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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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Chapter 22

Summary

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.


Notes

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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