Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 3, Chapter 20 | Summary



Ever since leaving Umuofia, Okonkwo has planned his return. He is determined to "regain the seven wasted years." Okonkwo intends to build a bigger compound, take two new wives, and get titles for his sons. He has recovered from the break with Nwoye and expects to "bring [his other sons] up in the way of the clan."

Okonkwo also plans to find a husband for Ezinma, with whom he is especially close. She understands him and carries out his requests, including persuading her half-sister, Obiageli, to wait for marriage until they return to Umuofia. Okonkwo wishes Ezinma was a boy.

However, when Okonkwo arrives in Umuofia, he finds that the village has changed dramatically. The church continues to grow and includes high-ranking men. In addition, there is a court and a District Commissioner who judges legal cases. Arrogant, heavy-handed court messengers, recruited from the local men, guard a prison and mistreat the prisoners. One of the clansmen was condemned by the court and hanged after killing a man.

Okonkwo discusses the changes with Obierika and asks why the people do not fight. Obierika reminds him of the fate of the Abame people and adds, "It is already too late." Clansmen have abandoned the tribe and joined with the strangers. Obierika says the white man was smart in that he came "quietly and peaceably." He notes the white man has "put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."


Chapter 20 begins Part 3 of the novel, which shows the devastation wrought by the white men and its fatal effect on Okonkwo.

As Obierika says, Igbo society has fallen apart because the clan can no longer act as one. The white men have destroyed the things that once united the clan. But Okonkwo is slow to realize what his friend sees so clearly. He claims to recognize the changes in the village, but his plans tell a different story. He is determined that his sons will gain titles but cannot see that the titles do not matter anymore. His goals do not reflect the fact that power has shifted to the church and to the representatives of the British government.

Okonkwo's patriarchal beliefs are also unchanged. He can sense the fire within Ezinma but can't value it in a woman.

The chapter ends with Okonkwo and Obierika sitting together in silence. They have no answers to the challenges the clan faces. Okonkwo, the man of action, is left sitting and doing nothing.

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