Arrow of God
by Chinua Achebe
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The python symbolizes the old gods in the conflict between Christianity and Umuaro's religion. The python is the religious icon that the catechist seizes upon and urges local Christians to kill. Many of the local Christians aren't prepared to violate the sacred python even though they have embraced the new religion. Killing one of the most sacred symbols of traditional religion seems to be going too far. But Oduche, Ezeulu's son, takes the challenge and tries to kill the python; at the last minute he loses his nerve and imprisons it in a box instead. Ezeulu discovers the box and releases the python, horrified that his son could commit such an abomination. Oduche's abomination precipitates one of the crises in the book. The priest of the god Idemili – owner of the royal python – demands that Ezeulu purify his house.
Despite the fact that every character in the book (with the exception of the catechist, John Goodcountry, and Oduche) respects the royal python, we are given hints that the old religion is losing ground. At one point in particular we see Ezeulu's children tell the python to run away, because the Christians are coming. As the python obeys, we come to realize that Christianity has triumphed over traditional religion.
In Ezeulu's dream has in the final chapter, he symbolically becomes the python and must run away when the Christians come. More importantly, Ezeulu is alone. His entire family has disappeared, either because they have joined the Christians or because they are simply gone.