Arrow of God

Arrow of God Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-19


Clarke finally releases Ezeulu, since, while offended by the Chief Priest’s ungrateful insolence, he is troubled by the prospect of keeping him detained when he has committed no real offense. When Ezeulu returns home, he is greeted and tended to by members of his compound. He receives many visitors over the days subsequent to his return, and, though he largely remains silent and detached, the attention makes him contemplate whether or not he really wants to punish the entirety of his people.

Yet as Ezeulu contemplates whether or not to move forward with his retribution when the time for the New Yam feast comes, Ulu “barks in his ear” not to hinder his quarrel with Idemili “who seeks to destroy me that his Python may again come to power” (191). Ezeulu realizes he is but an “arrow of god.” He marvels at the extent to which everything that happened leading to the tension among the villages and his own absence—Oduche’s actions, his detention by the white man—may have merely been part of Ulu’s plans.

The time finally arrives for Ezeulu to put the plans he’s been mulling over for months into action. The titled men of the villages come to see Ezeulu to ask him why he has yet to call the day of the New Yam Feast despite the fact that it’s almost time for the harvest. Ezeulu replies that it can’t yet be time for the harvest since he still has left two of the twelve sacred yams that he eats at every new moon. Realizing he could not eat the yams because of his two-month detention in Okperi and blindsided the predicament, they argue that Ulu can’t want their destruction, and offer that if he eats the yams they will assume responsibility and suffer the consequences. Ezeulu remains firm, though he agrees to consult Ulu. When he goes into the sacred compound he hears no reply from the god. He reports this to the men.

News of Ezeulu’s refusal to announce the date of the New Yam Feast spreads. The weeks draw on with the full-grown yams still buried under the soil that is hardening in as the dry season advances. Village members resort to secretly digging them up, or, if they have means, to buying yams from neighboring villages. Ezeulu’s own house suffers without this diet staple. Moreover, his entire compound—including his wife and children—become pariahs, subject to the village people’s resentment, scorn, and abuse.

Akuebue and Ogbuefi Ofoka debate whether Ezeulu’s actions stem from madness, pride so great he’s willing to harm to his own compound just to make a point, or true adherence to Ulu’s instructions. Meanwhile, John Goodcountry announces that anyone who wants to harvest their yams without fear of repercussion from Ulu should bring an offering to the Christian god.

Stonewalled by his people, Ezeulu feels extremely isolated, and suffers more than anyone else during this time. Akuebue informs his of Goodcountry’s proposal, and Oduche confirms it. Ezeulu has a disturbing dream in which he hears mourners passing behind his compound. When he goes to look for his family to confront the trespassers, he finds his compound deserted. Then he hears the voice of lizards singing of their power and divinity, and of how it has been compromised by the Christians.

Despite running a fever, Obika agrees to run ogbazulobfo—a funerary rite—for the funeral of a wealthy man (he calculates that he cannot refuse, since his father’s decision has already ruined the funeral feast). He performs the ritual, running madly through the town in the darkness and reciting the customary lines. When he arrives back at the ilo he collapses dead on the floor.

More than the loss of his son, Ezeulu is broken by this seeming punishment from Ulu, when he thought he was doing everything at Ulu’s behest. The events trigger Ezeulu’s descent into madness. Meanwhile, the people of Umuaro flock to give yams and other offerings at the church. In publically abandoning his priest and self-destructing, Ulu thus instigates a religious crisis.


At the end of Arrow of God, we finally see the tragic downfall towards which the book’s events have been building. In personal correspondence that Achebe published in one of his essays, John Updike describes the surprising, jarring, and efficient conclusion:

“The final developments of Arrow of God proved unexpected and, as I think about them, beautifully resonant, tragic, and theological. That Ezeulu, whom we had seen stand up so invincibly to both Nwaka and Clarke, should be so suddenly vanquished by his own god Ulu and by something harsh and vengeful within himself, and his defeat in a page or two be the fulcrum of a Christian lever upon his people, is an ending few Western novelists would have contrived...” (Achebe, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays).

Updike’s letter draws attention to how with the culmination of his story Achebe seamlessly ties together the themes woven in the entire book: the trials of one man, the collapse of the indigenous political and religious order, and the entrenchment of Christianity and British rule. Updike also notes the deep irony implicit in how the seemingly unflappable Ezeulu, who takes recourse to the authority of Ulu when confronted by the many challenges that surround him, is so swiftly broken by the very same god. Yet what are we meant to make of this turn of events?

One key lies in Ezeulu’s dream. An unwanted, antagonistic source is present, yet Ezeulu finds himself without friends or family—those he has deserted with his actions—to confront it. The song he hears is that of Idemili—his enemy and the person who he has sought to punish—yet Idemili is suffering, having been brought low by the white man. Throughout the novel, Ezeulu has been quietly at war with his own people, failing or unwilling to see the larger enemy, and isolating his tribesman at a time when he probably needs them most.

In his blindness, Ezeulu disrupts an integral balance between the divine and the community, and between the individual and the collective, inherent in his role as Chief Priest of Ulu, leading to his ultimate demise. “The priest,” explains Onyibor, “is both an intermediary and representation of the community rather than the priest as an individual. This portrays the Igbo concern for the expression of community will over that of the individual,” and made it such that “the harmonious integration of the traditional society and the individual’s place in that society were reflected in the relationship that existed between the society in its entirety and the deity or deities to which that society subscribed.” By acting out of individual pride and placing too much importance on Ulu—who was, after all, created by the people for his own protection—Ezeulu tips this equilibrium.

According to U. Ojinmah, in a moment in which “it [Ulu] was progressively becoming redundant, being likened to a dead god” and acting a scourge upon, rather than an aide to, its people, it was appropriate that Ulu should self-destruct, and that it should “raise its demise to the stature of a ritual of passage” (U. Ojinmah, “The Man Behind the Priest”). In this regard, Obika’s death parallels the human sacrifice Achebe insinuates was required to create Ulu, and fulfills Ezeulu’s own assertion of the dictum (spoken with regards to his sending of Oduche to the church) that when the situation becomes grave enough, an offering of a high magnitude is required to try to make things right.

Finally, by depicting the Igbo turn toward Christianity as resulting from the combination of events both external and internal, the ending of Arrow of God concludes a novel—and a trilogy—that presents an intimate portrayal of an imperiled Igbo culture in both its strengths and weaknesses.