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.)