Arrow of God Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 54-page guide for “Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 19 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Dynamic of Father-Son Relationships and The Conflict Between Christianity and Tradition.
Chinua Achebe’s 1964 novel Arrow of God portrays an Ibo leader as he confronts the British administrators and missionaries in his town. The text, Achebe’s third novel, is part of a series of books called The African Trilogy. Arrow of God won the first ever Jock Campbell/New Statesman prize for African Literature.
The novel focuses on Ezeulu, who is the High Priest of Ulu. Ulu is the most important deity in the town of Umuaro, and he brought together six warring villages to create a strong community that shares core values but preserves local village traditions. Because Ezeulu is half deity and half man, he struggles to discern what is human will and what is divine will. This conflict grows more pertinent as new challenges, in the form of British authority and Christian religion, question the hierarchies and beliefs upon which the community was built.
Captain T. K. Winterbottom, referred to as “Wintabota” by local groups, is the British administrator in charge of the area. Wintabota’s interest in scholarship of Ibo tradition contrasts with other British perspectives, which are embodied by Tony Clarke and John Wright. Clarke is skeptical about the efficacy of “facts” in colonial authority, and Wright dismisses the humanity of local people altogether. As a group, these British men display a range of ideas about how colonizers can, and should, “rule” over Ibo peoples. Within Arrow of God, it is the missionaries in Umuaro and Okperi who find the most success in influencing local lives.
Within Ezeulu’s family, the normal jealousies of one son toward another become more complicated as each son takes on a different relationship to the colonizer. Obika, the hot-tempered but handsome favorite within the village, fights with Wright while he works on a British road-building project. Oduche, who Ezeulu orders to learn British language and religion, kills a sacred python to prove himself as a British convert. While the local villagers grow angry at what they see as Ezeulu’s desire to appease and work with the British, he struggles to discipline his children and respect their manhood. Edogo, Ezeulu’s eldest son, grows jealous of Nwafo, the youngest, who appears to be next in line to become High Priest of Ulu. Edogo joins forces with Nwaka, the man who leads the charge of criticism against his father. Rather than representing the deity, they claim, Ezeulu acts as a man, out of self-interest.
Ezeulu is a traditional man, and when the time comes to mark a new harvest, he insists on sticking with the ritual of the sacred yams that determines the arrival of the new year. His adherence to tradition, even when his village falls into famine, again confuses the villagers. Where before they urged Ezeulu to adhere to local customs, now they urge him to make exceptions to them. Obika’s tragic death sends Ezeulu, already overburdened by the sickness of his people, to a state of madness. Ultimately, out of a desperate desire to begin the harvest, many people abandon local faith and convert to Christianity. The end of the novel shows the success of Western religion in eroding unity around tradition.