This novel is called “Arrow of God” because Ezeulu compares himself to an arrow in their god’s bow. “Arrow of God” is drawn from an Igbo proverb in which a person, or sometimes an event, is said to represent the will of God.
Ezuulu claims that the hardships he has brought to the village are Ulu’s will, for which God he is the chief priest whose most potent magic is achieved through a sacred python.
Though he distrusts Christianity, he allows a colonial district officer to send one of his sons to a mission school.
To the chief’s horror, the Christianized boy zealously imprisons the sacred python in a box. “An abomination has happened,” cries one tribesman.
“Today I shall kill the boy with my own hands,” says the chief. As chief priest, Ezeulu is responsible for safeguarding the traditions and rituals of the people.
For example, Ezeulu watches each month for the new moon. He eats a sacred yam and beats the ogene to mark the beginning of each new month.
Only the chief priest can name the day for the feast of the Pumpkin Leaves or for the New Yam Feast, which ushers in the yam harvest. Ezeulu considers himself “merely a watchman” for Ulu.
The novel begins with a flashback in which Nwaka, a prosperous man and a supporter of Ezidemili, the chief priest of the god, Idemili conflicts between the Ezeulu over a land dispute between Umuaro and the nearby village of Okperi.
Nwaka leads a group of villagers who want to go to war against Okperi. Ezeulu opposes them. All six villages of Umuaro side with Nwaka and override Ezeulu.
Akukalia, an emissary from Umuaro, is sent to Okperi to announce the war. Feeling as if he was not properly received, Akukalia, in a fit of anger, breaks one of the villager’s personal gods which prompts the people of Okperi to kill the Akukalia which sparks a war.
The war is stopped by Captain T.K.Winterbottom, the District Officer, breaks all the guns in Okperi and Umuaro. Ezeulu impresses Captain Winterbottom by testifying trustfully that his people do not have a right to the land in question.
Nwaka draws attention to Ezeulu’s friendship with the white men who are taking the Igbo land thus Ezeulu recognizing the anger, delays his departure for Okperi and angers Winterbottom.
When Ezeulu arrives on Government Hill he is imprisoned. Winterbottom has become ill so Assistant District Officer Tony Clarke makes the offer to Ezeulu that the British would like to make him a ruler.
Ezeulu declines to be “a white man’s chief”. Ezeulu angers the British administration, which detains him so that he cannot begin the yam harvest.
The people become divided between their loyalty to Ulu and their loyalty to the survival of the community. While the people argue and starve, Ezeulu’s son Obika dies suddenly while performing as Ogbazulobodo, the night spirit, in a ritual for a funeral.
The people take Obika’s death as a sign that Ulu had either chastised or abandoned his priest and “that no man however great was greater than his people; that no one ever won judgment against his clan”.
Because Ulu failed them, the people of Umuaro turn to Christianity, harvesting the yams and taking a sacrificial offering to a Christian leader instead.
Achebe’s achievement is to portray his obvious love and respect for the Igbo people balanced with an honest representation of their lives, conflicts, and culture.