Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Ekwensi has come under much criticism for what some consider his lack of skilled craftsmanship and unrefined prose style, his reputation as one of Nigeria’s most prolific popular fiction writers has never been disputed. A self-styled writer for the masses, Ekwensi makes no apologies for the simplicity of plot that characterizes his stories, particularly as his shorter novels and a number of his short stories are directed toward a younger audience. Like his novels, the fifteen short stories in Restless City and Christmas Gold, with Other Stories (1975), including “The Great Beyond,” have a moral bent.

“The Great Beyond” is written in simple, straightforward English, typical of Ekwensi’s journalistic style. Told in the third person, the story laces humor with pathos and irony, especially evident in the characterization of the hearse bearers who, lacking the pastor’s somewhat shaky sense of duty, wear their “instinct of self-preservation” on their sleeves. They form a humorous but pathetic bunch as they scramble into nearby buildings for cover when the corpse knocks from inside the coffin.

The pastor’s lack of understanding of metaphysics serves as the most glaring example of disconnectedness from an environment in which belief in the coexistence of the supernatural and natural worlds is commonplace and the dead are believed to have the ability to traverse both worlds. It is ironic that Jokeh, the wife of the dead man—not the pastor—gives some meaning and clarity to these folk beliefs. It is also ironic that Jokeh, the once frightened and grieving but now empowered widow, pushes Ikolo back into the coffin and nails it shut, in preparation for his strange burial. Ekwensi’s behold-the-way-of-the-world message—illustrated through the irony of the shortness of the funeral procession of the man who made a life of laughing and making others laugh—is suggested through much of the action of the story.