Mr. Brown in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
''Things Fall Apart'', the famous postcolonial novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, presents a memorable group of characters. In this lesson, learn about one of those characters and his significance to the novel, Mr. Brown.

Who is Mr. Brown?

Mr. Brown is a character in Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. The novel tells the story of an Igbo man caught in the throes of British imperialism in his village in Nigeria. The Igbo are a native Nigerian people. And since this is a book about efforts to colonize Nigeria, you might expect there to be some religious undertones at work -- and you'd be right.

Mr. Brown represents one aspect of religion and imperialism on the African continent. But he's different than other 'white men' presented in this novel, in that he is calm, intelligent, and understanding of native customs. Although Mr. Brown is a missionary, he consistently tries to understand the culture of the villagers in Umuofia and neighboring Mbanta, and he engages in respectful, peaceful discussions with many men of the villages regarding religion. In other words, Mr. Brown is the exact kind of guy you might want to do missionary work -- or even hang out -- with.

Mr. Brown continuously tries to understand the Igbo culture, instead of bulldozing it
Igbo culture

Mr. Brown Comes to Town

Because the protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, is in exile when Mr. Brown first arrives, we don't actually get to see the man come to Umuofia. He simply sets up shop in Okonkwo's absence, and then both Okonkwo and the reader are filled in later. But from the beginning, Mr. Brown seems like a reasonable guy. Much more reasonable than his counterpart, Mr. Kiaga, who is quick to anger and judge. Mr. Brown, who is a Christian missionary, doesn't force the Umuofians into Christianity against their will. He simply states his piece and lets his actions do the talking.

Mr. Brown and the other missionaries are laughed at and ridiculed when they first arrive, for their strange beliefs and the strange way they speak of their religion. The people of Umuofia have many gods and many rituals to honor them, so worshipping only one god would naturally seem super weird and unhelpful to them, when they have a god or goddess for nearly every aspect of life. Still, everyone grows to respect and even like the soft-spoken, understanding man among them. He engages in many conversations with the wise men of the village, often debating religious beliefs. But Mr. Brown shows himself eager to learn about native customs, and he questions the villagers about their beliefs rather than only putting forth his own.

When tensions run high in the Christian parish in Umuofia, Mr. Brown is the first to preach caution. In Chapter 21, when a sacred python has been killed and rumor holds that a member of the new Christian church did it and has been cursed, Mr. Brown tries to spread calm. He urges his congregation to be cautious and loving, rather than rash and violent.

Mr. Brown's Significance

Mr. Brown presents what could have been a good side of British influence, which was so often never the case with imperialism in the African continent. Not only does he have an interesting symbolic function, representing a less threatening, more understanding type of imperialism, but he leaves some really positive, lasting effects on Umuofia after he leaves in Chapter 21 (after his health deteriorates), like building a hospital and a school.

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