Choose three important Igbo sayings that appear throughout the text, and explain how they relate to the novel’s major themes.
1. “When a handshake goes beyond the elbow we know it has turned to another thing.” Ezeulu uses this saying, which refers to a seemingly friendly or innocuous interaction that has become an existential threat, to describe Oduche’s increasing investment in the church. In general, it speaks to the growing stranglehold of the British in Igboland.
2. “The man who brings ant-infested faggots into his hut should not grumble when lizards begin to pay him a visit.” Perhaps the tagline of the entire novel, this saying roughly resembles the familiar one in English that says, “you reap what you sow.” Though Ezeulu uses it to chide his own people, saying they brought the white man, who stepped in when they went to war with Okperi, ironically it perhaps best describes Ezeulu’s own demise at the end of the book.
3. “When Suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat left for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” Spoken by Moses Unachukwu, the anthropomorphized “Suffering” in this sober saying is the white man and his colonialism. It shows the helplessness of the Igbos against the entrenchment of this unwanted guest.
Talk about the masculine and the feminine spheres in Arrow of God. How is gender depicted throughout the book?
Achebe depicts the paternalism of Igbo culture. Ezeulu’s compound revolves around the Chief Priest, with his wives and children attending to him (married daughters move to the compounds of their husbands’ families, while married sons move into huts around their father’s compound.) The women’s sphere consists of domestic duties—cooking, cleaning, childrearing—and is distinct from the political, religious, and economic domain of men, who must keep their household in order. In Ezeulu’s love for Obika—despite his hotheadedness and insolence—over the thoughtful, brooding Edogo, we see the valorization of a strong masculine ideal that the Chief Priest himself embodies.
In Arrow of God, there are a few characters that in various ways function as foils for Ezeulu. Who are they and how do they offset the figure of the Chief Priest?
1. Ezeulu’s rival, Nwaka of Ummuneora, is a powerful man of worldly, rather than religious title. He supports war with Okperi, and believes Ezeulu is wrong to “befriend” the white man in that affair. He serves as a counterforce to Ezeulu’s power, backed by Ezidemili and Idemili, a god in competition with Ulu.
2. Ogbuefi Akuebue is Ezeulu’s contemporary and friend. He is more mild-mannered, diplomatic, and reasonable that the Chief Priest, who confides in him and with whom he discusses the latter’s affairs.
3. Though a servant on Government Hill, John Nwodika strikes up a friendship with Ezeulu. They find common ground in their strategic approaches to the white man’s power.
Describe two omens that appear throughout the book. What mood do they create? How might they function in the overall trajectory of the plot?
1. In Chapter Six Akuebue breaks Ezeulu’s kolanut in a traditional gesture of receiving hospitality, and the nut splits into six lobes. The two men marvel at this high number. While it is unclear whether this is an auspicious or an ominous sign, it creates the sense that something momentous is on the horizon.
2. When the medicine man who officiates Obika and Okuata’s wedding takes the chicken offering home with him, it casts a slight pall over the union, foreshadowing the tragedy of Obika’s death.
Describe two changes, large or small, that colonialism affects in Igboland throughout the text. Speculate as to what consequences these changes might have in the future.
1. At the onset of the story, the newly established church in Umuaro is still small, and Goodcountry is struggling to find converts. His ingenious intervention during the yam crisis designed by Ezeulu leads to many from Umuaro making offerings to the Christian god, a plot point that testifies to the reality of eventual mass conversion in Igboland.
2. Wright is completing a road between Okperi and Umuaro. Though only a few miles apart, previously, we learn, the two locations had seemed very far away—just as many tribal enclaves in Igboland possessed their own gods, markets, festivals, and rituals. We expect that the roads will lead to more cultural migration and integration, as well as facilitate economic and administrative incursions by the British.