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jeudi, décembre 31, 1998

 Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Hello there! This is a study guide in ONE single post on Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. I developed this guide by myself in 1998 as I studied the book for my 'A' Levels in Singapore. Do take note that a lot of the syntax is therefore that which was written by a 17-year old girl and might somewhat unpolished!

There are essays and partial thought blurbs here and there which are original, and I have cited where possible, so do cite correctly and avoid plagiarism.

I hope this helps you study - write me a comment/note to let me know how you're doing.

- May-Ann
posted in Dec 2011 but backdated


University of Florida
African Writers: Voices of Change
Ayi Kwei Armah (1939-). Ghana.

Ayi Kwei Armah was born in 1939 to Fante-speaking parents in the port city of Takoradi, Ghana.
He left Ghana in 1959 to attend the Groton School in Groton, MA. Afterwards, he attended
Harvard. Much of his work deals with the problems of post-colonial Ghana.

Armah's first and best-known novel, The Beautyful Ones Are not Yet Born (1968), describes the
life of an unnamed rail worker who is pressured by his family and fellow workers to accept bribes
and involve himself in corrupt activities in order to provide his family with material goods. The other
workers who accept bribes are able to live a prosperous life, while he and his family live from
paycheck to paycheck as a result of his honesty. At times he perceives himself as a moral failure for
not providing his family with the money which would allow them to have the beautiful things that they
seek. His honesty also makes him a social misfit, and he is a man who is truly alone. The book is
filled with images of birth, decay and death, most notably in the form of a manchild who goes through
the entire life cycle in seven years. This manchild is a metaphor for post-independence Ghana.

His second, more autobiographical, novel Fragments (1971), also deals with the subject of
materialism in contemporary Ghana. In it, the main character Baako is a "been to", meaning that he
has been to the United States and received his education there. As a result of this privilege, he is
expected to return to his family bearing the monetary gifts which this status yields in Ghana. As in his
first novel, these material goods are bought with graft and corruption, which impoverishes the
country's infrastructure. The author contrasts the decadence and materialism of those who see
Baako as a cash cow with the philosophy of his blind grandmother, Naana, whose concerns are not
of this earth.

Later works, such as Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and The Healers (1978), have a more
obviously African focus, and have been characterized by some Western critics as inferior to his early
novels. However, they have received a better reception from African critics. (KJ)

The Beautyful Ones Have Not Been Born. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.
Fragments. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
Two Thousand Seasons. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1973.
The Healers. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1978.

Chapter 1

Synopsis :
                The book opens with an introduction to the everyday type of dishonesty that exists within Ghana. The bus conductor short changes his passengers normally, but today, being Passion Week, where everybody was hard-pressed for money, passengers held out ‘exact fare itself, no more, no less…’ (2), and he could not cheat them of their money. He remembers one passenger which he managed to cheat - he ‘placed in the giver’s hands….should have given’ (3) and he smells the cedi which he was given and likes the odour. He smells the coins, then the cedi again, now with a sense of shame. He turns around, and sees the Man. He starts to try to bribe the Man, but then realises that ‘the Watcher was no Watcher after all, only a Sleeper’ (5) when he sees the Man has a ‘stream of spittle’ running down the side of his mouth. He chases the Man off the bus, and spits on him.

                The Man walks to his workplace (The Railway and Harbour Administration Block), and along the way, he notices the “K.C.C. Receptacle for Disposal of Waste” (7), and the ‘large amount of money paid for them’ (8) The Man places his ball of used tickets onto the heap and continues his walk, only to be nearly knocked down by a ‘fast advancing car’, a taxi, as he was blinded by its ‘blinding…light’. After being scolded (again!) by the taxi driver, he walks past some shops with acronyms and abbreviations for names. Armah pauses here to muse a little on the corruption (10) The narration then proceeds to describe Yensua Hill and the Atlantic-Caprice hotel, and the gleam it offers.

                Finally, the Man reaches the very old and dirty Railway and Harbour Administration Block, with its ‘squat massiveness’. He walks up the cement stairs, and holds the banister, only to recoil in an ‘instinctive gesture of withdrawal.’ (11). The chapter ends with Armah expanding on the banister, and its rot, which ‘embraced’ everything that was thrown onto it to stop its ‘course toward putrefaction’.

1.    (4) ‘Jesus wept.’
à John 11:35
à Jesus comforts the sisters and weeps at Lazarus’ death.
2.    Armah’s exposition on the ‘impotence’ of the lack of money, and the ‘fullness of the month that touches each old sufferer with a feeling of new power’ (2) as well as the ‘restless happiness of power in search of admiration’ (2)
à The people of Ghana are seen as ‘sufferers’ throughout the whole book.
à Money brings power and admiration.

2.    Passion Week
à A reference to the week in which Christ died, a time of great suffering.
à In the novel it depicts the great suffering that each Ghanaian goes through when money runs low.

3.    The smelling of the cedi
à ‘Old smell’ = great age of the corruption which Ghana has.
à ‘smell of the cedi’s marvellous rottenness’ (3)
à Note that the lesser-value coins do not give as satisfying a smell as the cedi.

4.    Atlantic-Caprice Hotel
à Atlantic : the ocean separating Europe and Africa in the east from America in the west.
à Caprice : an unaccountable change of mind or conduct; a whim; a freakish fancy.

5.    The banister
à Notice that the Man recoils ‘instinctively’ to the touch of the banister, which is supposed to symbolize the corruption of the country.
à c.f. to  31, where he says to the Timber Merchant : he does not know why he is an honest man.
Characters : :
1.    The corrupt bus conductor, who short-changes people.
2.    The cedi passenger
3.    The Man

Symbols :
1.     The Bus
Ghana & how its ‘rust’ (corruption) holds it together.
2.     The cedi
Symbol of the country’s corruption and obsession with money and power - the money wanted ‘admiration’. (2)
3.     The Man’s drool
Symbol of the Man’s own unintentional lust after the good things in life. *debatable
4.     The Embassy and Tuskers cigarettes
1 & 5
Colonialism and its lingering after-effects.
5.     The dustbins
Symbol of the country’s desire to clean up its corruption and bribery - just as the country has failed to clean up after its own physical dirt and rubbish, so has the country failed to clean up after dirty politicians. In the middle of the clean-up, there is dishonesty. Not that the people do not want to clean up - they ‘used them well’ (8) -referring to the dustbins.
6.     The fast car with the bright lights
Colonialism and its lingering after-effects.
The country’s insatiable desire for western goods.
7.     The buildings with the abbreviated names
Colonialism and its lingering after-effects.
The country cannot get-rid of the British influence and the corruption that it introduced into the country - ‘…the same old stories of money changing hands and throats getting moistened and palms getting greased. Only this time, if the stories aroused any anger, there was nowhere for it to go’
(10) [c.f.  109 where justice is not served to the students who complained against the embezzling supervisor / Allocations clerk.]
Even if the country were to want to complain against the corruption, there was ‘nowhere’ for the complaints to go, for the dishonesty has become a part of life in Ghana.
8.     The Atlantic-Caprice Hotel
Symbol of the ‘gleam’ that the corruption brings - c.f. to the ‘light’ that good hard work brings.
9.     The Block                                                (Railway and Harbour Administration Block)
Symbol of the changing political systems that Ghana has undergone - just as the Block has undergone many layers of painting, so has the country undergone changes in governments.
The ‘petal of the hibiscus flower’ that the bricks have could represent the ‘beautyful ones’ that the country have, and have been tainted and painted over by the ‘layers of distemper’ and ‘swirling grit’ and ‘engine grease’ (11) *debatable point
10. The Banister
Symbol of Ghana, and the triumph of the corruption over all attempts to clean up (‘Ronuk and Mansion’ -  turpentine used to polish the banister - 12)
‘The wood would always win.’ (13)
The people also help the banister (Ghana) along its ‘course toward putrefaction.’
‘But of course in the end it was the rot which imprisoned everything in its effortless embrace It did not really have to fight. Being was enough.’( 12)

Themes :

1.     Moral corruption and degradation           [Internal translating to external manifestation]
The bus conductor
The Man’s spittle
The cedi
2.     Physical corruption and rot
The Block
The banister
The general dirt [The dustbin as a symbol of the failed clean-up efforts]
3.     Colonialism
The cigarettes
The fast car with the bright lights
The abbreviated building names

 Chapter 2

Synopsis :
                This chapter starts off with an introduction to the Man’s workplace. He wakes up the night clerk from ‘his easy darkness’, into a ‘brief, strong terror’( 14). They talk a while, and Armah uses the Man’s thoughts in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way to speak on the loneliness that night brings. The Man finds out that the control telephones at Kojokrom were dead again. As the night clerk finishes logging in the train entries, the Man looks around the train map and tries to sharpen pencils unsuccessfully, as the pencil-sharpener is broken. After checking the night clerk’s log book, he meets a messenger who has just won the lottery, and they discuss it.

1.     The goods train
à these carry Ghana’s main exports.

Characters :
1.     The Man
2.     The night clerk
3.     The messenger who won 100 cedi in the Ghana lottery

Symbols :

1.     Light
The things in life attained by honest means. Notice that in the office, ‘the light came dully, like a ball whose bounce had died completely.’ (14)
2.     Sleeping night clerk
The people of Ghana.
c.f. 80 Plato’s cave
The people of Ghana are all sleepwalkers afraid to wake up from their sleep, lest they realise that their life is a nightmare.
c.f. 33 Atia, the ‘sleepwalker sweeper’ *debatable point
3.     Control telephones
Notice that they are broken ‘as usual’. Symbol of the country’s disrepair.
4.     Pencil Sharpener
This is broken too. The Man does it his way, using an old blade in his drawer. Symbol that the Man does not follow with the other Ghanaians in their cheating way of doing things. *debatable point
5.     Lottery
The widespread bribery in the country.
‘I hope some official at the lottery……have the rest.’

Themes :

1.     The Ghanaian struggle against the corruption
The night clerk (15)
2.     Political failure within Ghana
The broken control telephones
The broken pencil sharpener
3.     Corruption
The Ghana lottery

Chapter 3
Synopsis :

                Armah describes the ‘stewy atmosphere’ which the Man works in, where everyone ‘seemed to sweat a lot…inner struggle that was going on.( 20) The Man converses in Morse with a fellow colleague at Insu Siding, then goes for his lunch break, which is spent walking toward the harbour, as he has no money for food.
                The Man muses on the ‘cycle of debt and borrowing’ (22) while walking through the steel tracks. He walks past a ditch and notices through the ‘clarity of his starved vision’ (23) , a vision of hope seen in the clean water the ditch gives when its dirt is blocked. Armah once again uses the Man to ask questions on the reason for the corruption, why it started, why it has no answer.

                He returns to his workplace to get an overtime slip, and we are introduced to a ‘blind fool’ (24), the overtime clerk, who tries to talk like an Englishman. He signs up for overtime work, a sign that he is perhaps hard pressed for extra money. He walks back to his desk, and starts a conversation with Obuasi, another operator at the end of the Morse, which ends at precisely 4:30 p.m. - the time work ends. The Man starts thinking of the oppression of the office, but his reverie is interrupted by Amankawa, the Timber Merchant, who offers him a bribe to get him to get ahead in the wagon allocation queue, but the Man refuses it. Amankawa leaves in a huff as the night sweeper, Atia, arrives. As soon as the ‘new man just out of Secondary’ arrives, the Man leaves too.

1.    The beauty of the ditch and the train tracks(22)
2.    The imagery of the ‘eating and its spewing out’ (24)
3.    Overtime slips
à The Man is poor, and needs money.
à But we see evidence from later passages that suggest he perhaps does not want to go home to see his family.
4.    Pg. 31 à The Man does not know why he is so righteous

Characters :
1.     The Man
2.     The overtime slip clerk
3.     Amankawa, the corrupt Timber Merchant
4.     Atia, the sleepwalking sweeper
5.     The new man just out of Secondary

Symbols :
The ‘inner struggle’ (20) within each Ghanaian
All things gotten by honest means.
Note reference to the sea à a symbol of ‘clean’ things.
Train tracks
Symbol of the Man’s journey through the book.
Filthy ditch and sudden cleanness
Symbol of Ghana’s corruption, and hope for the future, which would bring about the ‘beautyful ones’ who were clean from the dirt.
Food and Excrement
Cycle of life and death.
Overtime slip clerk
Colonialism and its lingering after-effects.
The clerk tries to imitate the British accent.
c.f. also 109 for his history with his boss
Amankawa, the Timber Merchant
Representation of the widespread bribery throughout the country. Note the fact that ‘The wallet was not fat’ (30)
à Even poor people have to participate in the bribery
The new man out of Secondary contrasted with Atia, the sweeper
The new man is the symbol of dreams that every Ghanaian has of the good life, and Atia is the symbol of the honest man’s failure to attain the ‘gleam’.
Poignant that it is left to Atia, the poor honest man,(beautyful one?) to clean up after the corruption. *debatable point
Themes :
Cyclical nature of life
22 - ‘endless round that shrinks a man to something less than the size…’
24 - ‘the thought of food now brought with it a picture of its eating and its spewing out…controlled’
à Eating brings excrement, just as life brings death
à Shows the uselessness of trying, of dreaming in Ghana, because all will come to nought.
The Man is too poor to buy lunch
The clean stream in the ditch
Symbol of hope for Ghana
That it had ‘a cleanness which had nothing to do with the thing it came out from’ (23)
But then also note that the note of optimism is clouded when the stream turns into mud again.
Does this mean that corruption will always win?
The overtime clerk trying to talk like an Englishman
Armah’s description conveys his disgust at such a lowly person à wolf
Increasing isolation of the Man
Inversion of moral values in Ghana
‘ he felt lonely in the way only a man condemned by all things around him can ever feel lonely.’
‘The Man was left alone with thoughts of the easy slide….a man who refused to take and to give what everyone around was busy taking and giving : something unnatural.’
34 ‘As he went down a shadow rose up the bottom to meet him, and it was his own.’
The new man just out of Secondary
He was full of dreams
à So was the Man until Oyo’s pregnancy killed his dreams for the University of Legon
à c.f. Chapter 9 [117] for his story

Chapter 4
Synopsis :

                The Man walks to the bus stop, and along the way, he sees a mother removing mucus from her baby’s nose, and encounters a prostitute who approaches him with her ‘fragile shine’ (35). He sees a car, and sees Koomson getting oranges and bread, and buy another loaf after much flattery from an old woman. Koomson notices the Man, and strikes up a conversation. They make an appointment for the following Sunday evening, and the Man greets Estella (Estie to Koomson).

                The Man waits for the bus, and Armah uses him again to muse on the ‘lit windows’ in the Post Office, and to observe the bus conductor and the bus driver urinating onto the clean-your-city can.(39) When the Man finally gets onto the bus and goes on his way, there is a vivid sensory description of the smells that the Man smells while going home, from the rust, sea, rotten tomatoes, rubbish, lavatory, spice etc…(40 &41)

                The Man gets off at his stop, and walks home, only to be greeted by the silence of the ‘reproach of loved ones’. He gets into what seems to be a very old and tired argument with his wife over his refusal to bow to the rampant bribery that Koomson is participating in, and getting his ‘clean’ life. They are interrupted by the old woman next door, asking to borrow a little sugar ‘for the children’. Oyo lies (as we later find out in Chapter 8) that they have finished theirs. The fact is that they have just enough for themselves, and not enough to share. After she leaves, Oyo calls the Man an ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ and a ‘Chichidodo Bird’.

1.    The Man stands in the ‘ambiguous shadow between the lights’ (36)
2.    Armah’s description of Koomson and his (apparent) virility on 37.
3.    Armah’s sensory style on 40 &41
4.    Analogy of the Chichidodo Bird and the Soldier
5.    ‘The reproach of loved ones’
à This is a often repeated phrase
à The Man is being silently pressurised into dishonesty.

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    The unknown woman and child
3.    The prostitute
4.    Koomson and Estella
5.    Oyo and the Man’s children
6.    The old lady next door

Symbols :

1.     The mucus
The internal rot of the country
2.     The gleam / shine
The false riches that corruption and vice bring
3.     The prostitute
Moral degradation of the country
4.     The fawning bread seller
The ‘yes-men’ that exist to suck off the wealth of the rich
5.     The car
Colonialism and its lingering after-effects.
The impermanent product of the ‘gleam’ as it too, will rust like the bus.
* debatable point
6.     The filthy smell
The rampant corruption and moral degradation everywhere in Ghana.
7.     Silence
The isolation of the Man
8.     Onward Christian Soldier
Symbolising the Man, and his want to do the right thing, even though everyone is doing otherwise.
9.     Chichidodo Bird
Symbolising the Man who lives among the filth and dishonesty and hates it, but still likes the fruit that it brings.

Themes :
The lure of the ‘gleam’
The prostitute.
Koomson’s new car.
Estella’s wig and perfume.
Atlantic-Caprice Hotel
The boat
The moral degradation and rot of the country
The filth and stench of the urine and latrines/lavatories
Hope for the country
*debatable point
The sea
Isolation of the Man
The mocking of Oyo
The silent eyes of his children
The old woman next door

 Chapter 5
Synopsis :

                The Man finds that he cannot sleep after the argument with Oyo, and gets up to go to the Teacher’s house. Oyo does not ask where he is going, or when he is returning.

                Along the way to the Teacher’s house, the Man recalls a friend, Rama Krishna, who tried to escape the rot of Ghana by becoming a holy man, and yet died of consumption (TB- tuberculosis). He walks along the breakwater that prevents the sea from flooding the road, and headlights of oncoming cars come and occasionally blind him, making the ‘darkness of the night even deeper and more infinite than before’.(49)

                He reaches the Teacher’s house, and looks in, seeing the Teacher naked, reading a book , ‘He Who Must Die’ (Teacher is learned) while listening to Congo music on the radio. He enters, and they hear a song before the Teacher switches off the radio. They talk about the song, the book, and about Oyo’s insults at the Man for letting go of the bribe by Amankawa, the Timber Merchant. The Teacher speaks in a very nonchalant way of the Man’s family situation, and his instinctive avoidance of the bribe, playing down the Man’s heart-sickness. They discuss Koomson, the disillusionment of the Man and Teacher etc…
1.    Armah’s description of Ghana as a ‘dark tunnel’ (47), and the insects that dance the ‘crazy dance’ (47)
2.    The irony that lies within Rama Krishna
3.    Mention of the Chichidodo bird
4.    The breakwater
5.    Armah’s description of the Essei market
à poverty & disrepair in Ghana
à provides setting
6.    The Congo music à note that in Chapter 8 the Man listens to it too (102)
7.    The naked Teacher
à he is stripped of all his previous aspirations
à c.f. 78 ‘naked body is a covering for a soul once almost destroyed…The Man remembers times when
     his friend has been drawn to speak…
à Teacher’s past has made him disillusioned as he was unable to change the system
8.    The song : (51 / 52)
9.    The book that the Teacher is reading “He Who Must Die”
10. 51 - ‘two types of fools who took refuge in honesty - the cowards and the fools…’
à The Man is a fool?
11. The Man’s family situation with Oyo - it seems like they always quarrel about this matter
12. “Brother Joe” = Koomson’s wanting to be like a white man, adopting a white name - he is ‘Jesus Christ’ to the man’s family
13. The conversation between the Man and Teacher
à note what they talk about
à Oyo and her insults
à The Man’s unusual morality
à Koomson and his wealth
à The Man’s dream
à The Man’s hope
à The Teacher’s disillusionment

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Teacher
3.    Oyo
4.    Rama Krishna
5.    Koomson
Symbols :
1.     Dark tunnel
Ghana’s dark tunnel of corruption that the Man is trying to escape.
2.     Insects of the night
The people of Ghana caught within their ‘crazy dance’ of corruption and dishonesty all for the ‘fire of the lamps’ à things of the ‘gleam’.
3.     Rama Krishna
His death by consumption (tuberculosis) exemplifies the internal rot that the people of Ghana go through, that nothing can stop the corruption, even if you lead a holy life. *debatable point
4.     The breakwater
There is repeated mention of the breakwater in later chapters.
The Man and the Teacher seem to be associated with the place.
Could mean that the Man and the Teacher realise that there is something that prevents the ‘cleanliness’ of the sea from cleaning away the dirt of Ghana.
*debatable point
More likely to be the association with the sea than this.
5.     Congo music
Native music - sweet and sad reminiscence of the previous life before colonialism. The Teacher and the Man belong to this period in time, before materialism and corruption set in.
6.     The song
The song refers to the journey that the Man has chosen, the path that he walks.
7.     ‘He Who Must Die’
Shows us that Teacher is educated
Reminds us of Teacher / Man who must die * debatable
8.     Oyo’s mention of roads and cars
The path that the Man has taken, and the fact that he ‘had not the hardness that the gleam required’ (35), and that ‘Koomson had learned to drive’.(96)

Themes :
1.     Pressure and conflict that the Man faces
46 - ‘The reproach of loved ones…’
à note the repeated words ‘the reproach of loved ones’ and ‘time’
2.     Conflict between the Old world and the New world order
à The Congo music
3.     Hope for the Man and his meek rebellion
51/52 à The song
*debatable point
4.     Isolation of the Man
Oyo’s insults
The Man’s feeling that he is a ‘criminal’ (54)
5.     Death of hope in the Teacher
Their conversation
Extra Note :
1. Song :
Those who are blessed with the power
·       People like Koomson ; the corrupt people
And the soaring swiftness of the eagle
·       Recall the ‘fast cars’
And have flown before,
·       Calmness of the Man in ‘letting them go’ first
Let them go.
·       Remember the Man’s meekness and
I will travel slowly,
      uncomplaining nature
And I too will arrive.
·       The Man will ‘arrive’ later at the good things
And have climbed in haste,
·       Corrupt people climb in haste
Let them go.

I will journey softly,

But I too will arrive.

The song is a minor technique that Armah uses to convey the pain and the sadness that the Man feels at going ‘slowly’ ,and being chastised by people all around by it.

2.    In this chapter, you have to read the conversation between the Man and Teacher yourself to fully understand what they talking about, as Armah uses their tone to convey many subtle clues and themes.

Chapter 6

This is the Chapter that is the crux of the whole novel. Comprising both the Man and Teacher’s thoughts, Armah uses the chapter as a vehicle in which to convey his own views of Ghana and what he thinks of its past, present and future. Note the recurring imagery , metaphors, symbols and themes that is Armah’s style.

Chapter 6.1

Speaker : Unconfirmed - could be the Man ; but more likely to be Teacher
Synopsis :
                The speaker / thinker laments the ‘dizzying speed’ that ‘beauty of the first days, the days of birth’
(62) goes into ‘quick decay’ (62). He mentions Aboliga the Frog, who shows a picture of the man-child, who ‘within seven years it had completed the cycle from babyhood to …natural death’.(63) The speaker also mentions that although there is a promise, like in the ‘days of hope’ (63), ‘I will not be entranced, since I have seen the destruction of the promises it made (the voices). But I shall not resist it either.’ (63)
                The speaker remembers the days just after the men had returned from the war, and the violence and anger and pain that the men brought with them, their ‘destroyed souls and lost bodies’ (65). There is mention of the men who could not take it, and went mad, like Home Boy, and the men who went on with their lives, like Kofi Billy, who found work I the wharves until an accident caused him to lose his legs. A brief introduction to Maanan the bootlegger and prostitute is given. This part ends with the ‘approach of something much like death itself.’ (66), and mention of the ‘white men’ and ‘gleaming bungalows’, and how their dogs have ‘as little love for black skins as their white masters.’ (67)
1.    Imagery of blood and dung
2.    Mention of birth and death
3.    Man-Child (whole life cycle is only 7 years)
4.    The mention that the ‘wharves turned men into gulls and vultures, sharp waiters…seeking human flesh.’ (66) à Is the wharf is good or bad? *debatable point
5.    ‘deep silence’ (65)
6.    ‘The thing that would have killed us,’ (66)
7.    ‘White men and their gleaming bungalows…and huge dogs,’ (66)

Symbols :
1.     Man-child
Cyclical nature of life
Ghana’s rapid decent into the cycle of corruption
2.     Kofi Billy
The ‘beautyful ones’
3.     Maanan
The ‘beautyful ones’
Symbol of Ghana’s moral degradation
4.     Gleaming bungalows
Colonialism in the past
Lure of the ‘gleam’

Themes :
Cyclical nature of life/
Ghana’s passage into corruption
The war that men had to fight - not for their own country
The white men

Chapter 6.2

Speaker : Unconfirmed
Synopsis :
                The speaker here seems to be reminiscing of the past, and the fin he used to have playing with clean water, picking unripe mangoes. Notice the repeated mention of ‘white’ and ‘sunlight’ - times before were better , cleaner than before the corruption set in.
                Yet, also notice the dark undertones of the memory of the 3 boys who were caught by black servants guarding the white man’s house. It is a sign that the Ghanaians were under the rule and were serving the white men already.
1.    Repeated mention of ‘white’ and ‘sunlight’
2.    Mention of the clean water
3.    The lust of the 3 children for the white man’s mangoes and almonds and peanuts
à Sign of things to come
à That the black man would spend his life longing after the white man’s things
à *debatable point

Symbols :
1.     Sunlight
The old times, before Ghana was corrupt
2.     Clean water
The old times, before Ghana was corrupt
3.     Mangoes
The white man’s desirable things

Themes :
Old world and New world values
Contrast the previous ‘dirty’ part with the clean water and sunlight of this part
The white man’s gleaming bungalow and his desirable things

Chapter 6.3

Speaker : Unconfirmed - could be the Man ; but more likely to be Teacher
Synopsis :
                This is the chapter in which Maanan introduces the Teacher and Kofi Billy to wee, which apparently saved the speaker from insanity. Maanan, Kofi Billy and the speaker smoke it first on the breakwater, then move onto the beach when the night breeze brings the smell of shit toward them.
                The speaker describes his experience of wee and then describes Maanan, ‘a woman being pushed toward destruction and there was nothing she or I could do about it.’ (72) and asks her forgiveness. (For what, we are not told directly.) Maanan asks Kofi Billy what he sees, and he tells her. They leave, and we are told that after that incident, Kofi Billy ‘hid himself from the world’ and later commits suicide by hanging himself, another of the ‘violence’ mentioned in 6.1 that had ‘turned inward to destroy the man who could not bear it’, and ‘Maanan was trying after happiness again, in those ways that were to destroy her so utterly in the end.’ (75)
                There is talk of the ‘white man’s cruelty’ from strangers from the West Indies, but nobody believes them and calls them mad, but the speaker notices that it is hard, if you listen, to tell if they really are. The speaker then recalls Tricky Mensah / Egya Akon ,a man who went to America and was converted to Christianity, and tried to tell fellow Ghanaians of the black civil movement in America, only to be murdered for his money and Slim Tano, the man who (apparently) killed Egya Akon, but later went mad and kept swearing ‘upon my fathers foot’ he did not do it.
                The chapter ends on a retrospective tone, remembering the ‘calmer things’(77) , the good times that wee brought them, and the Employment office, with people ‘like us waiting for nothing’. ‘There was something there which I know we have lost these days.’ (78) -  the innocence and freedom that honest life brings.

1.    The breakwater that they discover wee on
2.    The description of wee and what it does to you - ‘make you see things…’ (70)
3.    The description of Maanan-this is the part that leads us to believe that she is one of the ‘beautyful ones’.
4.    Kofi Billy’s description of what he sees. (74)
5.    75 - ‘Shall we go?” (Maanan) “Can we go?” (Kofi Billy) à can one escape from the cycle ?
6.    Repeated mention that Maanan and Kofi Billy are ‘destroyed’ - not ‘dead’ or ‘killed’.
7.    ‘Money was life’ (77)

Symbols :
1.     wee
Attempts to escape the life they live

2.     sea [#1]
Clean things - the sea has a cleansing purity

Themes :
1.     Destruction and isolation of the individual
Kofi Billy
Teacher / Narrator of this part
à In line with the isolation of the Man
2.     Hope [#1]

Chapter 6.4

Speaker : The Man
Synopsis :
                The Man remembers what the Teacher was like before, and we find that Teacher apparently was previously an activist, but had been disillusioned by the system and corruption that lay ahead of him, his ‘soul once almost destroyed.’ (78)Now he is ‘unwilling to move closer to those of his old friends who were now in power.’ (79)
                The Man also recalls a conversation he had with Teacher over the good that he could still do, but his words met with one of the sharpest and most bitter words that Teacher had every said to him. The Teacher related the analogy of Plato’s cave to the Man, and we see a parallel between the cave and Ghana.
1.    Teacher’s past (79)
2.    The analogy of Plato’s cave (80)
3.    ‘one of the harshest things that he (Teacher) had ever said’ - the lines on the ‘bringer of the unwanted light’ (79)

Symbols :
1.     Plato’s Cave
The Man (?)

Themes :
1.     Disillusionment of the people
Teacher’s ‘almost broken soul’
Teacher’s nakedness
2.     The unwillingness of Ghanaians to change their ways
Plato’s cave
à the people do not want to see the light
à they prefer the darkness, and the ‘gleam’, not the pure light

Chapter 6.5

Speaker : Unconfirmed - could be the Man ; but more likely to be Teacher
Synopsis :
                The speaker opens this part of the chapter by lamenting the fact that Africa is cursed with its leaders, while its people were ready for ‘big and beautiful things’, but later ended up ‘dying from loss of hope’ (81). We see the hate and opposition of the white man that the leaders of Africa had gradually change to love. The lawyers growing ‘greasy’ while pretending to be ‘saviours’. The ‘black man trying at all points to be the dark ghost of a European’ (81), the very same people who were ‘climbing up to shit in their people’s faces’, while still asking for their people to ‘have faith in us’ (82), not knowing that their people were unbelieving because they had ‘seen their arseholes and drawn way in disgusted laughter’(82). The beginning of the chapter is the death of faith and disillusionment of the people to the system, and to anyone who tried to change it, proclaiming to be their saviours because there are ‘no saviours’ (90).
                The speaker then goes on to relate Este and the way he pokes fun at the politicians and their attempts to overthrow the British, when Maanan comes in from a rally at Asamansudo all dolled up. She comes in with hope for a ‘new’ and ‘young’ lawyer, and asks them to go to his rally at four o’clock, when she knows that ‘we had stopped going long before’ (84). The speaker and Este go out of boredom, and find that news of the rally was very big indeed.
1.    ‘How long will Africa be cursed with its leaders?’ (80)
2.    The black men who try to be European
3.    Mention of the African leaders who betray the people they bribe with akpeteshie (probably an alcoholic drink) (82)
4.    Este who was driven away, disillusioned
5.    Maanan full of hope

Symbols :
1.     Maanan
2.     Este / Speaker

Themes :
1.     Corruption
The corrupt African leaders
2.     Disillusionment
The speaker ‘stopped going long before’
3.     Hope

Chapter 6.6

Speaker : The Man
Synopsis :
                Armah uses the man to convey his bitterness at the broken promises, and the hope that was built up then destroyed by the unkept ‘promises’ that the African leaders gave the people. He laments the fact that ‘nothing has changed’, and that the beauty would only come with ‘the waking of the powerless’.
1.    Cycles
2.    Imagery of rot and decay
3.    Image of flowering amid the dung
4.    Mention of the  ‘beautiful promise’
5.    ‘Waking of the powerless’ à people power will change the system *debatable point
6.    ‘nothing in life has changed, nothing save your own hopes and the pattern of your own disappointments,’ (85)

Symbols :
1.     Cycles
Cyclical nature of life
Ghana’s cycle of corruption
2.     Flower
Hope [#1]
3.     Beauty
Reminds us of the title [#2]

Themes :
1.     Corruption
The corrupt African leaders who did not keep their promises
2.     Disillusionment
‘nothing in your life has changed’
3.     Hope
The flower

Chapter 6.7

Speaker : Teacher
Synopsis :
                The speaker continues where he left off from Chapter 6.5, only now they are at the rally listening to the new man shouting for freedom. The speaker almost believes him, Este too, and they are silent about the weight of hope and risk of being let down again, that believing in this man brings. Later, he asks himself ‘how could this have grown so rotten with such obscene haste?’ (88), and we find that the new man, whom Maanan loves, has gone the crooked way.
                The speaker mentions power, and we discover Koomson’s past as a harbour man, before he became a minister by corrupt means. The chapter ends with a bitter criticism on Ghana’s corruption and government system.
1.    Promise
2.    Power
3.    Winneba = socialist ideology base
4.    Socialism - one step away from communism
5.    Pg. 88 and the hope of youthful and better supporters à hope?

Symbols :
‘It was his own youth that destroyed him with the powerful ghost of its promise.’ à youth destroys ambition with the promise of power
The lure of materialism through corruption and politics
Politics is a means to get rich through corruption
‘Men who know nothing about politics have grown hot with ideology, thinking of the money that will come.’ (89)

Themes :
‘If only he could have remained that way!’ (86)
‘How could this have grown rotten with such obscene haste?’ (88)
‘And after their reign is over, there will be no difference ever.’ (89)
‘…rot of the promise.’ (90)
‘No saviours.’ (90)
‘…only the impotent refuse.’ (90)
‘Getting takes the whole of life.’ (90)
Note 89 - list and criticism of all the things that materialism brings - cars, bungalows, women, wigs perfume, blouses, whiskey, cigarettes…
Ideology and socialism

Characters :
1.    Teacher - notice that the books he reads - “He Who Must Die” by the Greek writer, and his knowledge of Plato leads us to believe that he is learned.
2.    Aboliga the Frog - the one who shows the picture of the man-child
3.    Home Boy - the soldier that went mad
4.    Kofi Billy - he went to war, came back and worked on the wharves, and lost his right leg beneath his knee when a steel rope cut it off. He smoked wee with Teacher (?) and Maanan, and then killed himself.
5.    (Sister) Maanan - bootlegger and prostitute. She is one of the ‘beautyful ones’, but goes mad in the end. She introduces the Teacher and Kofi Billy to wee.
6.    The 3 boys who went after the white man’s mangoes
7.    Tricky Mensah / Egya Akon - man who went to America and was converted to Christianity, and tried to tell fellow Ghanaians of the black civil movement in America, only to be murdered for his money.
8.    Slim Tano - the man who (apparently) killed Egya Akon, but later went mad and kept swearing ‘upon my fathers foot’ he did not do it.
9.    Este - a man who makes fun of the political system, but in the end is driven away (apparently overseas) by ‘something he loved at first’ (83)
10. The ‘new young’ man - probably Kwame Nkrumah, who promises freedom from slavery, but later follows the rest into corruption.
11. Koomson - we find out more about his past as a railwayman and a docker at the harbour, and how he entered into politics and corruption.
 Chapter 7
Synopsis :
                The Man walks home, and Teacher goes part of the way with him. They talk along the way, and the Man brings up the fact that he is unsure if he hates or envies the power and money. He speaks of his uncertainty of the situation, of his conflicting desires. On one hand, he wishes to remain morally ethical and upright. Yet, he wants to be a good husband, father and son-in-law. But without becoming corrupt, he cannot be any of these, which is his moral dilemma. The Teacher apologises for not being more of a help, and explains the hollowness he feels at life. Armah then uses the Man’s consciousness to again expound on the uselessness of hard work, and the corrupt lifestyle of the Ghanaians with their ‘stolen cars’ and ‘gleam’.
                The Man mentions Zacharias Lagos, and Abednego Yamoah, 2 corrupt men and their fortunes (and misfortunes), and makes a quiet observation that he has not something in him that lets him take the ‘leap’ into the gleam.
                He walks home, and attempts to make love to his wife, but when he feels the scar made from Oyo’s caesarean section, he stops, turned off. He goes to sleep without disturbing Oyo at all, with a ‘half-dream’ already formulating.
1.    ‘Death of hope…’ (91)
2.    Past of Teacher à was Teacher pro-Communist ? He talked of Castro and Mao.
3.    Teacher’s loss of hope - ‘You used to see some hope, Teacher.’ (92)
4.    Repetition of destruction (93)
5.    Veils (92)
6.    ‘Veranda Boy’
à tells us that Maanan’s ‘new young man’ was presently in power, from Chapter 6 to now (~ 6 years ? )
7.    Emptiness of life (94)
8.    ‘Vague but intense desire’ - for materialism ? (94)
9.    ‘There was only one way.’ (95)
10. The mention of Koomson driving
11. Mention that the people who did not ‘drive’ were the ‘unsuccessful and cowards ‘(96)
12. ‘The last child had had to be dragged out of its mother’s womb…’
à reminds us of Chapter 6.1 
à ‘trailing dung and exhausted blood’ (62)
13. The fact that Oyo did no awaken
14. The Man’s dream of his exams, his inability to move, and his lack of answers
Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Teacher
3.    Zacharias Lagos - corrupt man who cheated on his sawmill, got busted, yet everyone called him a ‘good, generous man, and cursed the jealous man who had informed on him.’ (96)
4.    Abednego Yamoah - corrupt man who sells government petrol, and never gets caught. ‘The whole world says he is a good man.’ (96)
5.    Oyo
Symbols :
1.     Veils
Lies that politicians tell - the ‘rot of the promise’ (90)
2.     Stolen cars
3.     Driving
Corruption and Politics
4.     Oyo’s scar
The irrational thing that divides the man from Oyo
So has Oyo’s love of corruption
Themes :
1.     Corruption
Zacharias Lagos / Abednego Yamoah
2.     Inverted value systems
Zacharias Lagos / Abednego Yamoah
3.     Emptiness of life
Teacher’s words à 94
Hard work brings an illusion of peace of mind(95)
4.     Isolation of the Man
He feels alienated because he cannot ‘leap’ into the ‘gleam’ (96) or ‘drive’ like Koomson
5.     Dreams
Teacher’s dream(91) Man’s ‘half-dream’ (99)
6.     Relationship between Oyo and the Man
‘There was love in her. There had always been…’ (98)

Chapter 8
Synopsis :
                The Man wakes up from a dream, which seems to be a parallel of his life, Oyo being his unknown companion enticed by the bright lights of the car (materialism) rather than been blinded by them. He takes a bath, and we see Armah’s very visual description of the filthy bathroom. He finishes, gets dressed, takes his breakfast (where he discovers the truth/Oyo’s lie about the sugar), takes his lunch money and leaves to take an early ‘slow train’ to his workplace, saving him the bus fare. He senses that Oyo is up, but is waiting for him to leave before she gets up.
                He reaches his workplace, and finds he is early. He sharpens pencils, and notices that the allocations clerk comes in early. He suddenly has a stomach-ache, and rushes down to the latrine. He squats and reads the latrine graffiti when he is there, graffiti that seems to capture the Ghana life very aptly. He finishes and goes for a ‘clearing walk in the street outside.’ (106)
                He returns to the office, only to find Amankawa, the Timber Merchant there, in an act of bribery with the allocations clerk and the supervisor. He sees the Man, and insults him, calling him a ‘wicked man’, one who would ‘never prosper’. (107) Armah uses this opportunity once again to write about Ghana’s inverted value systems - how ‘the timber merchant is right, the allocations clerk is right, and you are a fool’ (108). To add insult to the Man’s injury, Obuasi jeers at the man’s reasons for working. (108) We are given the allocations clerk and the supervisor’s history, and then the Man goes for lunch, ‘gari and beans with palm oil’, sitting under the shade of a tree and listening to the people of Ghana talk of the corruption, materialism and sex like there was nothing wrong with the immorality of it.
                He returns to his job, and sleeps till 2pm, when ‘the new boy’ comes, all eager to ‘try’ the job. The Man lets his take over, and walks to the wharves, looking out at the harbour workers and the sea. He sees and hears a seagull, ‘beautiful and light on its wings’.
1.    The dream with the lights and companion an the white towers
2.    The pits in his mouth
3.    The description of the shower, the rotten wood door and the accumulated scum on the floor
4.    He listens to Congo music too (102)
5.    Vomit at the train station
6.    The 2 men who called the Man ‘Sah.’
à ‘journey’ (103)
à ‘as if to threaten him’ (102)
7.    ‘The last shall be the first’
à Mark 9:35 - “…If anyone wants to be the first, he must be the very last…”
à Mark 10:31 - “But many who are first, will be last, and the last, first”
à The Man is last in this life, but he will become the first
à hope for the Man?
8.    The allocation clerk’s reasons for coming early (105) and his history with the supervisor (109)
9.    Some parts of the latrine are a ‘dazzling white’, and the ‘lights in the latrine are brighter than anywhere else’ (105)
10. Latrine graffiti
11. The ‘fool’ and ‘leap’ (108)
12. The ‘new boy’ (111)
13. The description of the seagull and the wharves
14. ‘painful hopelessness’ (112)
Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Oyo
3.    The allocations clerk
4.    The supervisor
5.    Amankawa, the Timber Merchant
6.    Obuasi
7.    The ‘new boy’
Symbols :
1.     Dream with the lights
The Man’s isolation from his loved ones
2.     The pits in the Man’s mouth
Internal corruption within the Man *debatable point
3.     The growth and rot in the bathroom
The rot of Ghana’s corruption
4.     ‘dead pencils’
5.     issued by the government
The ‘death’ of Ghana’s government
The ‘death’ that the Block brings
6.     Latrine graffiti
See below
7.     The sea and seagull
Hope for Ghana [#1]

Themes :
1.     Isolation of the Man
The Dream
Amankawa’s rebuke / jeer
Obuasi’s laughter
2.     Innocence and disillusionment
3.     Loss of hope
The clerk’s ‘cage’ (105)
The ‘new boy’
‘…painful hopelessness’ (112)
4.     Rot of the country
The bathroom rot/scum
The vomit at the train station
The Man’s visit to the office latrine
The latrine graffiti
Amankawa’s outright bribe
5.     Hope
The sea and the seagull (113)

Extra Note :
1.    Graffiti:
à sexual immorality in Ghana

à “Money was life.” (Chapter 6, 77)
à predominance of money over everything

à Reference to the Man, a ‘fool’

à People will go along with socialism, or any other government system as long as there is food (chop) / money to be made

à Ghana and its people are broke

à Satirical / humourous poke at the free food that jail brings
à Jail as an escape from the poverty
à Inverted system (jail would normally be viewed in a negative light)

Chapter 9
Synopsis :
                It is a Sunday, the Sunday that Koomson is to visit. The Man wakes up and shops for the food they will need, realising that he had a desire in him, and him alone for the material things too. He does not buy the made-in-Ghana spirits because Oyo does not like them, but when he gets home, he gets into another argument with Oyo over the fact that she wants him to get the liquor by illegal means.
                They start to clean the house, taking out the ‘special plates and bowls and glasses’ they reserved for ‘important visitors’ (116/7). The Man starts cleaning his chairs, and we find out that he is so poor that they are stolen property from the town hall. He starts cleaning the bookcase also, and as he sees his books, Armah gives us the background of the Man, that he had once aspired to go to the University of Legon, but was stopped by Oyo’s pregnancy and their marriage. He starts to sweep and polish the house, and continues to remember the dream he once had.
                He stops for lunch, and sees how little the children have to eat, and we are given the impression that Oyo forfeits her lunch for the children. He brings his children to his mother-in-law, and the beer to his friend Bentil’s fridge. Along the way, we hear the conversation between him, his daughter Adoley (Deede) and his son about materialism, and we see that they too, are tainted by the materialism that have gripped the country. His son cuts his foot on something, and their grandmother makes a big fuss over them, and is hostile to the Man. He leaves them, and goes over to his friend Bentil’s bungalow (?) and gives the beer to his friend to keep in the fridge.
                Along the way home, he walks past an incinerator, past the lagoon with the ‘dead fish’ and other ‘little fishes eating the torn white body’, the football park with a game later, the Central prison buildings, the golf course with the black men with fake accents. He remembers the past, and compares it with today’s ‘black men with white souls and names trying mightily to be white’ (126), and sees the ridiculous black ‘civilised’ names (Binful), and the poor baby ‘stifling in a lot of woolen finery’.(126) He feels exhausted when he realises that the ‘only real gain…(was that) a few black men might be pushed closer to their masters, to eat some of the fat into their bellies too. That had been the entire end of it all.’ (126) He walks home, trying to go faster.
1.    The Man’s realisation of his innate desire for the good things in life.
2.    His fight with Oyo - his ‘slow fury’
3.    The Man’s past
4.    The mention of dreams
5.    Oyo forfeited her lunch
6.    Adoley’s fascination with TV and the wireless
7.    The tension between Oyo’s mother and the Man
8.    The things that the Man sees on the way home

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Oyo
3.    Adoley
4.    Ayivi
5.    Oyo’s mother
6.    Bentil
7.    The baby

Symbols :
1.     White Horse Whiskey
2.     Vat 69
Lingering colonial values
3.     The spring-cleaning
Premonition of the coup that is to come to ‘clean up’ Nkrumah
*debatable point
4.     University of Legon
The Man’s lost dreams
5.     Mike / TV / Wireless
6.     The dead fish being eaten by others
Cycle of life
7.     Men in golf course with European names / the baby
Disillusionment with the leaders of Africa

Themes :
1.     Materialism
The Man’s desire
Adoley’s materialism
2.     Shattered dreams
The Man’s dream to go to the University of Legon
3.     Colonialism
The black men playing golf
The black baby in wool
4.     Rot of Ghana
The fish
5.     Bad family ties
Argument with Oyo
Tension between the Man and Oyo’s mother

Chapter 10
Synopsis :
                The Man listened to the radio for the score of the football game, then went to replace the chairs. He tried to rearrange them, but decided that the old way was better.<!> he takes a bath again, and watches Oyo dress and straighten her hair.
                Oyo’s mother arrives late with the children, and the Man leaves to take a walk, arriving home just as Koomson arrives in his chauffeur-driven car with Estella. They start to have dinner, and we see the Man seated apart from the group, isolated. He makes cutting remarks now and then that shame Oyo and her mother. Koomson entertains them with his anecdotes of ‘The Stages of Booze’ (133) When Koomson asks for the toilet, he tells him there is none, only a latrine.. Bringing Koomson out to the latrine, we see Koomson’s disgust at the dirt, an irony because he later has to crawl through the shit hole.
                Returning to the dinner party without using the latrine, the subject of the fishing boat is finally raised, and we see what Koomson’s method of getting the boat is - using the Commercial Bank’s money to buy the boat, and using someone else’s name to buy it. There is only the matter of signing some papers, he tells Oyo, when the Man asks the real cost and profit of the boat. When the truth is revealed by the Man , that they will have to fish for 12 years before they can pay off the boat, Oyo’s mother is speechless.
                Koomson and Estella leave, and they make a date with the man and Oyo to sign the papers the following Saturday. The Man exchanges more insults with his mother-in-law, and she leaves in a huff.
1.    Oyo trying to straighten her hair
2.    Tension between the Man and Oyo’s mother
3.    The Man placing himself apart from the group
4.    The Man’s cutting observations
5.    Koomson’s anecdote - a man came to talk about socialism
6.    Koomson’s disgust at the latrine
7.    Koomson’s methods of getting the boat

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Oyo
3.    Oyo’s mother
4.    Koomson
5.    Estella

Symbols :
1.     Oyo straightening her hair
Her desire to be like the white man
2.     Koomson’s car & Estella’s perfume and wig / The Stages of Booze

The car has ‘bright lights’
à Materialism
Corruption and debased value system
3.     Latrine
Corruption of Ghana à Koomson cannot face it now
4.     Boat
Hope and dream for an escape out of the poverty

Themes :
1.     Corruption
The Boat
2.     Materialism / Colonialism
Koomson’s car
Estella’s wig
Oyo straightening her hair

Chapter 11
Synopsis :
                The following Saturday. The Man and Oyo take a taxi to Koomson’s house. Oyo insists on choosing a ‘new kind of car’, a Toyota, and tries to make conversation with the Man in the car about ‘Cousin Grace from London’ that would elevate her in the eyes of the taxi driver. They arrive at Koomson’s house, and she scolds the Man for not playing along with her. When walking into Koomson’s house, they meet Princess, his daughter, riding on a bicycle.
                They enter the house, and meet Koomson and Estella, and all the while Oyo is admiring the beauty and light of the place, the tape recorder, the dining room furniture. Oyo mentions Regina, Estella’s sister, to try and establish a connection between her and Estella, and we find out more of Koomson’s underhanded dealings.
                When the time comes for them to sign the papers, the Man refuses to sign them, and Oyo does it for them. They are brought by car to Kwesi Anan’s house to see the boat. We are left with the Man’s thoughts and how he wants the things that Koomson has, and could almost go the wrong way ‘for the children’, a repeated line in this chapter.
1.    The new Toyota (Japanese)
2.    Oyo’s pretense
3.    Description of Koomson’s house, and the feelings that it evokes in the Man
4.    Justification for the corruption ? ‘For the children’ (145)
5.    The gardener and his song (144)
6.    Princess à ‘fearless, direct look of a white child.’ (144)
7.    Description of Koomson’s house, with its affluence and light - TV, radio, liquor etc…
8.    The local servants that Koomson has
9.    Oyo’s disappointment at the Man
10. Introduction to Kwesi Anan
11. Mention of the sea in the end

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Oyo
3.    The taxi driver
4.    The gardener
5.    Princess
6.    The quiet servant girl
7.    Koomson
8.    Estella
9.    Atinga, the steward boy
10. Regina, Estella’s sister in London
11. Chauffeur
12. Kwesi Anan, the head crewman of the boat

Symbols :
New taxi
Koomson’s house & its wealth

Themes :
The Man’s isolation
Oyo’s disappointment in him
His refusal to sign the papers
Justification for corruption
‘For the little children’ (145)
Koomson’s inability to pronounce the local names

Chapter 12

Synopsis :

                Written more as a bitter message from Armah against the hopelessness of clean-up efforts to ‘de-uncorrupt’ Ghana, here we discover that the boat was not delivered as promised from Koomson, and the Man refused to eat the fish that was brought to him. We see the continued isolation of the man from Oyo and her mother.


1.    Read the chapter
2.    Name of the boat

Characters :

1.    The Man
2.    Oyo
3.    Oyo’s mother
4.    Koomson

Symbols :

1.     Name of the boat
Reminder of Koomson’s absurd Westernization
2.     Fish
Reminder of Koomson’s forgotten promise

Themes :

1.     The Man’s isolation
153 - he did not want to eat the fish
2.     Disillusionment with the system
‘The net had been made in the special Ghanaian way that allowed the really big corrupt people to pass through.’ (154)
‘End bribery and corruption. Build Socialism. Equality. Shit. A man would just have to make p his mind that there was never going to be anything but despair, and there would be no way of escaping it, except one.

 Chapter 13
Synopsis :
                This is the pivotal chapter for plot in the novel. The Man goes to work and finds out that there has been a military coup overthrowing Nkrumah and his ‘fat men’. He does not go out and demonstrate, but he feels happy about the coup, until he reaches home to another problem : Koomson.
                The smelly Party Man has come to the Man for help. He needs to escape the military arrest, and Oyo is really glad that the Man has not become like Koomson. The Man gives him his dinner, and leads him to hide in the latrine. They escape through the shit hole, Koomson having to first remove the trappings of his wealth - his jacket and his tie, and dive head first to escape the latrine. They escape and walk by back lanes.
1.    Accident room and its loneliness
2.    coup
3.    Fear
4.    Demonstrations against Nkrumah
5.    The silence of the streets
6.    The Man’s happiness
7.    Oyo’s respect and gratitude
8.    Description of Koomson and the smells he emits, and how he eats
9.    ‘But here was the real change.’ (162)
10. Description of the latrine
11. Koomson’s expulsion through the  shit hole

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    The filing clerk
3.    Messengers who bring news on the coup
4.    Fearful allocation clerk, and Senior Men
5.    Unionists who ‘won’t tolerate any Nkrumists now’
6.    Oyo
7.    Adoley
8.    Ayivi
9.    Koomson

Symbols :
1.     Koomson
Corrupt men who were corrupt on the inside as well
Internal rot of Ghana
2.     Latrine
Koomson’s hell

Themes :
1.     Isolation and loneliness
The Man’s thoughts (155/6)
‘…the Man felt completely apart from all that was taking place.’ (159)
2.     Fear
Of getting caught (157)
Koomson’s smell of fear
3.     Disillusionment
‘New people, new style, old dance.’ (157)
‘New men would take into their hands the power to steal the nation’s riches an to use of for their own satisfaction.’ (162)

 Chapter 14
Synopsis :
                Koomson and the Man walk through back lanes to freedom, which lies in Kwesi Anan and the boat. Notice that they walk by the sea, and climbed to the base of the breakwater, walking along it to Kwesi Anan’s house. He agrees to help Koomson in exchange for half the posession of the boat.
                They walk towards the boat, only to be stopped by a watchman. The Man tells them to bribe the watchman. They pass, and get onto the boat, headed for Abidjan. The Man bids farewell to Koomson, takes a lorry tire and floats to shore, where he sleeps till morning.
1.    The Man and Koomson’s journey to Kwesi Anan’s house
2.    Their walk by the sea
3.    Koomson’s having to ask Kwesi Anan for a favour, and the bribe of the boat
4.    The Man gives in to corruption and bribes the watchman in a way
5.    The Man leaves Koomson and is cleansed by the sea

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Koomson
3.    The boy
4.    Kwesi Anan
5.    The watchman

Symbols :
The smell of shit
Koomson’s internal corruption has become external
Sea [#1]
Clean things
Hope for Ghana
Symbol of the equally corrupt system that has taken over

Themes :
Kwesi Anan and his bribe
The watchman’s bribe
Koomson - Of getting caught
The Man (?)

Chapter 15
Synopsis :
In this final chapter, the Man wakes from his sleep on the beach, and sees Maanan with her ‘diseased soul’ , mad on the beach, trying to separate the sand. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Later, he wakes again and starts to walk home. The Man notices police boundaries at the town border, and stops to see what is going on. He sees a small green driver bribe a policeman. Nothing has changed, and as the bus leaves, he sees a poster at the back of the bus “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, in the shape of an oval, and a flower in the centre of the oval. He walks home slowly.
1.    Description of what the Man sees when he closes his eyes
2.    Description of Maanan
3.    Act of corruption
4.    Bus poster

Characters :
1.    The Man
2.    Maanan
3.    The bus driver
4.    The policeman

Symbols :
No hope
The act of bribery
No hope

Themes :
The bribe
The bus poster
The flower
No hope
Maanan goes mad
Corruption still present in Ghana

Some musings:

Does the novel fail or succeed from having one dominant viewpoint?
EC and LMA 31/97

To decide whether the novel fails of succeed we must first take into account Armah’s purpose for writing the novel. We believe that Armah’s aim of writing the novel was to tell his reader of the sad state that his country was in,what with all the corruption and bribery. Also, taking into account Armah’s own history, we could also say that his is a social commentary swayed by his own disillusionment with his country as a whole.

By having one dominant viewpoint (that is,the Man’s) ,we can see deeper into the root of the problem that Ghana faces because we see the mental thought processes of the man and what he feels about the whole entire situation. Taking into account Armah’s aim of the novel once again, we see that having one dominant viewpoint is the best way to convey the ideas that Armah wished to convey as it would be very confusing to have  more viewpoints.

If the author wanted to present a wholesome, well-rounded commentary of Ghana using the same incidents, he would probably use more viewpoints,but this is not Armah’s aim. He wished to present his own case and thus uses the voice of the Man as a cover to project his own opinions.

by EC and LMA, 31/97
Oyo’s viewpoint in the novel

Oyo can be said to be a woman who is concerned for her family’s well-being and situation in life,but believes in the wrong way of elevating it. This is shown for the larger part of the novel,where she is seen to be a woman unconcerned with the ethics of gaining money.

On example of this was her mocking and cursing her husband because he would not let go of his principles and accept a bribe offered to him by a crooked timber merchant. She sings “Onward Christian Soldier” loudly to the Man when he first tells her of what he did, which shows us that she thinks that the Man is too self-righteous and should have taken the bribe.

In the ensuing conversation with the Man, we see that she longs to be part of the “Atlantic-Caprice” crowd that Koomson and Estella are in ,and envies the life that Koomson and Estella are getting, saying that “it is nice ; it is clean”. However what she does not understand is that “Some of that kind of cleanliness has more rottenness in it than the slime at the bottom of the garbage dump.” The Man does admit that he too would like to be rich and enjoy “some entertainment now and then” but will not compromise on what he believes to get it. Because of this,Oyo condemns her husband,calling him a chichidodo bird,a bird that eats maggots which grows in excrement,a thing that it hates most. This reflects on what she thinks of her husband,that he likes the entertainment and the good life which can only exist within corruption and bribery.

Later on in the novel,Oyo gets excited because Koomson and Estella were to come to their house to discuss a boat that Koomson had promised to give her. You can see from her preparations that she was ashamed of her roots and wishes that she had a wig so that she need not straighten her hair with the hot iron thongs, which she did because she felt that “only aboriginal women wear their hair natural”. She was also quite distressed by the fact that she could not get any European beer or wine to serve Koomson and Estella. All this shows that she feels ashamed of her position in life,always in the shadow of people like Koomson and Estella,which is why she was so eager to get the fishing boat,hoping that it would be her passport to a better life in the midst of these people.

When it came to the time for her to go to Koomson’s house to sign the papers for the release of the boat, she is described to be in her element, refusing taxis because she wanted a better one. She was happy that she was on her way to a better life, and was glad to be in a position to want better things for herself. However,even at this late stage,she does not understand what principles have to be wrought to get this boat. This the Man understands fully well and warns her about Koomson’s intentions. This she blocks out and concentrated on flattering Koomson when they arrive at his house. 

After that trip to Koomson’s house turned into history,Oyo finally realises that her husband was right all along,that Koomson had not meant to help them at all,and the offer of the boat was merely a passing comment that she herself had jumped upon and exploited. All that Koomson was actually willing to give to her were a few fish that probably came off his own fishing boat, and these were a painful reminder to her, showing her her mistake in trusting Koomson and her foolishness at not wanting to listen to her husband. She turns her head down and refuses to look at him, admitting her shame. However,at this point in time,she still thinks that there is nothing wrong with the life that Koomson and Estella are getting,she is just very disappointed and ashamed that she was cheated by Koomson.

Only after the military coup that overthrew Nkrumah does Oyo realise the folly of her thinking. When Koomson comes running to her husband for help in the middle of the night, fearing for his life,she realises that all the luxury and entertainment that she had always hankered after had a high price. Being a corrupt person like Koomson meant that you would always be the target of envious people,and when the people staged an uprising, you would be the first casualty. She finally appreciates her husband’s integrity and morals , telling him “I am glad that you did not become like him,” with “real gratitude” in her eyes.

Oyo is essentially not a bad person.She is just a typical woman living in Ghana who wished the best for herself,which is what we can say for any one of ourselves. It is just that her priorities are wrong,as she believe(d) that morals could be exchanged for a better life.

by EC and LMA. 31/97
Do you sympathize with or condemn Oyo?Give reasons.

We feel that Oyo should be sympathized with as she is a typical Ghanaian woman, brought up with certain ideas in her mind. We feel that she was put in by Armah to show the reader what rationale a normal Ghanaian would have to accept corruption and bribery as a part of their life. She is also a foil to the Man and the Teacher’s character, showing us a contrast between the Man’s way of thinking and another Ghanaian on the street.

We feel that Oyo should not be condemned even though she approved of the corruption and bribery for the larger part of the book because she was only doing what she thought would be best. She is a product of Ghanaian society which not only does not condemn corruption, it condemns you if you are not part of it.

With this in mind,we can further understand Oyo’s’ rationale for not understanding the Man when he tells her that he has refused the bribe.We see that she is essentially not a bad person for not condemning bribery,because there is nothing wrong with wanting something better for your life,especially one as hard as Oyo’s. 

Her viewpoint is one shared by many of Ghana and thus we can say that Oyo is not to be blamed for her flaws,but rather she should be lauded for her change in attitude and ability to see that she was wrong and change her way of thinking in the end.


#1 : Would you consider Armah’s ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ a book of hope?

Maanan / Kofi Billy are ‘beautyful ones’
The sea washes away the dirt and shit
The ditch brought clear water
wee shows the light
Pg.85  ‘Yet out of the decay and the dung there is always a new flowering.’
Repeated image of flowers
End of Chapter 8, where he sees the clean work of the harbour, and hears the ‘plaintive song’ of the white sea bird
The Man gains Oyo’s gratitude in the end
The Man is cleansed by the sea
Kwame Nkrumah is overthrown by a military coup
The title - the saviours are just not born yet  coming , just not here yet

I do not think that the novel is not a book of hope. Through Armah's use of depressing and pessimist themes, characters and symbols, I feel that he is conveying a feeling of hopelessness, and any signs of optimism that he gives his reader is false hope.
We see first in the novel, the rusty bus that the Man rides on. Taken as a representation of Ghana, and its rust for Ghana’s corruption, we are told that Ghana is held together by its ‘rust’, corruption. If we were to take away the bus’s rust, it would fall apart. In the same way, I feel that Armah is telling us that Ghana would fall apart if the corruption it suffers from is removed.
Armah also uses repeatedly, the image of the sea. It is given a sense of cleanliness, but if the sea is the symbol of things clean and good, then why does it have a ‘hundred other strong things’ (Chapter 6) in its water ? Notice that later, the man also wonders why ‘the sea is not much dirtier than it turns out to be’.  (Chapter 8, 112)Does this mean that the sea does not really clean? All it does it sweep the corruption and dishonesty under the carpet, and puts on the illusion of cleanliness. 
This would also go in line with the general disillusioned and hopeless tone that I perceive in the novel. Notice again the ditch and the clean water in Chapter 3. The water comes out clean from filth, but then changes into mud again later. This could be taken as a symbol of hope, but why does Armah let the water be dirtied again? I feel that this is Armah’s subtle way of telling us that any ‘beautyful ones’ who come out of the filth of Ghana’s corruption will eventually, be sullied again by it. It is like Armah writes :‘No saviours’ in Chapter 6 (90).
Thematically, Armah also brings in the theme of the cyclical nature of life and death, or ‘food and its spewing out’ (Chapter 3). However, since we see that Ghana is caught in its cycle of corruption and debt, of dishonesty and cheating, how can it escape from a cycle - something which goes on forever? Even though in Chapter 6, he tells us that there lies hope within the cycle : ‘Yet out of the decay and the dung there is always a new flowering.’, I feel that it is a false hope that he plants, a man hoping for the sake of hoping. In Chapter 13, even the Man’s optimistic thoughts for the ‘new life (to) maybe flower in the country’ after the coup are laced with pessimism, because immediately after that, Armah asks “The future goodness may come eventually, but before then where were the things in the present which would prepare the way for it?” (160)  
Armah uses the Man-child to show this cyclical nature of life, and the ‘dizzying speed’ that life in Ghana takes from birth to death. The Man-child does not survive his fate, and thus in the same way, I feel that Armah is giving us the impression that Ghana, too, cannot escape from its fate, the eventual ‘course toward putrescence’ like the banister in the Man’s workplace.
The banister itself also conveys a hopeless message to the reader. If taken to be another analogy for Ghana, and its rot and decay to be Ghana’s corruption and unprincipled methods, why does Armah write that ‘the wood would always win…(imprisoning) everything in its effortless embrace’ .
‘The promise’ that Armah repeatedly tells us about is never fulfilled. Kwame Nkrumah goes corrupt, and no past African ruler or leader has done anything to make good on their promise. They were only ‘climbing up to shit in their people’s faces’. Even though Armah says that the promise is ‘beautiful’, on the other hand, he also mentions ‘the rot of the promise’ in Chapter 6. This, again in line with the general ‘feel’ that the rot wins (because of the banister) leads me to think that the novel is not an optimistic view of Ghana’s future.
The characters, Maanan and Kofi Billy, people who are supposed to be the ‘beautyful ones’ go crazy, and commit suicide also in the end. Egya Akon (Tricky Mensah) is killed, even though he is the harbinger of good news, that the people of Ghana can escape from the oppression of the white man. He (in my opinion) is the person who has ventured out of Plato’s cave (Chapter 6.4), who breaks out of Ghana and sees the light, only to be jeered by the Ghanaians (like the man in Plato’s cave) , then killed. Justice is also not served to Slim Tano who (in my opinion again) was framed for his murder by those who killed Egya Akon for ‘a few pounds’. He, too, goes mad, hapless victim of the men who were afflicted with the ‘disease of the time’ - materialism, that deemed ‘Money was life’.
The one thing that takes them out of the life, and gives them hope by letting them see the situation clearly is wee. It is ironic that a well-known destructive drug ,cannabis, should show them the way. In itself, it casts doubts on the honesty of the vision that it gives the group. Even if the sight it gives is to be taken at face value, Kofi Billy’s wee-enhanced vision shows him what seems to be a hopeless vision, of people walking together in a large group. He wishes that he can come out of the group to see just exactly where they are going, but it is impossible. ‘I am just going,’ he finishes, in an ‘exhausted statement.’ There is no hope at all in his tone of voice.
The Man himself is not free from the materialism. Innately, he also desires the material things, and physically, he too, gets too tired to ‘keep his hand off the dirt-caked banister’. (Chapter 8,111) In Chapter 9, he feels satisfaction and pride in buying the ‘white man’s food’, not because of the admiration of the people around him, not because of Oyo, but because innately, he too, desires the material things. However, he lacks the ‘hardness that the gleam requires’(35), and has not ‘learned to drive’ (96) yet. Because of his own morality, he cannot take the ‘one bold corrupt leap…into the gleam.’ (Chapter 7-96) The book that Teacher reads ‘He Who Must Die’, also does not sound very positive, and can be read as a premonition of the Man’s eventual ‘death’ - that he will, in the end, follow the path of corruption. We see this come true, as in Chapter14 (176) we see that he is the one who tells Koomson’s boatman Kwesi Anan. to bribe the watchman.
Armah does attempt to offer us pictures of hope, like the seagull in Chapter 8, but along with the image of hope come the thoughts of the man, which have a ‘painful hopelessness’ (112). Also, in the end of the book, although the bus poster proclaims hope in that ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not yet Born’, the Man is witness to a worse system that has taken over Kwame Nkrumah’s reign of corruption. He sees the bus driver bribing the policeman, but the method of bribery was subtler, and harder to catch. The policeman did not say anything, just pointed to his teeth, and the driver understood. The outright bribery and corruption of the country has been replaced by a similar system, equally corrupt, only that the corruption goes on with more stealth and cover-up now. Notice that the policeman pretends to check the driver’s documents. The corruption has ‘gone underground’ and is covered up with the pretense of honesty - is this not far worse than the blatant bribery of before? Armah’s prophesy in Chapter 6, that ‘after their reign is over, there will be no difference ever. All new men will be like the old.’

 Rama Krishna dies of the internal rot of consumption, even though he has escaped from the materialism and corruption that Ghana offers. Since it is the internal rot that finally kills him, in the same way I believe that Armah feels that it is this ‘internal rot’ that will eventually bring Ghana down, and there is no hope for Ghana, except to continue in its eternal ‘rust’ and cycle of corruption and bribery. Like Armah says in Chapter 7, ‘There is only one way’, and it is the way of corruption. (95)

#2 The Title
People who are ‘beautiful’ are pleasant to look at. People who are ‘beautyful’ are ‘full of beauty’, pure, clean and good. Armah tells us through the title that these people have not arrived yet, have not been born to Ghana yet. All Ghana has are people like Estella, ‘beautiful’ with her wigs and perfume.


 Some essays:
1. Narrative situation and ideology in five novels of Ayi Kwei Armah by Garry Gillard
2. No Sweetness Here: Disillusionment and Independence by Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

Libellés :

[Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born]
Sngs Alumni @ 31.12.98 { 4 comments }

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