Last Updated on June 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1395
Oyo and the man get ready for their dinner guests. At first, Oyo stalls and does not want to dress in front of her husband; however, after he mocks her, she drops her clothing while he is in the room. Like when they were in bed, the man feels horror at his wife’s scar. Oyo irons her hair, and the protagonist chastises her for not wearing her hair naturally. She claims that “only bush women” adopt natural hairstyles. Oyo’s mother arrives, and Oyo feels judged, as it is implied that she does not feed the children sufficiently. The man goes to get the beer from his friend’s house and arrives just as Koomson and Estella’s car pulls up.
The man and Oyo feel the class difference between themselves and their visitors. Estella at first refuses to drink the beer and claims that she could have gotten better liquor. Later, though, she gives in and sips beer with everyone else. Koomson has to use the restroom, and the man must admit, in shame, that they do not have indoor plumbing. He accompanies Koomson to a shared latrine, where someone is making loud noises and a terrible stench.
When they return to the dinner, Estella talks arrogantly about her busy social life, making Oyo feel sorry for herself. Estella laments the rise of socialism in Ghana, claiming it limits their financial prosperity. Because Koomson and other leaders are “socialist ministers,” they are discouraged from excessive materialism. Oyo’s mother and Koomson discuss the boat scheme that Oyo’s mother thinks will make her family rich. After Koomson and Estella leave, the man’s mother-in-law insults him for not being “manly” enough to do what it takes to support his family.
The man and his wife travel in a taxi to the Koomsons’ neighborhood, a wealthy subdivision that makes Oyo feel important. At first, Oyo feels she is not getting the respect she deserves from the driver, but once she says the name of Koomson’s neighborhood, she is treated better. Oyo repeatedly tries to bring up anecdotes that make them look like they have important, influential relations, which annoys the man.
They first meet Koomson and Estella’s daughter, Princess, in the yard, and the man observes that she “spoke English like a white child.” They go into the house to wait for Koomson and begin to admire the opulent decor and costly objects that occupy the space. The man finds himself charmed by his surroundings, despite his stubborn disapproval of the corruption and materialism they represent. He thinks about all the things people will do to secure the happiness of their children and imagines that it might be justified to abandon his principles if it were for the good of his kids.
Oyo tells her husband they should have brought her mother with them to discuss the boat, and the man maintains that the boat scheme is misguided. Koomson greets them and orders his servant to bring drinks. The man thinks about the hypocrisy of Koomson and other powerful people who claim to be against European practices but then readily imitate them when it proves advantageous. Koomson gets the papers for the boat, and Oyo signs them. As they ride home, the man wonders how he will be able to hold out against corruption when he finds material goods so appealing.
The man reflects on the aftermath of the boat deal, which has proven fruitless. He sometimes passes by the harbor and sees Koomson’s boat, which is named after his daughter. He wants to mention it to Oyo but knows it will only cause her pain. His mother-in-law has also given up hope that the boat will bring them the wealth and status she desired for the family. Ironically, the mother-in-law becomes even more resentful of the man, rather than blaming Koomson for the failure of the scheme. They occasionally get fish caught from Koomson’s boat, so Oyo claims the deal was not totally in vain. The man replies that he does not want to eat the fish from Koomson’s boat anymore. Eventually, they stop receiving fish, and the man isn’t sure whether this is because Oyo’s mother is getting the fish instead or because Koomson has stopped sending it.
The narrator mentions that there had been talk in Ghana about ridding the nation of corruption, but it did not stir much enthusiasm. The most corrupt people continue to escape consequences, while those with less power take the blame for the widespread crime. Again, the man realizes that it is fairly easy for people to get used to any conditions, even those that are dismal or unjust.
The interactions between the two couples highlight the class discrepancies in Ghanian society. When Koomson and Estella come to dinner, Oyo irons her hair to impress them, knowing that the rich are more Westernized. Estella does not want to drink the African beer, preferring rare European liquor, which she claims she could have procured. When she does decide to drink some beer, the narrator says Estella “reconciled herself to being an African,” as though consuming inferior local goods is associated with Ghana, whereas European products are more refined and suitable to her class.
The dinner scene allows the man to reflect on the great disparity between classes. He thinks,
In such situations he felt like a stranger from a country that was very far away. . . . It was awful, was it not, that the rich should have this effect on the poor, making them always want to apologize for their poverty, and at all times to sacrifice future necessities just so that they could make a brief show of wealth they could never hope to have.
The man considers how the poor must both feel shame for their own circumstances and seek to elevate themselves to be seen as worthy to the higher class.
It is no surprise, then, that Oyo, who aspires to be wealthy and influential, wants to be seen as part of a higher class when they travel by taxi to Koomson’s home. She earns the respect of the driver when she mentions the name of the area where Koomson lives. Then, she seeks to prove her worth by convincing the driver “it was her life, this hopping into taxis and being spoken to like a great woman.” On the other hand, when they are in the company of the Koomsons, he also notices that his wife lowers herself to her “superiors.” When she observes and asks about the recorder, the man thinks, “she had the ability to make herself sound exactly like an admiring villager. A trick to please.” In this scenario, Oyo senses her inferiority and must flatter those of higher status.
The man notices Koomson’s pretensions when he comes downstairs to greet the visitors in his home. He is “beaming with self-esteem” and tries to pronounce his steward’s African name incorrectly, like “white men trying to pronounce African names without any particular desire to pronounce them well.” Similar to Estella’s disgust at African beer, Koomson tries to distance himself from his African heritage in favor of what he perceives as superior European culture.
Significantly, the man feels envious of Koomson’s possessions in chapter 11 and begins to understand how difficult it is to hold to one’s principles in the face of such temptation. He wonders, “how was a man ever going to be able to fight against all the things and all the loved ones who never ceased urging that nothing else mattered . . . [but] the getting of these comfortable things.” The man seems to be losing his will to fight against corruption and the desires of his family to give in to bribes. Chapter 12 ends with a note on the country’s attempts to address widespread corruption, which is largely a failure. The net metaphor suggests that the truly powerful and influential will always escape repercussions: the “net [catches] only the small, dispensable fellows, trying in their anguished blindness to leap and to attain the gleam and the comfort the only way these things could be done.” This figure of speech highlights how pathetic the “small” are in this unjust system; they are only trying to attain what “the big ones” have and by similar means.
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