Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Great Ponds stands—intentionally, it seems— as an allegory of fullscale, modern war insofar as its cause is small, its conduct all-consuming, and its end (which reminds one of the probable effects of a nuclear war) a defeat for both sides. In addition, both sides feel justified in waging it.

The novel underscores the irony of such a war in that the people of Chiolu and Aliakoro are decent and likable. Wago is an exception; he represents the kind of military mind that in its xenophobia loses perspective and in its egomania destroys itself and corrupts the cause it serves. All in all, war is pictured as a monster that devours the well-intentioned but nearsighted people who create it.

The divine is also a conspicuous element in the novel. It is not only consulted and used by both villages in their daily life but also appealed to by them in their conduct of the war. The use of “God is on our side” to justify bloodshed is as much alive here as it is today. Indeed, any ideal relying on superstition, tradition, and emotion may substitute for the divine in supporting warfare, and The Great Ponds strongly suggests this.

The irony built into this aspect of the novel relies on the physical—one might say the objective—essence of war. War produces injury and death irrespective of the ideals of those involved in it. What accompanies (and, in effect, ends) the war in this case is a virus—a physical reality which no amount of religiously oriented conjuring or justification is able to stop. Thus Elechi Amadi makes his point that war is first a moral madness and last—and most of all—a physical evil.