Arrow of God: A Novel of Colonial Conflict and Cultural Change
Arrow of God, published in 1964, is the third novel by Chinua Achebe, one of the most acclaimed African writers of the 20th century. Along with Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, it is considered part of The African Trilogy, sharing similar settings and themes. The novel explores the impact of British colonialism and Christian missionary activity on the Igbo people of Nigeria in the 1920s.
In this article, we will provide a summary and analysis of the novel, as well as some key facts and themes that make it a classic of African literature.
The novel centers on Ezeulu, the chief priest of Ulu, the god worshipped by the six villages of Umuaro. Ulu is a powerful deity that united the formerly warring villages under a common faith and law. Ezeulu is seen as half spirit and half man, and he has the authority to declare the New Yam Feast, which marks the beginning of the harvest season.
The novel begins with a conflict between Umuaro and Okperi, a neighboring village, over a piece of land. The dispute is resolved by T.K. Winterbottom, the British colonial administrator, who intervenes and assigns the land to Okperi. Winterbottom is interested in studying the local culture and traditions, but he also wants to impose indirect rule through native chiefs who would serve as his agents.
Soon after, John Goodcountry, a Christian missionary from another Igbo region, arrives in Umuaro and begins to preach against the traditional religion and customs. He claims that Ulu is a false god and that the people should convert to Christianity. Some villagers are attracted by his message, while others are hostile or indifferent.
Ezeulu is summoned by Winterbottom to become one of his appointed chiefs, but he refuses to be a “white man’s chief” and insults him. Winterbottom orders him to be imprisoned for his insolence. During his absence, Ezeulu’s son Oduche joins Goodcountry’s church and kills a sacred python, an act that shocks and angers the community.
When Ezeulu is released from prison after several months, he returns to his village and finds it divided and confused. He decides to delay the New Yam Feast as a way of asserting his authority and punishing the people for their lack of loyalty. However, this causes a famine and a crisis of faith among the villagers, who blame Ezeulu for their suffering. They begin to question his sanity and his connection to Ulu.
Meanwhile, Ezeulu’s other son Obika dies during a traditional ceremony, which is seen as a sign that Ulu has abandoned his priest. Many villagers take this as an opportunity to join Goodcountry’s church and offer thanks to the Christian God instead. Ezeulu realizes that he has lost his influence and his people’s trust. He feels betrayed by Ulu and by his own sons. He collapses in despair and madness.
Arrow of God is a complex and rich novel that explores various themes such as colonialism, religion, culture, identity, power, conflict, change and resistance. Achebe uses multiple perspectives and voices to portray the diverse and dynamic realities of Igbo society in transition. He also employs various literary devices such as proverbs, symbols, irony, humor and tragedy to enhance his storytelling.
One of the main themes of the novel is the clash between tradition and modernity, represented by Ezeulu and Winterbottom respectively. Both characters are leaders who face challenges from within and without their communities. Both are also flawed and misunderstood by their followers. Ezeulu is proud and stubborn, refusing to compromise or adapt to changing circumstances. He believes that he is acting according to Ulu’s will, but he also acts out of personal pride and resentment. He fails to communicate effectively with his people and alienates them with his decisions. Winterbottom is well-meaning but arrogant, trying to impose his own vision of order and progress on a culture he does not fully understand or respect. He suffers from ill health and loneliness, and he is frustrated by his superiors’ indifference and his subordinates’ incompetence.