Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Contributed by Jack Shields
Chapter 17

Chapter 17 proceeds with the tale of how Nwoye converts into a Christian. The missionaries have their camp in the Mbanta commercial center for a few evenings and teach the Christian gospel every morning. Following a few days, they approach the leaders of the clan for a piece of land on which to construct a church. The elders consent to give them a piece of the Evil Forest, where individuals who die as a result of evil spirits get buried. The elders believe that the preachers are fools for taking the abandoned land;  according to the cultural beliefs, the evangelists will be dead in a few days.

To the villagers' astonishment and dissatisfaction, the missionaries construct the church without trouble. The general population of Mbanta start to understand that the white man has extraordinary magic and power, particularly in light of the fact that the missionaries and the congregation survived twenty-eight days — the longest period the spirits allow anyone to stand opposed to them. In a short duration, the missionaries manage to win a few more converts to them including their first woman — pregnant and previously the mother to four sets of twins, every one of the twins was abandoned in the forest. The white missionary proceeds to Umuofia, while his translator, Mr. Kiaga, accepts the responsibility to manage the Mbanta assembly.

One day, Okonkwo's cousin sees Nwoye inside the Christian church. He races to tell Okonkwo, who says nothing until the point that his child returns home. In a fury, he asks Nwoye where he has been, however, he gives no answer. When he begins to beat Nwoye with a huge stick, his uncle Uchendu requests that Okonkwo allow his child to have some peace. Nwoye leaves the hut and stays away forever.  Nwoye moves to Umuofia, where the white preacher began a school for children. He intends to return sometime to convert his mother and siblings.

Initially, Okonkwo is angry with his child's new religion, however, he reasons that Nwoye does not deserve his outrage. Okonkwo fears that, after he dies, his younger children will forsake the clan's traditions and accept the teachings of the white man. That is what bothers him a lot. Okonkwo is a worried man since he feels his son, Nwoye is weak, womanly and shares a lot of features with his late father.


As the Christians gain influence in the affairs of the region, the villagers see their problems with their traditional practices and beliefs. For instance, Mbanta's Evil Forest turns out to be less dangerous than they have believed; the gods protect the missionaries from any punishment from the underworld spirits. Here, Achebe infers that sticking to old conventions and an unwillingness to change may add to their destruction. Achebe does not condemn their perspective, but he presents the situations and circumstances that may cause things to fall apart in the village.

The missionaries are starting to influence the clan's religious perspectives and practices as well as its traditions and beliefs; for instance, the individuals accept the first woman convert without paying attention to the beliefs that her case of giving birth to twins could have made her evil. The missionaries do not intend to throw away any newborns due to the fact that they are considered equal to any other child.

The teachers clearly expect the new Christians in the group to acknowledge the new weekly calendar "Come [to church] each seventh day." Suddenly, the account alludes to "Sunday" rather than the Igbo days of the week. Did the teachers think about the Igbo four-day week? Did they teach the seven-day creation story? Consider the effect on a group when strangers come up with new days of the week and impose them on the locals.

The reaction of Okonkwo when he learns of the conversion of his son, Nwoye, is not surprising at all. Okonkwo remembers that it is not without a reason that he is referred to as 'Roaring Flame'. He starts to blame the conduct of Nwoye on his mother, his father and then his personal chi. According to him, these parties have conspired and are not causing ruins to his family. The last line in the chapter suggests that Okonkwo has an insight: "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash" — perhaps a realization that his own "Roaring Flame" behavior leaves behind coldness and powerlessness in others — as it has in his son.

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