Last Updated on June 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1356
The man passes various “sleepwalkers” and notices unpleasant but unidentifiable odors. People hawk cheap objects on the side of the road; the scene is defined by the desperation of the poor and those trying to sell their wares. The protagonist is greeted by an acquaintance, Koomson, and makes plans for him and his wife to come to dinner soon. The man thinks about the patience of impoverished people as he gets on the bus and sits by a window that is partially open, taking in the air, which is full of “rot.” The man notes that it is not difficult to become accustomed to such poor conditions.
The man returns home and is met with the “flat” eyes of his wife, Oyo. He mentions that Koomson and Estella will be coming to dinner, which leads his wife to compare her lack to Estella’s abundance. As her husband tells her about refusing the bribe, Oyo chastises him for being so noble and “Christian.” She is unbothered by corruption, calling Estella’s life “clean.” She hints that she wants to join Koomson in a scheme involving a boat, which the man suspects will involve some degree of corruption.
Upset by his wife’s reaction, the man walks out into the night. He finds it difficult to suffer the resentment of loved ones and to feel unable to fulfill their wishes. Called by the sounds of Congo music, he stands outside the home of a naked man he knows as Teacher. Teacher is reading on his bed when the man enters. The two sit in silence while listening to the radio before the man initiates conversation. It is implied that the men are friends, as Teacher asks him if he is having trouble with his wife again. The man insists that this instance is more serious.
When the man explains that his wife is upset that he turned down the bribe, Teacher remarks that Oyo is justified in her anger. He explains that a man who does not follow the only path open to him looks immature to others. The man thinks he has done nothing wrong but also feels guilty, and Teacher maintains that it is “one of the crimes” to refuse to do what everyone else does. The man thinks of Teacher as free, but Teacher disagrees, saying that he still longs to commune with his loved ones. The two men discuss the rampant corruption that has led to the man’s acquaintances becoming rich and materialistic while he struggles to support his family. They reflect on times when they once felt hopeful. Then they sit in silence, thinking their own thoughts.
Teacher begins philosophizing, asking why humans bother feeling sorry for themselves. He notes that it is natural for time to progress onward and foolish to think that we can stop it. Teacher recounts childhood memories, beginning with the story of a classmate called Aboliga the Frog. This boy had a book of oddities, and the students looked at one example of a child who had aged prematurely so that he appeared elderly at age seven. Teacher infers that this child’s circumstances followed from their own nature and that all things are governed by a natural and inevitable “cycle from birth to decay.”
Teacher then remembers the time when Ghanian soldiers returned from war, traumatized and broken. While some people were enlivened after the war, Teacher now understands that it was foolish to consider the war’s outcome a victory. This period was followed by one of intense violence and loss of purpose. Former soldiers devolved into madness, while others survived but were scarred. Teacher reflects on race and class discrepancies in Ghana, noting how white communities on the hills have fresh water and an abundance of food.
Teacher describes his old friend Kofi Billy as a skilled worker who thrived doing jobs white men would not; however, he was severely injured on a job when his leg was amputated by a swinging rope. Kofi Billy wore a wooden leg, but nothing ever seemed to alleviate his sense of loss. Teacher and his peers were introduced by Sister Maanan to a drug called wee. Smoking wee led them to see beyond their own daily lives and also “lift[ed] the blindness.” Teacher and Kofi Billy grew close with Maanan and revered her. They smoked and sat near the sea, experiencing a heightened sense of awareness of the world around them. After one of these trips, Kofi Billy hanged himself, apparently unable to cope with what was revealed to him. His death caused a ripple effect amongst Teacher and the others, leading them to question the meaning of their own lives.
Teacher talks about how he learned that “money was life.” He reflects that those times turned people into animals and made them hopeless and desperate. They would visit the Employment Office with a sense of futility, knowing there would be nothing for them that could fulfill the sense of promise they felt through the influence of the wee.
The narrative perspective shifts back to the man, who considers Teacher’s account. While the man wants to believe that Teacher could still accomplish something with his life, Teacher insists there is no point in trying to educate a mass of people who will not listen. When Teacher begins speaking again, he asks how long Africa will have to suffer at the hands of corrupt leaders. He claims that powerful Black men in Africa are only trying to be like white men, asserting that this is no way for Africans to achieve autonomy.
Teacher remembers a lawyer whom some, including Maanan, thought might serve as a worthy leader. When Teacher and the others went to the lawyer’s speech, they heard him encourage Ghanians to “look inward” and find the source of their freedom and progress in themselves. At the time, Teacher was won over, but he speaks vaguely of how this lawyer who had so much promise also came to a quick ruin. He then turns his attention to Koomson and his corrupt means of gaining power and wealth. Finally, Teacher comments on the futility of all hope, having seen hope decay and turn to rot on so many occasions.
These chapters illustrate the aftermath of the protagonist’s refusal of the bribe and connect the man’s predicaments to the larger history of post-independence Ghana. The man’s wife, Oyo, mocks him by saying, “And like an Onward Christian Soldier, you refused” and then chanting, “On-ward Chris-tian Sooooooldier! / Maaarching as to Waaaaaaaaar.” She pokes fun at his insistence on his own righteousness, which he places above the immediate needs of his family. She finally compares the man to “the chichidodo,” which “hates excrement” but “feeds on [the] maggots” that grow on the excrement. Her metaphor emphasizes the ultimate foolishness of his moral aims, given the widespread corruption that defines the nation.
Oyo’s attitude is reiterated by Teacher, who emphasizes to the man that it is criminal to not follow the same path everyone else follows. It is implied that the man thinks he is above the usual ways of doing things and that the only people who suffer for this are his loved ones. The notion that corruption is an identifying feature of postcolonial Ghana is reinforced by Teacher’s monologue about how quickly the hopes of the nation died out as leaders modeled themselves after white men rather than seeking freedom from external influences. Teacher asserts, “There is . . . no difference at all between the white men and their apes . . . there will be no difference ever.” Teacher’s pessimism stems from his sense that Ghana will never be rid of the influence of white Europeans. There is no absolute truth or morality; rather, people are “believing nothing, but saying they believe everything that needs to be believed, so long as the big jobs and the big money follow.” This attitude that money is the only absolute—and that it does not matter what one does to attain it—lies at the core of the cynicism that pervades these chapters.
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