Things fall Apart: Chapter 16,17,18
Summary of Chapter Sixteen
Two years pass and Obierika visits Okonkwo again. This time he brings news that the white missionaries have come to Umuofia. They have built a church there and have a handful of converts and are sending out evangelists to other villages. The clan is sorrowful but certain that it won’t last. None of the converts were men of titles; they were efulefu, or worthless men.
Obierika brings news that Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, has joined the missionaries and disowned his father. Okonkwo refuses to hear any news of Nwoye. The white missionary comes to Mbanto as well and speaks to a crowd through an interpreter, an Ibo man who does not speak the language well. Instead of saying “myself” he says “my buttocks,” making the people laugh.
Yet the people listen to the five black men and white missionary who claim to be brothers under God. The villagers, on the other hand, are accused of worshipping false gods of wood and stone, who tell them to kill their children.
The missionary promises to bring them many iron horses when he comes to live among them. He says their gods are not alive and can’t hurt them. The villagers laugh, because the white men do not know the fierceness of the gods.
Okonkwo challenges the missionary: you speak of one god, but then you talk of his son, so that god must have a wife. The missionary tells about the Christian Trinity, but the villagers think him mad.
Why would any Igbo convert? Nwoye had been captivated by the poetry, the songs of consolation that bathed his soul that did not understand why Ikemefuna and the twins had to be killed.
Commentary on Chapter Sixteen
The conflict in the novel has widened from Okonkwo and his culture to the clash of two different worldviews or religions, as the whites colonize Africa. Because we have been immersed in the Igbo world and point of view, a Western reader sees Christian doctrine in a new way and can understand why it would sound absurd to the people of Umuofia. Yet, the cracks have been shown to exist in the Igbo society already, so it is no surprise that the disaffiliated, like Nwoye, respond to the new religion and new hope held out to them.
The forces of colonization are insidious because they do not come first with armed forces, but with goods, religion, and ideas. The religion plants seeds, and the government follows. This kind of tactic destroys a man like Okonkwo from the inside. He is a simple warrior, and has no ground on which to stand or understand.
Summary of Chapter Seventeen
The missionaries ask who is the king of the village of Mbanta, but the people reply they only have men of high title, priests, and elders. Eventually, the elders give the missionaries land to build a church. They give them “the Evil Forest,” alive with all kinds of evil spirits, thinking it will rid them of the Christians. The Christians accept, and the people of Mbanta expect them to be dead within four days. When they do not die, they begin to win converts because they must have powerful fetishes.
Mr. Kiaga, the interpreter is left in charge of the Mbanta congregation, while the missionary goes back to Umuofia to build his headquarters. Meanwhile the people of Mbanta wait for the doom to hit the Christians in the Evil Forest, for sometimes the gods wait for their revenge. But they thrive and win more converts among whom is the first woman, Nneka, wife of Amadi, who had borne twins four times and seen them destroyed. She is pregnant and joins the church.
Nwoye has been sneaking around the Christian church, but a neighbor sees him and reports to Okonkwo. Okonkwo beats Nwoye until his uncle Uchendu stops him. Nwoye leaves, never to return. He goes to the missionary school to learn to read and write. Later, he will return to his mother, brothers, and sisters to convert them.
Okonkwo sat gazing into the fire that night wanting to take his machete and wipe out the church. He sees his son’s act as a great sin to his people. What if all the children abandoned the ancestors? He feels like he is being annihilated, already one of the spirits at the shrine waiting in vain for sacrifice. He sees this as the curse of his chi or personal god, that has already turned against him.
Commentary on Chapter Seventeen
The Christians have indeed descended like locusts, and Okonkwo sees clearly what the outcome will be. It is more than a personal affront that his son has abandoned his fathers; the clan and the ancestors will be annihilated as well. He cannot fathom such a grievous sin that makes his sins seem pale. Now, not only his own glorious future has been ruined, but the clan’s as well. He thinks of his old name: “Roaring Flame” and looking at the smoldering log in the fire, he understands that fire begets ash. His son is nothing but a woman.
Summary of Chapter Eighteen
The clash between Christians and clan in Mbanta continues in mild fashion. Most of the converts are efulefu or undesirables, so the clan doesn’t mind if they want to live in the Evil Forest. There are rumors, however, that in Umuofia, the white missionary has brought a government to protect his people. It is reported a missionary was killed there.
The people of Mbanta don’t want to kill the Christians because many of them are still clansmen. But there is trouble when the osu, or outcasts, try to join the church. The new converts object to these outcasts joining, still having their old prejudices. The osu are a forbidden caste because they and their descendents have been dedicated to a god and may not mix with others. Mr. Kiaga stands firm that they may join and saves the church from dissension.
Then the story circulates that an osu convert has killed the sacred python. Okonkwo, now part of the council of Mbanta, says they must drive out the Christians to pacify the python god. But the others say they do not want to fight the wars of the gods; so, they merely ostracize the Christians. The Christian women are turned away from the stream where they get water. But the man who was accused of killing the python died in the night, proving the gods could fight their own battles. Thus, the clan feels they can afford to leave the Christians alone.
Commentary on Chapter Eighteen
So far, the clan and the Christian Africans are able to maintain some kind of balance, though there is conflict. The Igbo have always had the wisdom of “live and let live” unless there is a serious violation of law. In this case, the clan is gratified by the proof the gods are still alive when the accused dies suddenly and mysteriously, and let the Christians go on in their strange ways with the dregs of society. They still don’t take the new religion too seriously, though it is an annoyance.
It is an ominous note for Okonkwo, however, that he is repeatedly ignored by his people in his advice to attack the invaders. They opt for placating the outsiders and putting up with them. Okonkwo assumes this is the womanish spirit of his mother land. The solution of the Mbanta elders, nevertheless, seemed to work: they let the gods fight their own battles, and the offender died without causing a further feud.