Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The first two-thirds of the novel takes place during Passion Week. For the bus driver in the opening scene, however, the season only means poorer passengers and few occasions to extort money from them. The man experiences hunger during his lunch-hour walk, and after relating it to a fast has a kind of vision in which purity suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere. Yet Armah is certainly not suggesting a Christian view of the world. If anything, Christianity is, along with capitalism and other Western values, one of the undesirable colonial legacies. Still, Armah uses it to announce his primary theme. On the Sunday that concludes Passion Week, either Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, depending on the definition Armah is using, Koomson comes to visit the man and his family. For Oyo, the honor is a highlight of her married life. She, as it were, lays palm branches before him, treating him as their savior. He will help them purchase a fishing boat—a clear allusion linking Koomson to Christ. The deal, as the man suspects from the beginning, does not benefit Oyo, and Koomson, far from being a savior, eventually needs the man to save him.

Though Koomson is a false Christ and Christianity is not Armah’s answer to the crisis in Ghana, the theme of salvation is central: The novel is about a man’s soul, and by extension a nation’s soul, in search of a way out of the vicious cycle of birth and decay—in search of the “beautyful.” Teacher’s experiences imply that it is not to be found in isolation; one needs not only listeners but also a community to which to belong. The man’s experiences imply that it cannot be found simply in sacrificing the self to others; it is essential that he not abandon his principles to make his wife and children comfortable. The luxuries of Western civilization are not the answer; as Koomson’s life demonstrates, they decay into human...

(The entire section is 766 words.)