Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 2, Chapter 17 | Summary



The missionaries have been preaching in the Mbanta marketplace. Now they request land and receive a plot in the Evil Forest that the villagers believe is filled "with sinister forces." No one expects the missionaries to accept the land. The elders are convinced the missionaries do not know what they are doing and that they will fail miserably.

After the missionaries build their church, the villagers wait for their gods and ancestors to take revenge. They expect the gods' vengeance to occur within 28 days. When the 28th day passes and nothing happens, the missionaries win a few more converts. They include a woman named Nneka, who is pregnant. Her previous pregnancies resulted in twins—an abomination in the Igbo faith. Those infants were abandoned to die, and Nneka does not want to risk the same fate.

Nwoye had been attracted to the missionaries from the beginning, but "he dared not go too near the missionaries ... for fear of his father." When Nwoye does go to the church, his cousin Amikwu sees him and tells Okonkwo. Nwoye comes home, and Okonkwo begins to beat him, but Uchendu steps in and demands the boy's release. Okonkwo contemplates what has happened with his son, but it makes little sense to him. After all, Okonkwo is called the "Roaring Flame" for his strength and boldness. How can Nwoye be so weak and passive? It then occurs to him that "living fire begets cold, impotent ash." Because Nwoye is his son, this is the natural order, and he is powerless to do anything about it.


The elders and clan leaders believe they are clever to let the missionaries have land in the Evil Forest. This will surely mean the missionaries are doomed to failure. The clan's gods and ancestors will strike the missionaries down. Then the clan can reunite, and faith will be restored. Yet the church is built, and the time of punishment passes. The Igbo gods have failed to punish the intruders.

Up to this point, Nwoye has been attracted to the missionaries but has accepted his fate of living with his family in Okonkwo's compound. In this chapter, however, Okonkwo beats Nwoye for attending church. This may be one beating too many. Nwoye exercises free will by returning to the church and deciding to become a student at the church school in Umuofia. The leader of the Mbanta church, Mr. Kiaga, blesses Nwoye because he "forsakes his father." In an example of situational irony, Nwoye is returning to Umuofia, Okonkwo's homeland, to learn skills his father would never dream of teaching him. He has forsaken Okonkwo's way of life.

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