“Seven years was a long time to be away from one’s clan.” Okonkwo realizes that he’s probably lost his high position in his fatherland; someone else probably took his place as one of the nine masked spirits and he’s probably no longer in a position to lead his clan into war against the Christians. Despite long exile, Okonkwo has been planning his return basically since he was banished. He envisions rebuilding his compound with space for two more wives.
Essentially, he has grand plans for himself as displaying his wealth and power in numerous ways and sees himself as being given the highest possible title. This seems pretty much like wishful thinking. His loss of Nwoye doesn’t alter his grand schemes much. After Nwoye’s conversion to Christianity, Okonkwo gathers the rest of his five sons together and issues an ultimatum. If any of them want to be a woman, they can follow Nwoye now, but he will disown and curse them, then haunt them when he dies. Harsh!
Okonkwo still wishes that Ezinma was a boy, because she understands him very well. During the long exile, Ezinma has grown into a gorgeous young woman known in Mbanta as the “Crystal of Beauty.” Ezinma has had many offers of marriage, but has refused them all because Okonkwo said he wants her, and all of his other daughters, to marry a man in Umuofia. Okonkwo anticipates that on his return to Umuofia, his two beautiful grown daughters – Ezinma and Obiageli – will attract the attention of powerful men, increasing his status in his fatherland.
Upon returning to Umuofia, Okonkwo discovers that the Christians have gained a lot of ground. Now, their congregation doesn’t consist only of outcasts and low-born members of society, but also some titled men. The white missionary is very pleased with himself, and even has held the first Holy Communion. The dreaded government has also become a reality in Okonkwo’s fatherland and there is now a District Commissioner to judge cases. Court messengers, who are called kotma by the Igbo people, beat those who offend the white men. The kotma are despised and because of their uniform of grey shorts, they are derisively called Ashy-Buttocks (ha!).
When discussing the white man’s invasion with Obierika, Okonkwo despairs. He doesn’t understand why his people don’t fight back. Okonkwo believes that throwing the white men out town wouldn’t be difficult. Obierika points out that throwing the white people out wouldn’t be easy because so many men of Umuofia have joined the ranks of the Christians. Since the religion is intertwined with the government, the converts by default must support the government.
The Christians have compromised the unity of the clan and has made them fall apart. In Obierika’s own words, “He [the white men] has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” This is the first (and only) reference to the title of the book. Obierika tells Okonkwo of a man of Umuofia, Aneto, who was even hanged by the white men. The white court settled a land dispute in favor of the man who gave them money. Aneto ended up killing the man who was taking his land, and as he tried to flee (like Okonkwo had done). But the white men took him and hanged him. The court interfered and prevented the clan’s traditional process of justice.