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Good intentions and bad outcomes in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God. By Noel Ihebuzor

Arrow of God contains a central crisis from which other crisis and tensions in the novel arise. This crisis is the arrival of the white man with his guns and his religion. If one were carrying out a causality analysis of the crisis in this novel, one would then be right to call this crisis the underlying cause of the tragedy that enfolds the novel. But when the causality analysis is carried one step further, one then comes upon the immediate cause of the tragedy. This immediate cause is the botched invitation by Captain Winterbottom to Ezeulu sent through Mr. Clarke. The invitation was for Ezeulu to become the traditional ruler of Umuaro. This botched invitation is central to the rest of the tragedy that engulfs Umuaro, that is when one makes allowances for the flaws in some of the characters in the novel such as Nwaka – (Ezeidemili), Ezeulu and Obika.
This immediate cause has its origins in the knowledge gaps and faulty assumptions that informed the choices and decisions made by the principal actors in the unfolding tragedy. Tools and concepts from sociology can help us understand these gaps and assumptions. The first of these concepts from sociology is that of stereotyping. Colonial administration was rife with a number of assumptions about the colonized. The colonized is simplified, presented as childlike and a creature lacking in depth but drawn to flamboyance and the easy life. This tendency to simplify the colonized has been noted to be almost universal in its manifestation and described by Said as orientalism. It is this type of mindset by the agents of colonial administration which makes both Clarke and Wiñterbottom to assume that Ezeulu would be excited to learn that he had been nominated as the Eze, the chief of Umuaro. Their assumption proved to be wrong. Stung by Ezeulu’s refusal to accept their offer, the colonial administration decide to detain Ezeulu thereby making it impossible for him to carry out certain priestly functions around which the farming calender of the community depends. His inability to do these contributes to the gradually enlarging crisis.
Another concept from sociology which has some explanatory power in this crisis is that of otherness.

Otherness is important for any deep understanding of discrimination in relations between groups of people in which one group, usually the dominant, attempts to simplify and stigmatise the other as being unworthy, deficient and lacking in certain core capacities, affects, sensibilities and competencies. Otherness finds expression in such phrases as “those people”, “those natives” and in the marked use of N words to refer to people of the discriminated races. Hand in hand with this discrimination was an orchestration of negative stereotypes of the group deemed inferior. A close examination of the middle sections of Arrow of God reveals that it is littered with words and phrases that betray such damaging and unhelpful stereotyping, otherness and discrimination. They poison relationships, prevent proper communication between protagonists each caught within the prison of the prism of their narrow world views. In the end, failures of communication ultimately lead to a crisis whose end point is the emotional destruction of the chief priest of Ulu and the further penetration of the Christian faith in Igbo land.