The case for Penal Abolition and Ludic Ubuntu in Arrow of God

by Mechthild Nagel

Working Papers WP 15-09
September 2015
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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Chinua Achebe, the novelist and visionary critic, has given us a subtle critique of the function of prisons in the colonial context, and his trilogy refracts the haunting carceral-colonial reality for Igbo society in remarkable ways. And yet, commentators and critics have overlooked it. What I will argue is the following: 1) the prison within the context of colonial law is a key trope in Achebe’s novels; 2) Arrow of God makes a case for the traumatic effects of a prison sentence; and 3) Achebe’s sharp critique of the colonial practices not only invites a reading of penal abolitionism but also a strategy of resistance of a ludic Ubuntu. This paper argues that the prison is the central organizing tool of oppression, whereas most commentators focus on the “clash of cultures” engendered by the advent of Christianity. In fact, Arrow of God invites a reading of Christianity as an ambivalent good. The formidable clash of cultures is unveiled in the realm of traditional versus colonial juridical discourses.

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