Study Guide

Arrow of God Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Chinua Achebe

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Python

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.

Breaker of Guns

When Captain Winterbottom stopped the war between Okperi and Umuaro, he broke all of Umuaro's guns, except a few that he took as mementos. By doing so, he symbolically took away the manhood of Umuaro's men and turned them into children. By removing the possibility of using weapons, Umuaro could no longer decide to go to war.

Yams

Yams are a crop grown exclusively by men. Growing yams is labor intensive, and the size of a man's fields and harvest says much about his work ethic. Yams are grown to gain wealth and also to feed one's family. They are a symbol of masculinity and ability as a provider.

According to Umuaro religion, the harvest can't take place until the Feast of the New Yam is called by Ulu's chief priest, Ezeulu. And in order to punish Umuaro, Ezeulu stubbornly maintains that he can't call the feast until he eats the three remaining sacred yams. Ezeulu claims that according to Ulu, he can only eat one yam a month. While Ezeulu keeps to this rigid schedule, the rest of Umuaro begins to fall into famine and death.

At the end of Arrow of God, the Christian church invites the people of Umuaro to sacrifice their yams to the Christian god. When this happens, it symbolizes the triumph of Christianity over traditional Umuaro religion.