Arrow of God: Commentary

Added by Melissa Culross

Arrow of God, the second of Achebe's novels of colonialism, takes place in the 1920's after the British have established a presence in Nigeria. The "arrow of god" mentioned in the title is Ezeulu, the chief priest of the god Ulu who is the patron deity of an Ibo village. As chief priest, Ezeulu is responsible for initiating the rituals that structure village life, a postition vested with a great deal of power. In Ezeulu, Achebe presents a study in the loss of power. After his village rejects his advice to avoid war with a neighboring village, Ezeulu finds himself at odds with his own people and praised by the British administrators. The British, seeking a candidate to install as village chieftain, make him an offer, which he refuses. Caught in the middle with no allies, Ezeulu slowly loses his grip on reality and slips into senility. "As in Achebe's other novels," observes Gerald Moore in Seven African Writers, "it is the strong-willed man of tradition who cannot adapt, and who is crushed by virtues in the war between the new, more worldly order, and the old conservative values of an isolated society."

The artistry displayed in Arrow of God has drawn a great deal of attention, adding to the esteem in which the writer is held. Charles Miller comments in a Saturday Review article that Achebe's "approach to the written word is completely unemcumbered with verbiage. He never strives for the exalted phrase, he never once raises his voice; even in the most emotion-charged passages the tone is absolutely unruffled, the control impeccable." Concludes this reviewer, "It is a measure of Achebe's creative gift that he has no need whatever for prose fireworks to light the flame of his intense drama."

[from Contemporary Authors]

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