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The Beginning of the End: Part 3 Chapters 20-22

Okonkwo's downfall, language, tradition and change
by

Jasmine Ong

on 12 August 2010

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Transcript of The Beginning of the End: Part 3 Chapters 20-22

Double click anywhere & add an idea Recap of Themes in Part Two The decline of Okonkwo: fate vs free will
Tradition and change (coming of the white man; ironic, tongue-in-cheek encounters)
Language (proverbs, symbolic fables)
Significance of title: things falling apart from within or without? Tradition and Change According to Levi-Strauss, the past and present are joined in myth i.e. every wrestling match is a ritual repetition of the original tussle between man and nature
Ancestors set the rules that moderns must follow i.e. ancestors return as egwugwu to render judgment in modern disputes
Ricoeur's three keys for the writing of history, which make possible the link between the individual story to world history: the calendar, succession of generations, traces of the past (archives, documents, relics)
Which two of these are NOT present in Igbo culture?
Calendar (Or Lack Thereof) In the first two-thirds of the novel we are shown a society that is ahistorical and timeless
It might have existed that way, unchanged, at any time in the last three hundred years (Kortenaar, 1995)- they have guns but have not met Europeans
Time is cyclical
References to time are to seasons, moons, market days and to time that has passed since memorable events have occurred, but there is NO calendar measuring an absolute scale Succession of Generations Okonkwo is a self-made man who lays down the law in his household: if Nwoye follows the law, all shall be well; if he does not there will be trouble (Kortenaar, 1995)
The succession of generations marks change
Evident in the rejection of Okonkwo's law by Nwoye, who converts to Christianity
Nwoye has doubts about the religion of his fathers but finds sweetness in the music of the Christians
Obierika expresses similar doubts after Okonkwo is exiled for an accidental shooting
Shows that Igbos make their own choices
They can choose to accept Christianity (Nwoye) or reject it (Okonkwo)

Theme of tradition and change
Understanding a society governed by myth at a crucial point when they are about to be overtaken by Western forms of writing and recording history
There is continuity and development, not just repetition and rupture Change in the form of the white man Okonkwo is determined to "regain the seven wasted years"(151) in exile but does not realise that the situation in Umuofia has changed
"Apart from the church, the white men had also brought a government" (154)
"Does the white man understand our custom about land?" "How can he when he does not even speak our tongue?" (155)
"He has put a knife on the things that have held us together and now we have fallen apart" (156)

However, the portrayal of colonialism is not one-sided: economic/ social benefits
The "lunatic religion"(157) arrives accompanied by a trading store, which enriches the Igbo, and a school ("a few months in it were enough to make one a court messenger or even a court clerk", 160)
"The clan had undergone such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognisable" (161)







The portrayal of the colonist, Mr Brown, is benevolent
Mr Brown is accepted , even respected, by the clan because he "trod softly on its faith" (157)
Seems to share the clan's value of maintaining peaceful relations, restrains his clan and demonstrates open-mindedness by debating religion with Akunna
Moderate foil to radical Mr Smith

Significance of names? Mr Brown's name representing his ability to compromise; Mr Smith's generic surname indicative of the typical white colonialist

Mr Smith is an intolerant and strict man who "[sees] things as black and white" (161)- an ironic comment
Emboldens some of the more zealous converts
When Enoch unmasks the egwugwu in public, it is akin to killing an ancestral spirit
Mr Smith intends to stand his ground against the egwugwu who want to destroy his church

Two things to note about religion in Chapter 22:
1. Power of language:
The translator alters Mr Smith's words (167-8) to make it more palatable to the leaders of Umuofia
"Go away from here" vs "The white man says he is happy... if you leave the matter in his hands"
2. Enoch as Okonkwo's double
Both rebel against their father's practices
Equally fiery temper and blind
Unquestioning adherence to one's religion
Will strike out violently


Mr Brown and Mr Smith: Two Faces of Christianity
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