Study Guide

Arrow of God Pride

By Chinua Achebe

Pride

Ezeulu often said that the dead fathers of Umuaro looking at the world from Ani-Mmo must be utterly bewildered by the ways of the new age. At no other time but now could Umuaro have taken war to Okperi in the circumstances in which they did. Who would have imagined that Umuaro would go to war so sorely divided? Who would have thought that they would disregard the warning of the priest of Ulu who originally brought the six villages together and made them what they were? But Umuaro had grown wise and strong in its own conceit and had become like the little bird, nza, who ate and drank and challenged his personal god to single combat. Umuaro challenged the deity which laid the foundation of their villages. And – what did they expect – he thrashed them, thrashed them enough for today and for tomorrow. (2.1)

Pride is what causes the village of Umuaro to go against the advice of their chief priest. Ulu refuses to let the people of Umuaro defy him.

"Do I look to you like someone you can put in your bag and walk away?" he [Moses] asked. "I have been to the fountainhead of this new religion and seen with my own eyes the white people who brought it. So I want to tell you now that I will not be led astray by outsiders who choose to weep louder than the owners of the corpse. You are not the first teacher I have seen; you are not the second; you are not the third. If you are wise you will face the work they sent you to do here and take your hand off the python. You can say that I told you so." (4. 84)

Moses Unachukwu's identity is tied up with his superior knowledge of the white man's religion. He takes pride in it and challenges the new catechist to try to usurp his place as first Christian in Umuaro.

By the time Edogo reached home his father was still in a very bad temper, only that now his anger was not so much against Oduche as against all the double-faced neighbors and passers-by whose words of sympathy barely concealed the spitefulness in their hears. And even if they had been sincere Ezeulu would still have resented anybody making him an object of pity. At first his anger shouldered inwardly. But the last group of women who went in to see his wives, looking like visitors to a place of death, inflamed his wrath. (4.96)

Ezeulu's pride is hurt by what Oduche has done to the sacred python. But he takes his anger out on the gossiping neighbors rather than admitting what his hurt pride and frustration at being an object of pity rather than of admiration.

Captain T.K. Winterbottom stared at the memorandum before him with irritation and a certain amount of contempt. It came from the Lieutenant-Governor through the Resident through the Senior District Officer to him, the last two adding each his own comment before passing the buck down the line. Captain Winterbottom was particularly angry at the tone of the Senior District Officer's minute. It as virtually a reprimand for what he was pleased to describe as Winterbottom's stonewalling on the issue of the appointment of Paramount Chiefs. Perhaps if this minute had been written by any other person Captain Winterbottom would not have minded so much; but Watkinson had been his junior by three years and had been promoted over him.

"Any fool can be promoted," Winterbottom always told himself and his assistant, "provided he does nothing but try. Those of us who have a job to do have no time to try." (5.1-2)

Winterbottom's pride is hurt by the fact that he was passed up for promotion. He used to hold the superior position over the very man who is now reprimanding him.

"The white man thinks we are foolish; so we shall ask him one question. This was the question I had wanted to ask him this morning but he would not listen. We have a saying that a man may refuse to do what is asked of him but he may not refuse to be asked, but it seems the white man does not have that kind of saying where he comes from. Anyhow the question which we shall beg Unachukwu to ask him is why we are not paid for working on his road. I have heard that throughout Olu and Igbo, wherever people do this kind of work the white man pays them. Why should our own be different?" [Ukpaka]



"The message is not complete," said Nwoye Udora. "It is not enough to ask him why we are not paid. He knows why and we know why. He knows that in Okperi those who do this kind of work are paid. Therefore the question you should ask him is this: Others are paid for this work; why are we not paid? Or is our own different? It is important to ask whether our own is different."

This was agreed and the meeting broke up.

"Your words were very good," someone said to Nwoye Udora as they left the market place. "perhaps the white man will tell us whether we killed his father or his mother." (8.74, 77-79)

The pride of the men of Umuaro is hurt by the fact that they are being forced to labor without payment, while the men of the nearby region, Okperi (their enemy), are paid. They wonder why they are treated so disrespectfully. But the final question suggests that they also wonder if the white man has a legitimate reason. Is this an act of revenge?

"He's been badly treated there too, I'm told," said Wright. "Actually I wasn't thinking of that at all. I was thinking of his domestic life. Oh yes. You see during the war while the poor man was fighting the Germans in the Cameroons some smart fellow walked away with his wife at home."

"Really? I hadn't heard about that."

"Yes. I'm told he was very badly shaken by it. I sometimes think it was this personal loss during the war that's made him cling to this ridiculous Captain business."

"Quite possibly. He's the kind of person, isn't he, who would take the desertion of his wife very badly," said Clarke. (10.20-23)

The two men, Clarke and Wright, gossip about Captain Winterbottom in order to diminish his stature and to make themselves feel more important. They suggest that his pride in his title, as Captain, has to do with the fact that he was cuckolded (i.e., that his wife cheated on him) – which they consider the most humiliating thing a man can endure.

"Well, I have now decided to appoint him Paramount Chief for Umuaro. I've gone through the records of the case again and found that the man's title is Eze Ulu. The prefix eze in Ibo means king. So the man is a kind of priest-king."

"That means, I suppose," said Clarke, "that the new appointment would not altogether be strange to him."

"Exactly. Although I must say that I have never found the Ibo man backward in acquiring new airs of authority. Take this libertine we made Chief here. He now calls himself His Highness Obi Ikedi the First of Okperi. The only title I haven't yet heard him use is Fidei Defensor."

Clarke opened his mouth to say that the love of title was a universal human failing but thought better of it. (10.47-50)

Winterbottom mentions the "natives'" love for title and authority, and how ridiculous they look as a result. Clarke recognizes that this is a failing of all men, no matter the culture, but he knows he's not in a position to point this fact out.

"Every man has his own way of ruling his household," he said at last. "What I do myself if I need something like that is to cal one of my wives and say to her: I need such and such a thing for a sacrifice, go and get it for me. I know I can take it but I ask her to go and bring it herself. I never forget what my father told his friend when I was a boy. He said: In our custom a man is not expected to go down on his knees and knock his forehead on the ground to his wife to ask her forgiveness or beg a favour. But, a wise man knows that between him and his wife there may arise the need for him to say to her in secret: "I beg you." When such a thing happens nobody else must know it, and that woman if she has any sense will never boast about it or even open her mouth and speak of it. If she does it the earth on which the man brought himself low will destroy her entirely." (14.109)

Ezeulu mentions that a wise man is humble; he does not let pride influence his behavior. He asks his wife, treating her with respect, so that when the time comes when he must beg her for something, she will not humiliate him but will respect the need for privacy and for her to maintain his dignity in public.

From the beginning Mr. Goodcountry had taken exception to Unachukwu's know-all airs which the last catechist, Mr. Molokwu, had done his best to curb. Goodcountry had seen elsewhere how easy it was for a half-educated and half-converted Christian to mislead a whole congregation when the pastor or catechist was weak; so he wanted to establish his leadership from the very beginning. His intention was not originally to antagonize Unachukwu more than was necessary for making his point; after all he was a strong pillar in the church and could not be easily replaced. But Unachukwu did not give Mr. Goodcountry a chance; he challenged him openly on the question of the python and so deserved the public rebuke and humiliation he got.

Having made his point Mr. Goodcountry was prepared to forget the whole thing. He had no idea what kind of person he was dealing with. Unachukwu got a clerk in Okperi to write a petition on behalf of the priest of Idemili to the Bishop on the Niger. Although it was called a petition it was more of a threat. It warned the bishop that unless his followers in Umuaro left the royal python alone they would regret the day they ever set foot on the soil of the clan.



For this reason, but also because he did not himself approve of such excess of zeal, the bishop had written a firm letter to Goodcountry. He had also replied to Ezidemili's petition assuring him that the catechist would not interfere with the python but at the same time praying that the day would not be far when the priest and all his people would turn away from the worship of snakes and idols to the true religion. (18.114-115;117)

Mr. Goodcountry and Moses Unachukwu's battle of wills is an issue of pride. Each one wants more power than the other, and they want others to respect their authority more than they respect the authority of the other. Mr. Goodcountry doesn't like the uppity airs that Unachukwu takes, but he misjudges his adversary. In this battle of wills, Unachukwu figures out how to humiliate Mr. Goodcountry and keep some of the customs of Umuaro sacred.

So in the end only Umuaro and its leaders saw the final outcome. To them the issue was simple. Their god had taken sides with them against his headstrong and ambitious priest and thus upheld the wisdom of their ancestors – that no man however great was greater than his people; that no one ever won judgement against his clan. (19.88)

Though Ezeulu maintained that he was doing what Ulu asked of him throughout. Do you think this is true? Or do you think it's more likely that he was either not following his god's will, or his god was leading him to ruin and destruction because Ezeulu's pride and lust for power had become so great?