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Things Fall Apart | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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Parts of Chapters 16 and 25 of Things Fall Apart involve Okonkwo, but are told from the perspective of other characters. What is the impact on readers?

Okonkwo is hardly mentioned in Chapter 16. While he is certainly part of the action, his presence is barely acknowledged. It is Okonkwo's first wife, Nwoye's mother, who tells Obierika about Nwoye's attraction and eventual move to the missionaries. Okonkwo "did not wish to speak about Nwoye." Okonkwo is so enraged by the betrayal of his oldest son that he cannot even talk about it. Distancing the reader from Okonkwo's point of view allows readers to learn about Nwoye, a sympathetic character, without the bias of Okonkwo's perspective. The last chapter of the book, Chapter 25, takes place after Okonkwo has committed suicide. Seeing the action from Obierka's and the District Commissioner's perspectives allows readers to discern firsthand Obierika's grief over his friend's death and the District Commissioner's cold and ignorant reaction to it.

In Chapter 17 of Things Fall Apart, the clan elders give the missionaries land to build a church. How does this decision further undermine the clan's unity?

The land that the elders give to the missionaries is located in the Evil Forest. When the missionaries accept the land, the elders expect them to die once they try to build in the forest. The entire operation is almost a challenge to the Christians. Can they overcome the Evil Forest and prosper in its confines? When the church is built with no fatalities, the elders are speechless. The Christians seem to have overcome the clan's gods, which leaves the clan members wondering about their beliefs. Once it is clear that the missionaries are not being struck down by the Igbo gods, the elders must admit defeat, and the missionaries gain "a handful of converts," including the first woman to join the church.

How does Nwoye's departure in Chapter 17 of Things Fall Apart foreshadow the decline of the clan?

Nwoye's departure foreshadows the clan's decline in that he represents a third level of convert to the missionaries. The efulefu (worthless men) were a natural first wave of converts, followed soon after by the osu (outcasts). These groups had nothing to lose and much to gain from joining the missionaries: social acceptance and equality within the church. Nwoye and others like him with some status in Igbo society have their standing in the clan to lose when they join the missionaries. Yet as more individuals like Nwoye break away to join the church, it will have a domino effect, as their actions entice more clan members to convert.

How does Mr. Kiaga's stand in Chapter 18 of Things Fall Apart help to further anchor the Christian presence in the village?

When Mr. Kiaga takes the stand that the osu—and other parishioners—are welcome in the church, this causes most of the parishioners to respect his acceptance of one and all. This is crucial, because some existing parishioners object to the osu, or outcasts, becoming members of the church. They believe that the osu are not worthy of joining the congregation. Although Mr. Kiaga's decision to allow the osu into the church causes one convert to leave in protest, the remaining converts stand steadfastly behind him, thus cementing the Christian presence in the village. Thus the converts acquiesce to the displacement of tribal judgment by Christian values.

Why do the rulers and elders of Mbanta ostracize the missionaries In Chapter 18 of Things Fall Apart?

In Chapter 18 a Christian convert deliberately kills a royal python—an inconceivable act to the clan, whose members revere the snake. The elders of Mbanta are ready to fight, but they are reluctant to go to war with fellow clansmen. Instead they ostracize the Christian members. Later on the man who killed the python dies. The clan believes that this means their gods are able to safeguard themselves, and so they see "no reason then for molesting the Christians." This decision by the clan is one of many examples provided by Achebe to show the sophistication of the tribal values.

Consider Okonkwo's plans for returning to Umuofia in light of the events in Chapters 20 and 21 of Things Fall Apart.

Okonkwo has been planning his return to Umuofia ever since he left. He is anxious to have his sons initiated into society. He wants to arrange marriages for his daughters. He wants to marry two more wives, and he wants to build a bigger compound. Okonkwo also envisions "taking the highest title in the land." In the end, few of Okonkwo's plans come to fruition. The Umuofia he left no longer exists. Now even clansmen with titles have joined the church, discarding their titles in the process. Economic and governmental changes have been dramatic. Farmers who produce palm oil now sell their goods to the white man's store. Disputes previously handled by the egwugwu are tried in the white man's courts, where neither Igbo customs nor their language are understood.

In Chapter 20 of Things Fall Apart the kotma are mentioned. Why are they so hated?

The kotma are African court messengers who arrive with the white man from Umuru on the River Niger. Viewed as foreigners in Umuofia, they are disliked because they are arrogant and high-handed. They solicit bribes to influence the District Commissioner's ruling on cases in the court. As prison guards, they beat the prisoners, and force them to do menial tasks for the District Commissioner. In addition, they are thieves, as they increase the fine that the District Commissioner sets for the release of Okonkwo and the other prisoners. When they tell the villagers about the fine, they threaten the prisoners with hanging if the village does not pay the fine immediately. Many in the clan struggle to adjust to the arrival of the white men. Their challenges are increased because of the kotma, whose abusive treatment of the locals makes a mockery of law and order.

In Chapter 20 of Things Fall Apart Obierka talks about the cleverness of the white man. In what ways have they been clever?

The white man did not force himself upon the clan. The missionaries preach a religion that is foreign but not threatening. According to Obierika, the white man "came quietly and peaceably with his religion." However, it is what the white man has built that draws people. The white man established a trading store that brings money into Umuofia. A school and hospital have been built to serve the people. Those who attend the school gain status and get government jobs. The hospital proves more effective than the medicine men that people have relied upon. Each of these institutions offers benefits to the people, who begin to accept the missionaries and the colonizers. This approach was effective where "a frontal attack ... would not [have] succeed[ed]."

In Things Fall Apart, how does Mr. Brown's patience enable him to convert clan members to the Christian faith?

Mr. Brown is a calm and reasonable person. The clan appreciates his well-balanced approach and does not feel threatened by him. Because he is not viewed as threatening, Mr. Brown is able to converse with some of the great men of the clan. One such conversation, depicted in Chapter 21, is about the religion of the clan and Christianity. For Mr. Brown, these conversations are not simply a way to ingratiate himself with the clan. Mr. Brown has ulterior motives. The point of the conversations is to understand the clan in order to convert its members. Converting the clan will take time, but Mr. Brown is willing to be patient to accomplish his goals.

In Things Fall Apart, why do the missionaries open a school, and what role does it play for them?

Mr. Brown builds a school and hospital in Umuofia. He does this after he "came to the conclusion that a frontal attack on it [the clan's religion] would not succeed." The school and hospital are part of Mr. Brown's method to winning followers. The people of Umuofia are quick to notice that the white man's medical treatments are effective. Once the school is built, Brown begs people to attend. He makes the point that future leaders will be those who know how to read and write, saying, "Strangers would come from other places to rule [Umuofia]" if the people do not become educated.

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