In the matter of religion there was a growing feeling that there might be something in it after all, something vaguely akin to method in the overwhelming madness. The growing feeling was due to Mr. Brown, the white missionary, who was very firm in restraining his flock from provoking the wrath of the clan…Mr. Brown preached against such excess of zeal…so Mr. Brown came to be respected even by the clan, because he trod softly on its faith.
The narrator introduces the white missionary Mr. Brown in Chapter 21. Although Okonkwo takes an unrelenting stance against the white Christians’ encroachment, here the narrator describes how Mr. Brown’s efforts to keep the peace between the Europeans and the Igbo made the missionaries’ work seem less threatening for many Umuofians. Mr. Brown’s careful approach makes him seem unthreatening, turning his missionary work that much more effective.
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false.”
As suggested by this dialogue in Chapter 21, Mr. Brown earns respect from Umuofia’s clansmen by spending time with them, learning about their beliefs. Mr. Brown disagrees respectfully with Akunna’s religious views but doesn’t press his disagreement aggressively. Mr. Brown appears less invested in gaining converts than he really is. Mr. Brown puts the Umuofians at ease, but the Umuofians’ comfort will ultimately contribute to things falling apart, as the novel’s title suggests.
Mr. Brown learned a good deal about the religion of the clan and he came to the conclusion that a frontal attack on it would not succeed. And so he built a school and a little hospital in Umuofia.
Although Mr. Brown earns respect from many in Umuofia for treading softly on Igbo beliefs, this quote from Chapter 21 indicates that Mr. Brown remains intent on destroying traditional Igbo values. The narrator’s use of the language of war (i.e., “a frontal attack”) shows that Mr. Brown is a strategist, and that he conceives his strategy for converting Umuofia to Christianity in militaristic terms. Even when presented with a kind face, Mr. Brown has ulterior intentions in his mission.