Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 3, Chapter 23 | Summary



Okonkwo is rejuvenated and feels the clan has reclaimed its old ways. He has convinced the men in Umuofia to arm themselves so they will be prepared—unlike the people in Abame.

Three days later, messengers from the District Commissioner's office invite Okonkwo and five others to his office. They go because an "Umuofia man does not refuse a call." However, they bring machetes, although they choose not to carry guns, which "would be unseemly."

A member of the Umuofia delegation begins to explain why the church was destroyed, and the District Commissioner asks him to stop so he can bring in men to hear the grievances. Shortly after the Commissioner's men enter the room, there is a brief scuffle, and they handcuff Okonkwo and the others.

The clansmen are given a lecture about their ill-treatment of people, and a fine is set. The kotma, or court messengers, are told to treat the prisoners with respect. Instead, they forcibly shave the prisoners' heads, beat them, and withhold food and water. The court messengers go to Umuofia and inform the villagers what has happened. The men of Umuofia gather and decide to pay the fine "to appease the white man."


Okonkwo thrives on action. He is content after the clan strikes at Enoch and destroys the church. The fact that the clan "listened to him with respect" leads him to think the past has returned, when men took action and were respected for it.

The invitees to the District Commissioner's office show a certain naïveté. Once they engage in conversation, they expect the meeting to be civil. The District Commissioner surprises them. The scuffle is brief, and they do not have a chance to draw their machetes. This contrasts with the war counsel in Chapter 2, when Okonkwo holds a discussion with his opponents and is treated with respect. The rules have changed, and the men are not prepared.

The District Commissioner is condescending. He tricks Okonkwo and the others. Once he has done so, he gives them a lecture about treating people badly. He serves as judge and jury and does not hear their side. In addition, the District Commissioner shows disrespect for the clan's ways by cutting off their explanation.

The court messengers are both disrespectful and cruel to the prisoners, humiliating them by shaving their heads and whipping and starving them. They also inflate the fine so that they can steal the extra funds. As agents of the court, they are far worse than the "criminals" they deal with.

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