Ayi Kwei Armah

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5696

Ayi Kwei Armah’s novels have provoked conflicting reactions. On one hand, one can argue that Armah is essentially Western, not African. He is certainly not African in the manner of the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. While Achebe’s works are to some degree “social documents,” Armah moves rapidly from social realism to a symbolic level, even within his first novel. His succeeding novels move away from external detail toward the inner life and the idealism of legend and myth. Achebe is a realist, Armah a romantic. Achebe maintains an objective stance in his analysis of the colonial and postcolonial eras in Nigeria, while Armah’s voice is strident and polemical. Whereas Achebe is likely to make the society itself as important a “character” as the individual protagonist, Armah, in his early works at least, focuses on the individual consciousness.

Armah’s novels thus bear the obvious marks of contemporary European and American fiction. His protagonists are alienated antiheroes who deserve sympathy and who are essentially correct in their moral attitudes, but who are ineffectual misfits. The society itself is clearly wrong but defeats the individual moral person through sheer force of numbers, viewing such protagonists as mad or criminal. In fact, this society is the typical twentieth century wasteland, whether it is in Ghana, northern Africa, or the United States. Armah’s Ghanaians resemble black Americans trying to be white in order to participate fully in the technological age. Finally, the protagonist within this society resembles, and often in fact is, the isolated artist—a typical Western figure, not at all African.

One can easily argue that if these are not incidental features, they are at least sketched into a larger picture that identifies Armah with an essentially African sensibility. Judging from his first five novels and not emphasizing simply the early works, one could conclude that Armah is an African writing for Africans. For him, the identity of the African artist is inseparable from the society that he serves. He would not want to be judged according to the Western criterion of art for its own sake, or by Western standards of what makes a satisfactory novel. He tries to make his novels functional within an African context. His primary stress is on the individual African sensibility isolated from his society. His novels are a search not so much for private redemption as for communal salvation, and in this respect he reflects an essentially African rather than Western mentality.

Armah is a philosophical novelist: Realism is in the service of, or sacrificed to, an idea. He is a social critic searching for a philosophical and historical framework. His protagonists are social failures but heroes in the cause of the greater Africa. His ultimate purpose is pan-African in scope, and his experimentation with technique and form, even though the source may be Western, is a search for the appropriate voice to further the end of common understanding.

Although each novel individually could not be called a bildungsroman, together they appear, in retrospect, to trace the individual protagonist from confusion and frustration to a sense of wholeness and communal belonging. The “man” in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born cannot be sure of his own identity or his moral values because he receives no reinforcement from his society, while Densu in the fifth novel, The Healers, rejects his immediate society and joins a small outcast community that understands the larger African tradition.

Armah has some interesting things to say sociologically as well. Like most contemporary African novelists, he deals with the traumatic experience of colonialism, the rapid change from traditional to modern society, the effects of the slave trade and of Western influence in general, the difficulties of adapting to the technological age, the political corruption immediately after independence, and the cultural vacuum. His novels move from the narrow confines of one Ghanaian city in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born to the larger international scene of America, Europe, and North Africa, to show at first hand those forces that helped create the filth and artificiality surrounding his protagonist. In Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers, Armah leaves the 1960’s to give a picture of African society in the distant and recent past. In general, he argues that foreign exploitation has perverted the traditional communal values, which are, if anything, superior to the ones that have replaced them. What seems to concern Armah particularly, however, are the psychological implications of this displacement.

The protagonists of the second two novels are mentally disturbed and require professional therapy or convalescence. Juana of Fragments is a psychologist, and the outcast priests of Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers are practitioners of traditional therapies. The essential problem that Armah identifies is the impotence and extreme depression of the sensitive individual rejected by the westernized African society. In addition, Armah explores the nightmares and dreams of his frustrated protagonists, and in his novels he seeks an answer to frustration through the revival of racial consciousness in myth and legend. The ultimate purpose of his novels is therapeutic.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

If the central issue in Armah’s novels is the relationship between the individual and his (or her) community, then The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a depressing omen. The main character, the center of consciousness, has no name—not so much because he represents all men or even because he represents the man of integrity, though these are possible readings, but because he is anonymous. Society does not recognize his existence. He is an outcast because he attempts to hold on to moral values while the rest of society has succumbed to bribery, corruption, and materialism. This isolation is total. Even his own family urges him to advance himself for their benefit within the corrupt system. The isolation, however, extends beyond family and community. Even in this first novel, Armah introduces the historical context. The “man” is trapped within the present. He has no sense of belonging to a Ghanaian or to an African tradition. He cannot identify the source of his integrity or of his moral judgment. Hence, he resides in a historical void, which makes him question the very values that give him sustenance. Honesty seems unnatural, cruel, obstinate, even criminal and insane.

The story evolves at a specific time in the contemporary history of Ghana. Though Armah does not give dates, it is clear that the early episodes (chapters 1-12) take place late in Kwame Nkrumah’s reign, in the mid-1960’s. The final three chapters deal with the hours just after Nkrumah’s fall in February, 1966. The “man” is a controller for the railroad, a husband, and the father of two children. Armah describes in naturalistic detail a day in the man’s life, his journey to and from work, the oppressiveness of the physical surroundings, the boring and insignificant responsibilities of his job, and the return home to an unsympathetic and accusing wife. The only dramatic event in these first chapters is the man’s rejection of a bribe.

To seek relief and reassurance, he pays a visit to his former teacher, who shares his moral awareness and can explain to some extent the origin of the present malaise, but who has withdrawn from society. The teacher has no family and hence no compelling responsibility. He refuses to participate in the corruption but also declines to fight it. All he can do for the man is understand his situation. He is, nevertheless, the first of a series of figures in the five novels who represent the wisdom of a way of life that Ghana no longer knows. Within this realistic and cynical first novel it is not surprising that the teacher lacks the confidence and the vision necessary to save the man or his society. In spite of this, Armah leaves no doubt as to the importance of the teacher and his philosophical appraisal of contemporary Ghana. He places the visit at the very center of the novel. From this point, the man must accept total isolation. He cannot lean on his elder and former guide: He must find his own solution.

The problem that faces the man in the final third of the novel involves him in the corruption of an old classmate who is a minister under Nkrumah. His wife and mother-in-law agree to participate in the illegal purchase of a fishing boat, which is primarily for the benefit of Minister Koomsan. When the man refuses complicity, he becomes even more of an outcast within the family. His wife constantly measures him against the successful Koomsan, who has surrounded himself with the things of modern civilization. The last three chapters, however, reverse the situation. Nkrumah falls. Koomsan, a pitifully frightened victim of the coup, comes to the man for aid. The two escape from the house just as the authorities arrive, and the man leads him to the fishing boat and to exile. The man himself swims back to shore and to his family. Though he has involved himself in the corruption he despises, the act of saving Koomsan must be seen as a heroic and humane gesture. The man’s wife, at least, now recognizes his courage and his worth. The novel thus moves from almost total submergence in the repulsive details of daily life to a romantic but ironic act of heroism, whose ultimate significance is nevertheless left ambiguous.

Armah is already suggesting the larger movement from realism to myth in the figurative and even symbolic dimension of thenarrative. What first strikes the reader’s attention, in fact overwhelms him or her, is the vivid and disgusting insistence on the filth, the excrement, and the vomit that one touches and breathes in the city. Yet this physical reality is at the same time the political and moral corruption that the society discharges as it continues to pursue and consume the “things” of Western technology. Koomsan’s escape through the latrine is symbolically a wallowing in his own excrement. A second symbol special to this novel is the chichi dodo bird, which despises excrement but subsists on the worms that the excrement nourishes: the man, as much as he may try to remain free of taint, is implicated in the social guilt.

Finally, Armah uses a third image, the stream, that recurs in all the other novels. He seems to identify water in a traditional way as a purifying agent. During one of his walks, the man notices, in an otherwise muddy stream, a perfectly clear current that seems to have no source. He associates it with a gleam of light—his own moral awareness—a clarity of vision that he cannot trace to any source. He sets this clarity against the brightness of new things imported from the West, but it is not strong enough or permanent enough to give him hope. In spite of his heroism, his baptismal dip in the ocean, and his “rebirth,” he still must recognize at the end that “the beautyful ones are not yet born.”


In Fragments, Armah continues the exploration of the individual and his obligation to both family and community. The scene again takes place in the later 1960’s, but the situations are considerably changed. Baako Onipa (the hero now has a name, which means “Only Person”) is a “been-to,” a member of the educated elite who has spent five years studying in the United States. In this respect, he resembles Armah himself, an American-educated intellectual who must have had similar difficulties readjusting to Ghanaian society.

Like Armah, Baako is a writer searching for a role within his newly independent nation. No longer is the protagonist buried in lower-class poverty. His education gives him access to prominent men in the community and to the things of modern technology. He thus has the means to satisfy the expectations of his family, especially his mother. He resembles the man, however, in his inability to sacrifice his personal integrity to take advantage of his opportunities. In a sense, his situation is even more critical than that of the man. He is a highly sensitive artist. Whereas the man has perceived the “madness” of his obstinacy, Baako has already experienced insanity in America and is on the edge of it again throughout this novel, the title of which, Fragments, is thus particularly appropriate.

The story does not follow a clear chronological path, because Armah has chosen to present it through three centers of consciousness. The emphasis is thus not on the exterior world but, much more obviously than in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, on the psychological responses to the world of the two main characters, Baako and Juana, a Puerto Rican psychologist who becomes Baako’s confidant, and of Baako’s grandmother, Naana, who represents the traditional wisdom of the people. The novel opens with Naana recalling Baako’s ritual departure five years before and her anticipation of his cyclical return. Baako does return, unannounced, however, to avoid the inevitable ritual ceremony. He dreads to face his family because he brings no gifts and because he knows that he will be unable to fulfill his mother’s expectations. His mother expects what the man’s wife expected in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, money and the comforts of the modern age. Baako, in his rebellion against this imitation of Western values, goes to his former teacher, Ocran, for advice. Ocran has himself chosen to pursue his profession as an artist in solitude, because he sees no possibility for useful work within contemporary Ghanaian society.

Against Ocran’s advice, the less experienced Baako has decided to make the attempt by turning his talents as novelist to a more public role as a television scriptwriter. He hopes to transform popular Ghanaian myths into scripts for television, and in general to raise the consciousness of the people by introducing them to the true traditions of Ghana. The authorities, preferring to use the television screen as an instrument of propaganda, reject this proposal as dangerous. Baako goes back to the privacy of the writing table and, thus isolated, gradually loses his mind. His family places him in an asylum, from which he is about to be rescued by Juana as the novel closes.

The threat of insanity, in fact, has plagued Baako from the very beginning. He goes to Juana for help early in the novel. She becomes his lover and, along with Ocran, his spiritual guide. The novel thus ends as does The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, ambiguously—but with a note of hope, and with the nucleus of a new community, two Ghanaians and the outsider, Juana, who represents not the evils of white society but the sensitivities of a minority. Furthermore, Ocran seems to offer a temporary compromise between the two extremes that have driven Baako to insanity, a compromise that Armah develops in the later novels. Whereas society and family demand that Baako yield to their values, and Baako, while recognizing his inherent need for identity within the community, must maintain his integrity, Ocran proposes a kind of synthesis: Baako cannot expect to achieve his goal immediately. He must submit to a temporary isolation from the present society and work for the larger community of the future. Naana reinforces this view as her commentary closes the novel with a picture of contemporary Ghana in fragments. This novel thus has raised the argument to a more philosophical level than that of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by using four different characters who reflect on the problem of the perceptive individual within a materialistic society.

In other ways, too, Armah moves away from the naturalism of his first novel. Even the naturalistic scenes, such as the killing of the “mad” dog, are obviously symbolic of something beyond themselves. Just as Juana observes a crowd of soldiers who close in on a dog that they only suspect to be mad, so she watches the community and the family judge and incarcerate Baako for his “insane” ideas. The novel also incorporates ritualistic and religious elements. Naana contrasts the unifying role of traditional ritual with the fragmentation of the present. The mother appeals to an itinerant, spiritualist preacher to aid her in praying for Baako’s return. Baako and Juana discuss the similarities between Catholicism and animism, as opposed to the isolating force of Protestantism. Baako is concerned in particular with myth: He contrasts his overseas experience with the traditional hero’s departure and triumphal return to save the community. He and Juana repeat the myth of Mame Water, who rises from the sea periodically to meet her lover and give him special powers, but at the same time leaves him with an excruciating sense of isolation. The water itself, like the stream from The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, flows into Fragments. Baako pictures himself swimming upstream against a cataract; water still seems to be a purifying force and the stream itself the natural flow of history.

Why Are We So Blest?

In retrospect, Why Are We So Blest? appears to be a transition between Armah’s first two novels and the mythical ones to follow. It continues the trend away from realistic description toward a study of multiple consciousness, a philosophical reflection, a larger international context, and an emphasis on personal relationships. The time of the novel, however, remains the same, the mid- to late 1960’s, as does the central premise: the individual isolated from his community and hence from his own identity.

Again, Armah seems to be drawing from his own experience, this time as a student in an American university, and from the guilt feelings that inevitably arise in one who is given special treatment while his country suffers from the very hands that feed him. In a sense, the Ghanaian character, Modin, is Baako receiving the education that is so useless to him upon his return, though Armah has a far different fate for this avatar. The other major African character, Solo, shares with Modin a situation that Armah has not created in the first two novels. They both remain abroad, completely detached from their societies, Modin as a student and would-be revolutionary, Solo as a disillusioned revolutionary in exile. Solo, the dispassionate observer, finds in Modin a reincarnation (with variations) of his own past fascination with revolution and with a Western woman. This third major character is Aimée Reitsch, a white American of German ancestry, whose perverted fascination with Africa and with Modin precipitates his destruction.

The narrative in Why Are We So Blest? resembles that of Fragments in that it, too, has three centers of consciousness. The two principal actors in the drama, Modin and Aimée, have kept journals about their experiences, which Aimée leaves with Solo after Modin’s death. Solo thus functions as editor, providing personal information and commentary and arranging the journal entries to reconstruct the story of their lives and his encounter with them in northern Africa. He opens the novel with an account of his own life before he met them and fills out this autobiography at intervals throughout the book. He is a reviewer of books eking out an existence in the fictional town of Laccryville (Algiers) and making occasional visits to the headquarters of a revolutionary organization that he once wished to join.

The story of Modin and Aimée, as Solo reconstructs it, goes back to Modin’s days as a scholarship student in African studies at Harvard. Immediately after arriving, he receives a warning from Naita, the black secretary of his sponsor, that he must not trust those who have brought him to the United States. They actually consider him their property. Modin eventually realizes that she is right about the white race in general being the black person’s destroyer, but makes the mistake of considering Aimée an exception. He leaves for Africa with her to join the revolutionary organization in Laccryville. Its leaders are suspicious of Aimée and hence reject them both. Solo meets them and would like to do something to save Modin, but realizes that he is doomed. Modin and Aimée take off on a futile hitchhiking journey across the Sahara, only to be picked up by white male racists who sexually abuse them and leave Modin to die. Aimée returns to her middle-class life in America and Solo is left frustrated in his isolation. It would seem, however, that Solo as author has finally found his voice, and is fulfilling a useful function after all in this “book” that he is offering to the public. That is, Solo has discovered the role that Armah himself has chosen.

In this respect, Why Are We So Blest? looks forward to the positive and hopeful tone of the next three novels. What the “man” and Baako lacked, Solo has discovered. In other ways, too, this novel looks forward. The stream as a motif reappears, but it is no longer muddy as in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and the swimmer is no longer fighting against the current. Instead, Solo is observing its continuous flow and waiting for a place to enter and become a part of it. Madness, obsession, and psychological tension continue to be significant motifs, but while Fragments ends with Baako in an asylum, this novel opens with Solo’s overcoming a bout of mental depression by committing himself to a month’s convalescence in a hospital. His return to health accompanies a transformation in his view of society, the nature of revolution, and the role of militants.

By this third novel, also, Armah has transformed the African female figure into a kind of soul mate. Naita possesses sexual purity, a natural grace, and a wisdom that could have been Modin’s salvation. She attains an almost mythical dimension. The most significant symbol in the novel, in fact, is sexuality. Through it, Armah exposes the selfish aggressiveness of the white female and the cruel fascism of the white male. The novel announces with violent acerbity a thesis that appears for the first time in Armah’s fiction, the essential animosity between black and white. It bears the sure stamp of the Black Muslim movement that must have deeply affected him in America. The white race becomes identified as the destroyer, the enemy. The African has lost his or her identity because the white race has taken away the tradition and the community that gave him or her meaning.

Two Thousand Seasons

In Two Thousand Seasons, Armah prophesies a more fruitful course. He makes a leap of faith in his narrative style and, more important, in his promise of an answer to the frustrated heroes of the first three novels. This novel has no hero, unless it be the community itself. No isolated personality is trapped within his own consciousness. The narrator, as character, is the ubiquitous member of every generation who knows the true history of the tribe. He is the griot, the tribal historian, the wise man, the poet. He is a member of the select few whose task it is to maintain the spiritual coherence of the group. The story he tells is the group’s chronicle. Thus Armah, as author, effaces himself by adopting the traditional and anonymous role of historian—a significantly symbolic act since Armah must recognize that he too finds his identity only if he merges with the community.

The chronicle begins one thousand years (two thousand seasons) ago, when the Akan tribe, probably intended to represent the black race, living in peace, harmony, and “reciprocity” on the edge of the desert, succumbs to the “predators” of the north, the Arab-Muslim civilization of North Africa. The narrator describes the destruction of the social order and the enslavement of the people. It is here that the community first loses its cohesiveness. A small nucleus of people, particularly women of the tribe, initiate and lead a revolt, and then a migration away from the desert toward the south. The eventual destination is present-day Ghana, but the people arrive only to find another threat from the sea. The Europeans have begun their exploitation of the continent.

The last half of the novel concentrates on the disintegration of the tribe as the forces from without create division within. The narrator focuses on one particular period, when one generation of youths undergoing initiation escapes into the forest and organizes a resistance movement. A seer named Isanusi leads them and trains them in the “Way,” the traditional values of the tribe. Their king, Koranche, subsequently persuades them to return, deceives them, and sells them into slavery. They are able to escape from the slave ship and make their way back to the forest retreat, bringing with them new recruits. These guerrilla warriors, the “beautyful ones,” operate against the oppressive authorities who have betrayed the tribal traditions.

Armah has thus solved the essential problem facing the protagonists of the early novels. He has achieved the synthesis adumbrated by Ocran in Fragments. Though it may be impossible to join and serve the particular society in Ghana today, it is possible to participate spiritually in the larger society and in the genuine traditions of the people. This solution certainly explains the mythical and romantic mode of this novel in contrast to the naturalism or realism at the base of the first three. No longer caught within the contemporary world of the 1960’s, the initiates of Two Thousand Seasons belong to an ancient tradition. A mythical pattern controls the novel. The tribe begins in Eden, falls from grace, and moves toward the cyclical return. It is this confidence in the future and in the total pattern of life that separates this novel from its predecessors.

The racism of Why Are We So Blest? becomes a struggle for cultural identity on a panoramic scale. The whites, whether Muslim or Christian, are the enemy. Their culture is oppressive and destructive to blacks. They represent class divisions and hierarchical structures. The African “way” is reciprocity, equality, and a sharing of responsibility and power. Armah is obviously dealing in romantic terms. He is also trying to find his own modus vivendi: a justification of his “exile” and a role within the larger pattern of his nation’s fate.

The Healers

Armah called The Healers a historical novel. It is, to be sure, based on particular events in the 1870’s during the Second Asante War, and Armah’s purpose—as in the previous novels, especially Two Thousand Seasons—is to offer an interpretation of Ghanaian (African) society and to reevaluate African history. His method, however, is not so much historical as romantic and mythical. The story is a mixture of fact and fiction, and the characters and events conform to an idea of the essential African mentality and the future of the African continent. It thus continues the optimistic chronicle of the previous novel.

The storyteller is again the “anonymous” griot. The tale begins as an epic, in medias res. It proceeds immediately to narrate the initiation of nine Asante boys into manhood. Densu is obviously a young man of heroic proportions. He refuses to engage in the wrestling contest because the competition required violates the spirit of cooperation that he values. He nevertheless demonstrates his superior strength and grace in this and other games, while finally refusing to win to avoid being named the next chief in the tribe. He resists this temptation held out by Ababio, the evil adviser who remains Densu’s nemesis throughout the novel. Densu’s ambition is to join the spiritual ones, the “priests” or “healers” who live as outcasts in the forest and who preserve the values of the community that are being perverted by ambitious men such as Ababio. Before he can realize this goal, however, he must not only convince Damfo, the chief healer and his spiritual guide, that he can truly sacrifice the things of common life but also overcome Ababio’s scheme to condemn him falsely for murder and to engage in the war against the British as General Nkwanta’s aid. The novel ends melodramatically, with the betrayal and defeat of the Asante army, the last-minute acquittal of Densu at the murder trial, and the various African tribes dancing on the beach, ironically brought together by the invading British.

Armah thus suggests a future pan-African unity. For the present, however—if the events of the 1870’s offer a paradigm for the contemporary situation—the solution to the sociological and psychological problems facing Ghanaians is much the same as that proposed in Two Thousand Seasons. The perceptive individual who works for a solution must not expect an immediate communal identity. Again, Armah clarifies the choices available through romantic simplification. In Two Thousand Seasons, the proponents of the Way face a challenge from the white predators and destroyers and from the zombies among their own people. In The Healers, the choice is between competition and manipulation on one hand and cooperation and inspiration on the other. Densu chooses to leave his tribe because he knows that the leaders and the people are not ready for the essential virtues of the true community. Instead, he is initiated by Damfo into the community of healers. Damfo, in his dealings with other people, never resorts to manipulation or even persuasion, but rather relies on spiritual understanding and respect. This is presented as the only way to establish a genuine community.

In this fifth novel, Armah seems to be consciously drawing in all the threads from his early works. The beautyful ones, it would seem, are born, but they reside outside the society itself, preparing for the future. Unlike the “man,” they fully accept the pain of nonconformity. The healer, Damfo, fulfills the tasks that frustrate the teacher, Ocran, Juana, Naana, and Solo. In his conversations with Densu, he employs a method of instruction that is both Socratic and therapeutic. The philosophical and psychological conflicts that plague the early heroes thus find their resolutions in the spiritual communication and intimate friendship between priest and initiate. Nightmares become dreams of self-discovery. Body, mind, and spirit achieve harmony in Densu. He sees the chaos of the present within the perspectives of history. He is also at home in the natural world.

The stream that flows as a minor motif through the other novels is a significant part of the setting in The Healers. Densu wins the swimming contest not by competing but by becoming at one with the natural element. He later escapes arrest by holding on to roots at the bottom of the stream and breathing through a hollowed-out cane. Even later, he and Damfo master the stream in a long journey against the current. Finally, in this river of life Densu contemplates his own image and purpose. Clearly, Armah creates a hero in The Healers who has found his place in the stream of history, a hero who gives meaning to Armah’s own chosen role in his community.

Osiris Rising

Osiris Rising, Armah’s sixth novel—and his first in seventeen years—represents a further evolution of his perspective along this axis. The old themes are once again in evidence: pan-African unity, historical consciousness, intellectual nonconformity, and disgust with the corrupt African leadership. The Osiris and Isis myth alluded to in the title provides an important symbolic background for this otherwise realistic text. As a genuinely African myth of origin, the Osiris legend mirrors a major theme of the novel, which explicitly deals with the need for Africa to put its own culture at the center of its historical consciousness. The magnificence of ancient Egypt then serves as the perfect and natural locus for this shift.

The novel tells the story of Ast, a young African American Egyptologist who feels displaced in America and thus “goes home” to Africa in search of her roots and a sense of belonging. She is also following Asar, her college lover who has returned to his homeland in Africa to fight against the injustices of the postindependence puppet regimes. Significantly, the country to which she travels (and where the rest of the novel takes place) is never named directly. Armah’s pan-Africanism makes him more interested in the symbolic aspects of the story than in its relevance to any single national entity. In Africa, Ast comes across another acquaintance from her university days, Asar’s longtime rival and countryman Seth, who has risen in the corrupt administration to become chief of security for the entire nation. The action of the novel revolves largely around Ast’s and Asar’s grassroots political organizing on the campus where they both teach, set against the insipid political machinations of Seth, who sees Asar in particular as a threat to his way of life. Ultimately, Seth appears to “win” at the close of the novel as Asar’s body is literally blown into fragments by the guns of Seth’s death squad.

When considered alongside the informing Osiris myth, however, Seth’s victory is exposed as transitory and futile against the greater advances for which Asar’s teaching has set the stage. The myth tells of Osiris and his sister and wife Isis, who ruled Egypt as king and queen. Their brother Seth murdered Osiris and scattered fragments of the body across Egypt, which historically accounted for the spread of the Osiris cult. Isis then raised their son, Horus, to manhood, at which time he avenged his father’s murder by deposing Seth and assuming power as king of the living. Osiris, reassembled by Isis, became lord of the underworld. With this in mind, an allegorical reading of the novel becomes clear: Asar, who has clearly stated throughout the novel that his death would be an insignificant obstacle for the widespread communal movement for African unity, is the martyr Osiris, and the rising alluded to in the title suggests that indeed the movement will yet prevail. Likewise, that Ast is pregnant with Asar’s child would seem to prophesy the child’s ultimate defeat of Seth and victory for the representatives of African justice.

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Armah, Ayi Kwei (Vol. 136)