The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Chinua Achebe’s Ezeulu is the Chief Priest of Ulu, the preeminent religious leader in the six villages of Umuaro. It is his responsibility to interpret the will of Ulu and to perform the two most important rituals—the Festival of the Pumpkin Leaves and the Feast of the New Yam. The first is a purification ceremony through which the villages’ sins are exorcised before the new crop is planted. The second sanctifies the harvest and marks the beginning of a new year. Thus, Ezeulu is an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds, a man with dual responsibilities.

Ezeulu is also an ambitious and proud man, who wonders about the true extent of his authority. Is he a mere functionary, powerless to effect real change, or is his spiritual power absolute? In asking such questions, Ezeulu forgets that true authority is communal and that even the god Ulu was created by Umuaro in order to strengthen their confederation.

Like Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart (1958), Ezeulu takes pride in his personal status, which places him in conflict with his community. As it does for Obi Okonkwo in No Longer at Ease (1960), this conflict creates a sense of alienation. In Ezeulu, this alienation eventually takes the extreme form of madness. Ezeulu is unable to compromise his power as Chief Priest to the communal needs of the people; in fact, he believes that anyone who opposes him is an enemy. When his fellow clansmen question his...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ezeulu (eh-zuh-EW-lew), a haughty, old chief priest of Ulu in the six villages, including his own Umuachala, that compose the federation of Umuaro. He sees himself and his god as beset by two dangers: the growing influence of a nearby Christian mission and the machinations of Ezidemili, a priest of Idemili who aspires to replace Ulu with his own god as paramount deity of Umuaro. Through pride and a misunderstanding, he angers the English district officer and is imprisoned for thirty-two days. Believing everything to be part of Ulu’s design for destroying Idemili, he refuses after his release to declare the New Yam festival that allows harvesting; he thus causes incipient famine. When his favorite son dies, he goes mad.

Captain T. K. Winterbottom

Captain T. K. Winterbottom, a fifteen-year veteran of service in Africa whose pride and unbending principles have kept him a district officer. His district headquarters is in Okperi, the land neighboring Umuaro and home of Ezeulu’s mother. He admires Ezeulu as the only witness, on either side of a land dispute between Okperi and Umuaro, who spoke the truth. When Umuaro and Okperi went to war, Winterbottom intervened decisively and became known as the “Destroyer of Guns.” He now intends to appoint Ezeulu as paramount chief of Umuaro and summons the old priest to Okperi, which leads to perceived insult on both sides and to Ezeulu’s imprisonment. Winterbottom’s sudden attack of malaria leaves the matter largely in the hands of his assistant, Tony Clarke.


Nwaka (NWAH-kah), the leader of a prosperous family of Umuachala’s rival village, Umunneora. He is one of the three citizens of Umuaro who has taken the highest...

(The entire section is 743 words.)