. During his period of exile, his land in Umuofia has prospered and his daughter, Ezinma has grown into a beautiful young woman. She has refused various proposals of marriage in Mbanta as she knows that her father wants her to marry in Umuofia. Okonkwo’s only tragedy has been his first son, Nwoye.

Yet on his return, Okonkwo realizes that Umuofia has now changed. The church has completely established itself and even worthy men, like Ogbuefi Ugonna, a man with two titles, have joined it. He has even received Holy Communion, the first clansman to do so. The church has also established a government where a court has been built and cases are judged. They use local inhabitants to be “court messengers,” people who do the dirty work of the government such as arresting offenders and punishing them. A prison has also been built where those who break the white man’s rules are sent and where one man has been hanged because he murdered another clansman in a land dispute. Okonkwo is appalled by these changes, and wonders how Umuofia could have let these changes occur, especially when these people do not even speak the Igbo language nor listen to reason. Oberieka says that any violence would pit clansman against clansman and therefore they have allowed the church to gain power.

Notes

Okonkwo is still attempting to recreate himself in his homeland and hopes to rebuild his compound only this time he perceives it as being twice as large as it was. His ambitions are tinged with irony as the reader realizes that he will not gain back what he has lost nor will he ever achieve the status he yearns for. Too much has changed over the years to ever go back to the old ways. He seems to gloss over the loss of Nwoye and suppress his loss and love for him by emphasizing his daughter’s beauty and her loyalty to him as well as his own determination to rebuild himself as a respected elder of the village. He is patronizing in his wishes for Ezinma to be a male.


But the reality of what he finds at Umuofia is terribly disappointing and he is appalled at how easily the Christian missionaries have taken full control of Umuofia and that a government established by the British has begun to suppress the tribal people without giving any kind of consideration to their language and their traditions. Courts have been established in order to punish those who break the laws of the white man and African natives who have been appointed as court messengers are arrogant and high-handed, and abuse their power by beating up the prisoners that they guard. The reader now realizes the full extent of the damage caused to these tribesmen by the colonizing mission as well as the insidious nature of colonialism that disrupts the social fabric of cultures by pitting its members against each other.

What is ironic is that Achebe dedicated several previous chapters to the complex justice system of the Igbo as well as their rituals and longstanding conditions and yet the white colonialists or the missionaries acknowledge these bodies as legitimate in their own right. Instead they have superimposed their own system and mete out punishment to those who do not follow. They have also instilled a system that baits yet stems violence by employing the local inhabitants as minor bureaucrats who must dispense the colonist’s justice system to their own people.

Obierika is wise in his understanding that it is already too late to turn back the clock and use violence against the British. The system is in place and its structure is implacable. A reference is made to the title, Things Fall Apart, when he says that the white man has destroyed, “the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

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