Arrow of God Summary

Chinua Achebe

Arrow of God

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Arrow of God Summary

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Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, takes place among the Igbo people in southern Nigeria during the early twentieth century.  The story opens with a war between two neighboring regions of the Igbo: Umuaro and Okperi. The cause is a disputed land claim, exacerbated by a wealthy man named Nwaka, who challenges Ulu, the god of the Okperi, despite the warning of his chief priest, Ezeulu. The colonial administration ends the conflict, ruling in favor of the Okperi and influenced by Ezeulu.  The British, under the administration of  Captain Winterbottom, destroy all the guns in Umuaro; the people blame Ezeulu because they believe he betrayed them.

Five years later, Umuaro is besieged by Christian missionaries who are trying to show that the old gods are ineffective.  Ezeulu sends his son Oduche to church to learn of these new gods. Animosity between Ezeulu and Nwaka and their respective villages has reached the point where the villagers are trying to poison each other. Nwaka is supported by Ezidemili, the high priest of the god, Idemili. Though Idemili is a lesser god in comparison to Ulu, the competition between the two priests divides Umuaro.   Another crisis occurs when the missionaries encourage the largely Christian Igbo, including Oduche, to kill their sacred python god. Oduche defers and puts the snake in a box, but is discovered by his family. Such manipulation of the god is considered sacrilege. The priest of Idemili sends a messenger to upbraid Ezeulu, and to determine how he will atone for his son’s actions. Ezeulu rejects Ezidemili’s counsel.

The colonial administration has commissioned a new road to connect Okperi with Umuaro. Due to scant funds, Mr. Wright, the overseer, conscripts labor in Umuaro.  Ezeulu’s son Obika is late getting to work one day due to a hangover. Mr. Wright whips him, creating resentment in all the men for the incident and adding to their anger that Okperi men are paid for their labor.  Ezeulu assumes Obika deserves the whipping, alienating his household. Edogo, his oldest son, believes that Ezeulu has tried to influence Ulu’s decision about priestly succession. By sending Oduche to learn the white man’s religion, Ezeulu has eliminated Oduche from consideration. Ezeulu has also trained Nwafo in the ways of the priesthood, believing he will be chosen. Edogo wonders what will happen if Ulu chooses Edogo or Obika.  It would create family division that Edogo, as eldest son, would have to resolve. He asks Ezeulu’s friend, Akuebue, to speak to him of these concerns.

Ezeulu will not talk to Akuebue about divisions within Umuaro; he blames the Umuaro for the white man’s arrival. The people blame Ezeulu due to his role in resolving the Okperi and Umuaro conflict.   Ezeulu states that he sacrificed Oduche because Christianity’s threat to Umuaro and the Igbo require a human sacrifice.  Captain Winterbottom now chooses Ezeulu as the chief for Umuaro to fulfill “indirect rule, “and sends a recruiting messenger.  Ezeulu refuses to appear, saying the Priest of Ulu doesn’t leave his hut, and Winterbottom must come to him.  Winterbottom responds by sending two policemen with an arrest warrant.

The next day, after consulting village elders, Ezeulu sets out for Okperi to learn of Winterbottom’s intentions. His is angry because he is blamed for the white man’s presence and a lack of respect. His archenemy Nwaka continues to challenge Ulu and the people do nothing. The policemen sent to arrest Ezeulu pass him on the way, and upon reaching his compound learn that he has gone to Okperi.   In Okperi, Winterbottom suddenly becomes ill. His African servants decide that Ezeulu’s power is the cause, so when Ezeulu arrives, they are afraid. They don’t imprison him but pretend the guardroom is a guest room.  On this first night in Okperi, Ezeulu has a vision and realizes that his real battle is with his own people, not with the white man.  He sees Nwaka challenging Ulu, and the people spitting on him (Ezeulu), saying he is the priest of a dead god. He sees that the white man has been able to take advantage of Umuaro’s division to sow further discord.

Ezeulu is detained for a couple of months. First, Clarke decides to punish him by making him wait. Then he offers Ezeulu the position of chief, but Ezeulu refuses. Angry, Clarke imprisons him.  But Clarke begins to suffer pangs of conscience since he doesn’t have a legitimate reason to incarcerate him. He’s relieved when he hears from Winterbottom’s superior advising against creating new Warrant Chiefs. This gives Clarke the excuse to let Ezeulu go.

Ezeulu returns home. He realizes that his anger was directed not against his neighbors but the idea that they were mocking Ulu and Ezeulu. Nevertheless, he sets a plan in action. When the time for the Feast of the New Yam comes, he fails to announce it. When the elders ask the reason, Ezeulu tells them he has three sacred yams left. He can’t announce the Feast until they are eaten. Unable to eat the sacred yams in captivity, he will begin now—one monthly. The elders know that if they wait three months before the allowed harvest, there will be famine.  They ask Ezeulu to eat the yams quickly but he refuses.

The Christian catechist, Mr. Goodcountry, tries to capitalize on the situation by announcing that yam harvesters can offer them to the Christian god instead and receive his protection. Many oblige.   Meanwhile, Obika is asked to help in the funeral preparations for Amalu, one of the village elders. While carrying the mask for Ogbazulobodo, the night spirit, Obika runs so hard, he dies upon his return.  Obika’s death is seen as a judgment against Ezeulu:  His god, Ulu, has chastised Ezeulu for his stubbornness and pride. That year, many yams were harvested in the name of the Christian god; the crops were also reaped in his name. The novel ends with the worship of the Christian god in place of that of Ulu.