Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God is set in the 1920's, before secularism became dominant. It begins with the image of a mask, when he tells his son not to carve the mask of a god for the white man. The mask is a symbol of change. The whole world is changing, and the people who do not change will not survive. The old priest, Ezeulu, desires change, but he cannot do it. He cannot force himself to leave the old ways behind and adopt the new ways. Thus, he sends one of his sons to learn from the white man. He cannot do it himself.
This novel shows the life and death of an Igbo priest in a battle between traditional tribal religion and missionary Christianity. The ways in which this confrontation is played out also repeat. A Christian church is set up in a traditional village. The Christians have two attitudes regarding traditional religion. John Goodcountry's enthusiasm inspires Oduche, the Christian son of Chief Priest Ezeulu, to capture the sacred python. Goodcountry is opposed by Moses Unachukwu, who may be open to both cultures out of pragmatic motives, since he appreciates the religious and economic power of the white man, and he hopes to profit from that power.
Ezeulu has mixed feelings. He sends Oduche to the missionaries in order to gain access to their wisdom, but he fears the aggressiveness of the new religion. However, his devotion to his god, Ulu, is unquestionable, as is seen in his participation in the New Yam festival. Ezeulu, the main character of the novel, is sincere when he refuses to obey Winterbottom's summons to Okperi because such behavior does not befit his sacred role. Ezeulu stands up for what he believes is right, as his god reveals it to him, even when there is no profit in it for himself. He even loses much by saying the truth. Thus, he is like a saint.
Ezeulu has a negative side too. He wonders if he is merely the tool of Ulu. Does he have any personal power, himself? Could he refuse to authorize the New Yam Harvest Festival? At the other extreme, he has bad dreams about being dishonored together with his god. As the story proceeds, Ezeulu feels more and more alienated from his community. They do not support him, and they do not even admit that he was right when they get bad effects from their headstrong actions. They go against Ezeulu's advice, and things go bad...
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...orld of change, the old priest is not flexible enough to adapt, so he is swept aside.
The story of the old priest is actually the story of all his people in all the six villages. They forget their religion, and they accept the religion of their conquerors. Ezeulu forgets first, and then the people forget. The people created the god Ulu when they united the six villages to form Umuaro. Ezeulu wrestles with the people on behalf of the god Ulu, since he forgets that Ulu was made to serve the people. They were not made to serve Ulu. The priest fails to understand his relationship to the god and the community. He is supposed to serve the community, but he is trying to force them to serve his god. This is the source of his downfall.
When Ezeulu is released from prison, it is raining, and he feels like it is healing and restoring him. But his pride will make him do the wrong thing again. He has suffered, and now he wants revenge, but he will only destroy himself and those he loves. He sees that others suffer because of their own actions, but he does not take responsibility for his own suffering. He just goes insane.
Arrow of God, by Chinua Achebe
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