How is Ben Okri's "In the Shadow of War" an example of katabasis?

Ben Okri's "In the Shadow of War" describes the katabasis of a young boy called Omovo, as he descends from the peace and safety of his village to a horrific scene of violence in the forest.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "katabasis" literally means "going down" in Greek. It is the opposite of an "anabasis," which originally referred to an expedition from the interior of a country to the coast, but came to denote any type of advance or ascent. By analogy , a katabasis refers to a descent...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The word "katabasis" literally means "going down" in Greek. It is the opposite of an "anabasis," which originally referred to an expedition from the interior of a country to the coast, but came to denote any type of advance or ascent. By analogy, a katabasis refers to a descent or retreat, and it is used when a character such as Odysseus, Aeneas, or Dante makes a journey to the underworld.

Ben Okri's "In the Shadow of War" is a good example of a modern-day katabasis, in which the protagonist, Omovo, makes a journey into a horrifying environment very much like the underworld or, more colloquially, hell on earth. The story is set during the Nigerian Civil War. Omovo's village has not yet been directly affected by the war, though his father warns him of the constant possibility of danger. However, when Omovo follows a strange veiled woman into the forest, he comes upon a nightmarish scene. First he sees people who are broken and desperate, like unhappy spirits in the underworld, trying to shelter from the war. Then the war comes to them, in the shape of the soldiers who have also followed the woman. They shoot her dead as Omovo watches.

Ironically, it is revealed at the end of the story that it is the soldiers who performed this brutal act who returned Omovo to the safety of the village after he fell into a faint. The story concludes with the boy safely returned from his katabasis, but he is deeply affected by what he saw.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on