The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.
Arrow of God (1988)
For an African writing in English is not without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or he can try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas … I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence.
(Page numbers in parentheses refer to the 1969 Fawcett Premier edition.)
The sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.
Chapter 1 (p. 11)
When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.
Chapter 2 (p. 14)
We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.
Chapter 3 (p. 22)
A proud heart can survive general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.
Chapter 3 (p. 27)
The Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly, so his chi agreed. And not only his chi but his clan too, because it judged a man by the work of his hands.
Chapter 4 (p. 29)
But he was not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he was in error. And so people said he had no respect for the gods of the clan. His enemies said that his good fortune had gone to his head.
Chapter 4 (p. 32)
Even the village rain-maker no longer claimed to be able to intervene. He could not stop the rain now, just as he would not attempt to start it in the heart of the dry season, without serious danger to his own health.
Chapter 4 (p. 35)
No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man.
Chapter 7 (p. 52)
"When did you become a shivering old woman," Okonkwo asked himself, "you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed."
Chapter 8 (pp. 62–63)
"You sound as if you question the authority and the decision of the Oracle, who said he should die."
"I do not. Why should I? But the Oracle did not ask me to carry out its decision." [...]
"The Earth cannot punish me for obeying her mesenger," Okonkwo said. "A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm."
Chapter 8 (p. 64)
After such treatment it would think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned, carrying the stamp of their mutilation--a missing finger or perhaps a dark line where the medicine man's razor had cut them.
Chapter 9 (p. 75)
And when, as on that day, nine of the greatest masked spirits in the clan came out together it was a terrifying spectacle.
Okonkwo's wives, and perhaps other women as well, might have noticed that the second egwugwu had the springy walk of Okonkwo. And they might also have noticed that Okonkwo was not among the titled men and elders who sat behind the row of egwugwu. But if they thought these things they kept them to themselves. The egwugwu with the springy walk was one of the dead fathers of the clan.
Chapter 10 (p. 85)
"Beware Okonkwo!" she warned. "Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!"
Chapter 11 (p. 95)
The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals and also when an old man died, because an old man was very close to the ancestors. A man's life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors.
Chapter 13 (p. 115)
If the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender. As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled all the others.
Chapter 13 (p. 118)
It was like beginning life anew without the vigor and enthusiasm of youth, like learning to become left-handed in old age.
Chapter 14 (pp. 120–121)
"We have heard stories about white men who make the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true." [said Obierika]
"There is no story that is not true," said Uchendu. "The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others. We have albinos among us. Do you not think that they came to our clan by mistake, that they have strayed from their way to a land where everybody is like them?"
Chapter 15 (p. 130)
Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, called the converts the excrement of the clan, and the new faith was a mad dog that had come to eat it up.
Chapter 16 (p. 133)
"Let us give them a portion of the Evil Forest. They boast about victory over death. Let us give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory." [...] They offered them as much of the Evil Forest as they cared to take. And to their great amazement the missionaries thanked them and burst into song.
Chapter 17 (p. 139)
Okonkwo was popularly called the "Roaring Flame." As he looked into the log fire he recalled the name. He was a flaming fire. How then could he have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? [...]
He sighed heavily, and as if in sympathy the smoldering log also sighed. And immediately Okonkwo's eyes were opened and he saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash. He sighed again, deeply.
Chapter 17 (p. 143)
The white man is very clever. He came quietly with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
Chapter 20 (p. 162)
As a man danced so the drums were beaten for him.
Chapter 22 (p. 170)
Eneke the bird was asked why he was always on the wing and he replied: "Men have learned to shoot without missing their mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig."
Chapter 24 (p. 203)
Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.
Chapter 24 (p. 186)
In the many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he had learned a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting a hanged man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. [...] One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate.
(Page numbers in parentheses refer to the 1969 Fawcett Premier edition.)
A man who lived on the banks of the Niger should not wash his hands with spittle.
Chapter 1 (p. 17)
Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly forever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions. A real tragedy takes place in a corner, in an untidy spot, to quote W. H. Auden.
Chapter 5 (pp. 43–44)
You cannot plant greatness as you plant yams or maize. Who ever planted an iroko tree — the greatest tree in the forest? You may collect all the iroko seeds in the world, open the soil and put them there. It will be in vain. The great tree chooses where to grow and we find it there, so it is with the greatness in men.
Chapter 5 (p. 57)
If one finger brings oil it soils the others.
Chapter 7 (p. 75)
A man to whom you do a favor will not understand if you say nothing, make no noise, just walk away. You may cause more trouble by refusing a bribe than by accepting it.
Chapter 9 (p. 87)
When there is a big tree small ones climb on its back to reach the sun.