Last Updated on June 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1322
Teacher gets dressed, and the man wonders how Teacher can see the corruption of the world so clearly and still find a way to live in it. He considers whether the decay and rot are specific to Ghana and whether other nations have the ability to make meaningful change. The man decides to go home, and Teacher accompanies him part of the way. They continue to discuss the lasting influence of colonialism on Ghanian leaders, and Teacher laments that powerful African men seem only to want “to be nearer the white man.” The man brings up his wife and children again, and Teacher says the man has to be brave to stand in opposition to Oyo’s desires; he tells the man he either must give up his own principles or live on his own, away from the demands of his loved ones.
After Teacher turns back, the man proceeds alone, thinking about how materialism and Western influence persistently draw the attention of his countrymen. The man does not believe that hard work or corruption will satisfy him, but he imagines that those who have given into corruption and have become powerful laugh at those who continue to suffer through a monotonous life. He returns home to see that his wife has prepared for the next day, so he checks on the children and gets into bed with Oyo. He attempts to caress her body but is turned off by the scar on her belly. The man then remembers Oyo’s last childbirth with horror.
The man dreams about the gleam of the Atlantic-Caprice hotel; he is blinded by the light, but his female companion is drawn to it. She floats into one of the expensive American cars, leaving the man alone in the darkness. His anxiety awakens him, and he goes to bathe himself. The man notices the rot in the bathroom and tries to hold his breath so that this decay will not become part of him. He feels the need to defecate but decides to wait until he gets to work. He prepares and leaves without seeing the children. After he gets to work, he goes to use the communal restroom, which is in an appalling condition. Although he feels relieved after defecating, he knows he is carrying the awful smell of the restroom with him, so he walks out into the open air before returning to the office.
When he enters the station, the man sees that the lumber merchant has returned and has apparently completed a deal with the allocations clerk. The merchant calls the man evil on his way out of the Block. The man once again observes how routine corruption has become, as the clerk simply laughs off the interaction with the merchant. As the day begins at the office, clerks file in and the Senior Service workers report to duty, distinguished by their attempts to look British in their dress. One of the railway supervisors once worked as bursar for a secondary school, but he was reassigned for stealing money from the school. There was no investigation or punishment; he was simply given a new leadership job elsewhere. A young worker comes to his shift early and relieves the man, who goes to look at the sea before returning home.
The man awakens on Sunday and recounts how he shopped the day before in preparation for the dinner he and Oyo will host for Koomson and Estella. Emboldened by his spending money, the man felt generous and indulgent in his shopping. He notes how powerful he feels when others seem to admire his purchases. Oyo is not happy with the man’s choice to buy beer instead of more expensive liquor, but the man claims he could not find anything else. Oyo insists that some people have ways of getting the products they want and chastises her husband for not being one of those people. The man then begins to clean and prepare the house for their visitors. He feels hopeless about the fact that regardless of how much he cleans, his house still looks squalid.
The man goes to bring his beer bottles to a friend’s house, and Oyo suggests the children go along since they need to be accompanied to their grandmother’s house. Oyo’s mother does not approve of the man and comments on the children’s lack of shoes and apparent hunger. After dropping the children off with his mother-in-law, the man walks to his friend’s house, taking in the various smells of the town. He notices the rot of the sea, which reeks of dead fish, before seeing a sign for a cricket game. The man sees several white men and women on the golf course followed by two Black Ghanian men who are attempting to flatter the white people by laughing loudly. The man wonders at the purpose of fighting for independence, since all the Black men would simply try to gain the approval of their former colonizers.
In these chapters, Armah continues to emphasize the widespread decay surrounding the protagonist, as well as the man’s efforts to stave them off. This is clearly symbolized by the man’s actions when he is bathing. The narrator explains that the man
could not for a time take his eyes off the door where it was rotten at the bottom, and the smell of dead wood filled his nostrils . . . He tried to breathe in only small, saving breaths of air, but when the cold water hit his back he sucked in a huge involuntary gulp, and there was no more point in his continuing his efforts to keep the rot out of himself.
In this scene, the man is aware of the decay that surrounds him and attempts to stop the rot from entering his own body. His physical actions also represent the ways in which he tries to stop himself from being corrupted morally by the unethical actions of those around him. The fact that he eventually must breathe in the air suggests that the protagonist’s fight against corruption will ultimately prove futile. The narrator continues to be surrounded by refuse and rot when he visits the communal restroom at the Block and when he gazes at the sea full of dead fish.
Corruption is aligned with the gleam in these chapters, as well. The lights of the gleam figuratively draw people towards the unethical methods necessary to gain what they want—possessions, wealth, and social influence. Chapter 8 begins with the protagonist’s symbolic dream in which a female companion, presumably Oyo, “is not blinded” by the gleam but enters a “gleaming car” and travels toward the Atlantic-Caprice and its bright lights. The man, on the other hand, is “blinded by a cutting beam” and enters a “darkness [that] turns keenly cold.” The man notes that his anxiety wakes him up before his alarm does, and the dream itself represents his fear that everyone, including his loved ones, will be tempted by the gleam and he will be left alone in the dark with only his principles to keep him company.
Teacher recognizes that the man is fighting this battle alone when he notes that “you are brave. You have chosen to fight her. And the whole society is behind her.” Teacher’s commentary also reveals that he has learned over time that powerful Ghanian men only want to closely align themselves with white men. Conformity in Ghana means corruption and imitation of the colonizer’s ways. Those who follow the gleam or who model themselves after white men feel justified in their actions, wielding “the power to laugh with contempt at those . . . who still plod on the daily round, stupid, honest, dull, despised, afraid.” The narrator’s moral dilemma consists of the misguided “bravery” of maintaining his own ethics in a society where no one else values those ethics.
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