Chinua Achebe Inspired Generations Of Nigerian Writers


LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was just 10 years old when she first read Chinua Achebe’s groundbreaking novel “Things Fall Apart.”

She devoured the rich use of Igbo proverbs in his book, which forever changed Africa’s portrayal in literature.

That inspiration carried over into the creation of a pivotal character in her debut work, “I Do Not Come to You by Chance,” which pulls readers into the dark and greedy world of Nigerian Internet scam artists.

“Like many contemporary Nigerian writers, I grew up on a literary diet that comprised a huge dose of Achebe’s works,” she said. “My parents were so proud of his accomplishments, and quoted the Igbo proverbs in his books almost as frequently as they quoted Shakespeare.”

Achebe’s death at the age of 82 was announced Friday by his publisher. His works inspired countless writers around the world, though the literary style of “Things Fall Apart,” first published in 1958, particularly transformed the way novelists wrote about Africa.

Adewale Maja-Pearce, a literary critic who succeeded Achebe as the editor of Heinemann’s African Writers Series, called him a pioneer whose “contribution is immeasurable.”

In breaking with the Eurocentric lens of viewing the continent through the eyes of outsiders, Achebe took readers to a place full of complex characters who told their stories in their own words and style.

Achebe once wrote that a major goal “was to challenge stereotypes, myths, and the image of ourselves and our continent.”

He resisted the idea that he was the father of modern African literature, recalling a rich and ancient tradition of storytelling on the continent. Still, his influence on younger writers of the late 20th and early 21st century, particularly those from his homeland, was undeniable.

“Achebe’s influence has been completely seminal and inspirational, and there are writers that have been called the School of Achebe who have imitated his style,” said Chukwuma Azuonye, professor of African and African Diaspora Literatures at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

A newer crop of successful novelists with ties to Nigeria has broken away from Achebe’s mode, Azuonye said, developing their own modernist style of writing that focuses on clashes of cultures and other issues facing Nigerians abroad.

Among those influenced by Achebe was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who won the Orange Prize for Fiction for “Half of a Yellow Sun.”

On Friday, she released an elegy she had written for Achebe in the Igbo language.

“Something has happened. Something big has happened. Chinua Achebe is gone. A great writer, a man of great wisdom, a man of good heart,” she wrote.

“Who are we going to boast about? Who are we going to take out to the world? Who is going to guide us? A storm has passed! Tears fill my eyes.

“Chinua Achebe, go in peace. It is well with you. Go in peace.”

Nigerian novelist Lola Shoneyin, whose works include “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives,” says Achebe’s fiction gives her something new each time she reads his work.

“In the last five decades, just about every post-colonial African author, one way or another, has been engaged in a creative call-and-response with Chinua Achebe,” she said.

Igoni Barrett, the author of a collection of stories called “From Caves of Rotten Teeth,” said Achebe had achieved a “saintly status among Nigerian writers” through his pioneering involvement in the African Writers Series.

“Chinua Achebe was an inspiration to me not only for his singular talent and his dedication to truth in art and life, but also because he had the fortitude to overcome the countless disappointments of the Nigerian state,” he said.

One of Senegal’s best-known novelists, 66-year-old Boubacar Boris Diop, was in high school when he read “Things Fall Apart.” He says that in it, he found “the real Africa.”

“I systematically advise young authors to read Chinua Achebe. I’ve often bought copies of `Things Fall Apart’ and offered them to young writers. It’s well written – in the sense that it’s not written at all. In it, you won’t find any great lyrical phrases. That’s the great force of this book. It’s written in simple language,” said Diop.

“He wrote about a continent that is far from perfect, but which at the same time has things within it that fill you with wonder.”



Arrow God: Characters




Nwaka is Ezeulu’s nemesis. Every time we see Nwaka in Arrow of God, he’s challenging Ulu or criticizing Ulu’s high priest, Ezeulu. Nwaka believes strongly that Ezeulu is power-hungry, that he’s trying to grab more authority than he is due.

Nwaka appears to be motivated by his friendship with Ezidemili, the priest of a lesser god, Idemili. Ezidemili fortifies and strengthens Nwaka in his attacks on Ezeulu’s character. Nwaka might be power hungry himself, or he might be manipulated by Ezidemili, who may be hoping to destroy Ulu so that Idemili can take his place.

Though we don’t see any growth in Nwaka’s character over the course of the novel, he does accompany the other men when they visit Ezeulu to beg him to announce the day for the Feast for the New Yam. In other words, he squashes whatever enmity he has towards Ezeulu for the good of all of Umuaro.


Winterbottom is old-school British military: dutiful, patriotic, and obedient to commands from his superiors, even when he disagrees with their orders. At first, we assume Winterbottom simply likes his powerful position when he brags about his reputation in Umuaro. But soon we discover that Winterbottom really believes in the African projects. And not only that, but he holds himself to very high moral standards because he wants to be an example to the Africans around him.

We can see that the Administration’s inflexibility and lack of respect for experienced men like Winterbottom who have lived in Africa for years eats away at him. In the final scene, Winterbottom expresses total contempt for the orders of his superior.


Obika is Ezeulu’s son and is an irresponsible young man who drinks too much and acts impulsively. One example of his impulsive behavior is the time when he almost kills his half-sister’s husband. Everybody lets Obika get away with his rash actions, however, because he’s so handsome. In the course of the novel, Obika changes. Two things change him: the humiliation of being whipped publicly by the white man and getting married. His marriage in particular seems to help Obika to grow. But Obika doesn’t have a chance to explore his new found maturity and wisdom. Almost as soon as he gains it, he dies suddenly.


Oduche, Ezeulu’s next to youngest son, is proud to be his father’s “eyes and ears” in the white man’s culture by attending church and school. But soon, he finds his loyalties are divided. On the one hand, he wants to please his father; on the other hand, he wants to please the catechist at church. He can’t do both. There are two critical moments in Arrow of God when Oduche chooses the church over his father, and Ezeulu interprets it as a betrayal.

The first moment is when Oduche locks the royal python up in his box, hoping it will asphyxiate and die. It’s an act of rebellion but, more importantly, it’s a moment when Oduche tests the taboos of his culture. He discovers that there is no real penalty to his actions. Though Ezeulu rages against him, and though the village talks about what he has done, Oduche suffers no serious consequences.

Based on the fact that there seem to be no repercussions for his actions, Oduche commits a second act that his father considers a betrayal. When the catechist decides to take advantage of Ezeulu’s stubbornness and the famine to encourage people to leave the old religion and become Christians, Oduche doesn’t mention it to his father. Although Ezeulu intended Oduche to be his eyes and ears, he doesn’t realize that Oduche’s exposure to another way of life and another god will change him into somebody who no longer fits in his own culture.


Edogo seems like a good-hearted man. He loves his wife and his child and worries about their health. He is respectful to his father and fulfills his duties to his family. But deep down inside, he resents the way his father, Ezeulu, favors Nwafo over all his other sons.

Though Edogo doesn’t want to be chief priest of Ulu himself, he realizes that his father may be creating a mess by giving Nwafo the impression that he will be the new priest. Ulu is the one who chooses the new priest, not Ezeulu. Because Ezeulu sent Oduche to school and to church to learn the ways of the white man, Edogo realizes that his father may be sacrificing Oduche in order to clear the way for Nwafo.

Edogo finally approaches Ezeulu’s best friend, Akuebue, and asks him to speak to his father. Akuebue despises Edogo in that moment, suggesting that he’s cowardly and weak; he implies that Edogo really wants to be priest and that he is hiding behind this excuse. At least on the surface, though, Edogo seems to be an honest man, with only one desire – to be a renowned mask carver.

Tony Clarke

Tony Clarke starts out with some progressive ideas about colonialism in Africa. He feels the call of duty to “civilize” Africa, but he believes there must be some good in indigenous institutions, and that they should be preserved. Though he belongs to the officer class, he feels more comfortable with men like Wright, who may be morally questionable but seem to have less of a superiority complex than men like Winterbottom.

Ultimately, however, Clarke begins to realize that he’s surrounded by men who are corrupt in some way or another – if not morally, then ideologically. There is no resolution to this aspect in his character however. When we last see Clarke, he is releasing Ezeulu after receiving orders from the Administration that they don’t plan to continue appointing new chiefs. In the end it seems that Clarke is slavishly obedient to the whims of the Administration, despite his moral qualms.

Moses Unachukwu

Moses Unachukwu is the first Christian in Umuaro. Having spent several years on a mission station in a neighboring region, and as the only man in all of Umuaro who speaks English, he feels like something of a local expert.

The people do admire Moses for his skill, but the new catechist at the church, Mr. Goodcountry, thinks he’s uppity. The two clash over whether Christians should try to destroy the royal python, a taboo in Umuaro. Moses believes they should leave those symbols alone, while Mr. Goodcountry argues that Christians need to be willing to be martyred for their faith. Moses wins by writing to the bishop and asking for his support. The bishop does offer his support, and Moses wins that round of the battle.

Eventually, the men reconcile and Moses supports Mr. Goodcountry when he decides the church can profit by inviting the people of Umuaro to sacrifice their yams to the Christian god instead of to Ulu.

Mr Wright

Mr. Wright provides a great contrast with Mr. Clarke and Captain Winterbottom. As a fellow Briton, he’s just as immersed in the colonial project as they are. But he chooses a different path. Though he clearly feels superior to the Africans he works with, he isn’t bound by any ethical considerations to treat them fairly. He uses violence when it suits him, and he sleeps with African women when it suits him. He feels little solidarity with his fellow countrymen. Though he befriends Mr. Clarke, it’s at Winterbottom’s expense – the two men bond while disparaging their boss.




Arrow of God: Ezeulu


Ezeulu’s pride motivates him throughout Arrow of God. He’s the chief priest of Ulu, the god that rules Umuaro. Ezeulu plays a prominent role in Umuaro, a collection of six villages in southeastern Nigeria. As chief priest, Ezeulu feels obligated to offer his advice, even though the people don’t seem to pay attention to him. When they ignore him, his feelings get hurt. He believes that the people don’t have proper respect for Ulu, and when Nwaka challenges Ulu, suggesting that he may be a useless god and the people should get rid of him, Ezeulu is put on the defensive.

Ezeulu’s adherence to duty means that he tells Winterbottom the truth when Winterbottom asks how the war with Okperi began. The people of Umuaro are angry with Ezeulu, especially since it causes Winterbottom to rule in Okperi’s favor. They are further disturbed when Ezeulu sends his son Oduche to school and to church to learn the ways of the white man. They blame Ezeulu for bringing the British to Umuaro. Ezeulu resents all the backbiting of his neighbors, friends, and kinsmen, and recognizes that it is coming from one source, Nwaka, who is aided by the priest of Idemili.

When things start to go badly in Ezeulu’s household, the tension escalates between Ezeulu and his enemies. Ezeulu’s son, Oduche, commits an abomination against the royal python, which belongs to the god Idemili. Because of the priest Ezidemili’s insults, Ezeulu refuses to do anything special to purify his house. Then his son Obika is whipped by Mr. Wright because he’s late coming to work on the road. Ezeulu blames Obika, and his son Edogo criticizes him for choosing a stranger over his own son.

Ezeulu is further frustrated when Captain Winterbottom sends a mysterious message that Ezeulu should appear before him in Okperi. As chief priest of Ulu, Ezeulu doesn’t wander far from his hut. But the elders and men of title convince him that he should go, and he sets out the next day, unaware that Winterbottom has put out a warrant for his arrest.

Detained in Okperi for several days, he has a vision of Nwaka inciting Umuaro to rise up and destroy Ulu. Ezeulu sees the people spitting on him, and claiming that he’s the priest for a dead god. He suddenly realizes that his battle is with his own people, not with the white man at all. The longer Ezeulu is detained, the better he can plan his revenge. He recognizes that he is Ulu’s arrow of punishment. He believes the people need to be taught a lesson, and need to learn to respect Ulu (and, by default, his priest.) While imprisoned for several months, Ezeulu’s anger with Umuaro eats away at him, and he plans the punishment carefully.

When Ezeulu finally returns home, the people of Umuaro welcome him. Ezeulu’s anger relents, but not completely. He continues to plan his revenge in secret. What is interesting about Ezeulu’s revenge is that he clearly tries to separate himself from this revenge; he doesn’t see it as revenge for his own sake, but for Ulu’s sake. He sees himself as doing Ulu’s will, rather than seeking personal satisfaction for his own wounded pride.

The moment for revenge finally arrives. Ezeulu informs the people that he can’t name the day for the Feast of the New Yam until he has finished the sacred yams – because he was gone for so long, there are three yams left, which will take three months to eat. The people panic. After three months, their crops will be ruined, rotted away in the ground. They beg him to reconsider, but Ezeulu is steadfast – he must do what Ulu calls him to do.

Famine settles in to Umuaro. Ezeulu’s family also suffers. When Ezeulu’s son, Obika, dies suddenly, the people see it as a judgment against Ezeulu, who is too proud, headstrong, and stubborn. It gives them the latitude to turn to Christianity, to a god who seems less unpredictable in his need to punish the people.

Ezeulu’s pride is what breaks him in the end. Shocked that Ulu would allow Obika to die, Ezeulu begins to wonder if he is being punished. But he can’t figure out what he did to deserve punishment. He was only following Ulu’s will, no matter how much he personally suffered as a result. His mind wanders, and he becomes delusional.


Arrow of God – themes



In Arrow of God, the main character Ezeulu’s pride gets him in trouble from the very beginning. Angered by the Umuaro community’s decision to ignore him in the matter of going to war with Okperi, he nurses his silent grudge for years. Since Ezeulu is the priest of Ulu, the highest god in Umuaro, Ezeulu shouldn’t worry about being #1 – but his jealous pride for his status eventually causes him to take revenge against the people of Umuaro. Ezeulu isn’t the only one who is proud. Winterbottom accuses all Igbo men of putting on airs; he argues that if you give an Igbo man a little bit of authority, he will soon be abusing even his own relatives. Winterbottom says that Igbo men love titles, not realizing that his men, Clarke and Wright, have made similar comments about how much Winterbottom loves his own title, “Captain.”


In Arrow of God, differences between Africans and the British are interpreted racially by both Igbo and British characters alike. Race is associated with culture and, thus, is offered as one of the identifying characteristics of British power. Winterbottom recognizes the power inherent in moral suasion and argues forcefully that white men in Nigeria must behave a certain way in order to maintain their political superiority.


In Arrow of God, both the British Captain Winterbottom and the Igbo Ezeulu have inflated senses of duty, which might be why the two men like each other. Winterbottom believes it is his duty to maintain decorum, keep a high moral standard, be an example to others, and be obedient to the Administration’s whims even when he doesn’t agree. Ezeulu, alternatively, believes that he must do whatever the god Ulu requires of him, even when it’s distasteful, and even when he personally suffers as a result.


Arrow of God revolves around competition. We see competition between Ezeulu’s wives for his attention; between Ezeulu, the chief priest of Ulu, and Ezidemili, the chief priest of the lesser deity Idemili; between the communities of Umuaro and Okperi; and between Ezeulu’s village and Ezidemili’s village. But the most important competition is between the god Ulu and the Christian god. This fight is always in the background, and we realize that Arrow of God is an illustration of the saying “When two brothers fight, a stranger reaps the harvest.” As the region roils in division, Christianity quietly steps in and takes the respect and place of honor that had previously belonged to the god Ulu.


Much of Arrow of God‘s plot is precipitated by revenge. If Umuaro hadn’t wanted to claim ownership of that land, they wouldn’t have sent an emissary to Okperi who was clearly bent on starting a war. That emissary causes his own death, but Okperi fails to send a courteous message about it, so Umuaro must respond by starting the war. Just as entire regions seek revenge, individuals seek satisfaction for real or perceived wrongs. Ezeulu seeks revenge on the people of Umuaro, who fail to give him proper respect as the priest of Ulu. Ezeulu’s revenge results in famine and ultimately causes the demise of his own deity.


Arrow of God explores how Igbo spirituality and religious life dies an ignominious death when confronted by Christianity. Christianity is backed by the white man’s military and political power. As a result, Christianity is also identified with the source of their power. When the people of Umuaro are faced with famine because the chief priest of Ulu refuses to break tradition, the catechist at the church offers protection so the people can harvest their yams. When Ezeulu’s son Obika dies, the people interpret that as a sign that Ulu was punishing his priest. With Ezeulu’s power broken, Umuaro turns to the Christian god for help.


Traditions dictate the lives of the people of Umuaro. Seasons are punctuated by rituals, and festivals are managed by the priests of the various deities associated with each village. The overall deity, Ulu, provides the important purification rites as well as feast associated with the rhythms of agriculture. In Arrow of God we see that these traditions are undermined by the coming of Christianity, the power of the British colonial office, and, most importantly, by Ezeulu’s inflexibility and insistence on adhering to tradition. Ezeulu insists on waiting a full month to eat each sacred yam, even though that means he can’t call the Feast of the New Yam for another three months. Meanwhile, the people’s crops are rotting in the field and people are starving to death. The elders of Umuaro offer to take the punishment on themselves, but Ezeulu refuses. While Ezeulu is stubbornly following tradition – and punishing his people – the people of Umuaro slowly begin to starve because they are unable to harvest the crops.


A lust for power motivates many of the characters in Arrow of God. As the British administration’s power rises, the men in Umuaro discover that their power is diminishing. All the men discover that their power is limited when the British administration steps in and stops the war with Okperi. Meanwhile, Nwaka and Ezidemili accuse Ezeulu of desiring power in order to mask their own attempts to unseat him and usurp his place. Ezeulu punishes the people of Umuaro because they didn’t accord him and his deity Ulu proper respect. The power struggle between Ezeulu and the people of Umuaro gives the Christian catechist, Mr. Goodcountry, the opportunity to win converts. The book concludes with Ezeulu’s power receding as Christianity takes precedence.


Manhood in Igbo life is marked by stages of life – marriage, fatherhood, gaining titles, becoming an elder. A man accrues respect, rights, and power as he moves through the stages of life. Though Obika may drink too much, he is still admired as a man because he is handsome and has physical prowess. Edogo, on the other hand, is steady and dependable, but not flashy; he gets little respect from the people of Umuaro.

Respect and Reputation

In Arrow of God, respect and reputation are highly valued in both Igbo and British cultures. The careers of colonial officials are built on their reputations, as are the careers of men in Igbo culture. In both cultures, titled men and elders have more power than young men or men who lack titles. We see Wright and Clarke gossip about Winterbottom; their attempt to destroy his reputation is also an attempt to build themselves up. Ezeulu feels the sting of the people’s lack of respect, first when they ignore his opinion and go to war with Okperi and finally when they continue to blame him for the white man’s arrival. Ultimately, it is the destruction of Ezeulu’s reputation that causes the people of Umuaro to convert to Christianity.



Review of Arrow of God






I’ve only read a few of Achebe’s vast list of published works but this would rank up there as my favorite fiction read by him so far. I can see why it is the one that he has re-read the most (as he says in the introduction). Although this is the third in his famous African Trilogy (Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease being the first two) I find it the best – and if I were to fit it in chronologically I think it would fit better as the second book.

This book follows Ezuela, the Chief Priest in Umuaro and the collection of six villages which work together as one. He is trying to maintain the practices they have always followed and being challenged by a minor priest and richer man in one of the other villages. He is walking a fine line between being friends with the white man and between upholding the cultures of the village – and this results in an interesting chain of events as described in this novel!

The book tackles the struggle between tradition and change from both the side of the Nigerians and of the British colonial administration. Even the British administrators on the ground in the small area are shown as having thoughts against the policies, of thinking the policies are terrible and contribute to and create problems rather than solving them. Captain Winterbottom says on page 59:

This was what British administration was doing among the Ibos, making a dozen mushroom kings grow where there was none before.

In this regard I found the book a fresh change – it isn’t always that you see those in the administration admitting how terrible their policies are! The disconnect that was shown between those on the ground and head offices was interesting and showed how policies end up becoming corrupted and useless, and also why more and more problems were created. This isn’t to say that colonialization would or could have been better with better policies, but just that even among the side in the clear wrong there is bad and there is worse, and that even when trying to do something “good” it was invariably done badly.

The biggest theme that I saw running through the book on both sides of the story was that of misunderstanding. Both the residents of Umuaro and the British had their own customs and neither understood or cared to learn about the other. This resulted in many arguments where none was necessary – for example with things as simple as greetings. Both cultures have their own formula and each thinks the other is rude. Ezuela is punished by the British for doing what, if they knew the whole story, should make him lauded (i.e. actually talking to his people and getting their opinion), but instead he is punished for being ‘rude’.

Ezuela was a truly fascinating character. In one sense he is modest and claims he does nothing on his own, he is just the mouthpiece or arrow of the god. In another he is proud and haughty and needs to punish those around him who don’t listen to him. I loved following his actions and seeing where his scheming (if it could be called that) would take him next. In one sense I expected what his answer would be to the British but in another I was still surprised. From page 175:

It might be thought foolish for a man to spit out a morsel which fortune had placed in his mouth but in certain circumstances such a man compelled respect.

His real fault, I felt, was in relying too much on the fact that half of his thoughts were supposed to be Ulu’s. In this way he could pretend that everything that he did had higher motives and that it wasn’t really his decision. He allows his role as Chief Priest to take over more significance than perhaps it should have, allowing it to be the explanation for things that he did without any higher authority behind it.

Overall, a fascinating book that I will certainly be reading again. If you read only one book by Achebe I would recommend this one – though I reserve the right to amend that statement after reading more of his works!







Arrow of God – one interpretation: true or false?


Read the following summary and comment on whether or not you think it is accurate:

“Arrow of God (1964) by Chinua Achebe, a political and cultural novel, is set in Nigeria in the early twentieth century when colonization by British government officials and Christian missionaries was well underway. In this novel two cultures confront their differences. Achebe portrays the disrupting effect an externally imposed power system (the British) has on an internally imposed power system (African tradition and customs). Conflicts within the Igbo society coupled with repercussions from external invasion result in disaster for the Igbo society which disintegrates from within and reorients itself to Christianity. This reorientation will lead not only to the assimilation of Western values and beliefs, but also to the eventual loss of the Igbo cultural identity.”