The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born Characters

Ayi Kwei Armah

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The characters are variations of the two types of people who make up Ghanaian society in the 1960’s, the “hard” and the “weak,” at least as that society is perceived by the man and his Teacher. The man continually berates himself for being among the weak, yet knows that his inability to join the corrupt, successful ones is not entirely a failure of nerve. Still, the novel is not primarily an account of his inner struggle between the two impulses, the one toward the “gleam” of wealth and power, the other toward the clarity and purity of the moral life; rather, it is a lament over the existential situation. He knows the gleam is a false beacon; it will offer no satisfying solution but will instead kill the soul. Yet he sees the entire society fascinated by it, drawn to it, and lulled morally to sleep by it. To be honest in the eyes of society is to be not only stupid and naive but also uncooperative. ungracious, and insensitive to the needs of others. The man’s understanding of the topsy-turvy value system is never in question, but his ability to maintain his integrity is. For one thing, he begins to wonder if, in fact, the world offers any evidence of “corruption” being “unnatural.” Perhaps his inner sense of moral distinctions is an illusion and the most grotesque aberrations of nature are part of the order of things. He feels himself caught up in the never-ending cycle of birth and decay, during which only one brief instant produces something beautiful. What makes the stress almost unbearable, however, is the pressure he gets from his wife, Oyo. She is a victim of the gleam. His soul is not free; it is morally bound up in another person and must make decisions that affect her and the children. Her judgment of him means that he never has a “home” to which he can return.

The final act of the novel, however, changes both her and him. When she sees Koomson reduced to a whimpering, timid, immobile bundle of blubber, she looks at her husband with pride and respect. Her look and Koomson’s fall reaffirm the man in his sense of moral superiority to the society. His final act of courage in helping Koomson escape is an act of heroism, virtue in...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The man

The man, deliberately given the generality of anonymity, a clerk who works for the nationalized railway system in Ghana. He and his wife, Oyo, and their children live in comparative poverty because of the man’s unflinching determination not to accept bribes but to live on his inadequate salary in a society that finds such behavior incomprehensible. In spite of the temptations that come to him from every side, the constant nagging of his bitter wife, and his own awareness of the hardships his honesty imposes upon his children, he maintains his unalterable moral stance. His determination is in some measure justified when a coup destroys the regime and the corrupt are arrested, but as he begins to rejoice in the vigorous national purge of corruption, he witnesses the same old crookedness immediately reactivated. the man represents, to an exaggerated degree, an idealized portrait of a truly noble man in a degraded society.


Oyo, the man’s wife. She has no sympathy for her husband’s honesty and all but despises him for it. Indifferent to the principles involved, she can only see how well others are managing as a result of their acquiescence to wrongdoing. She has a deep envy of the successful and yearns for the luxuries that other women enjoy. Only at the end does she commend her husband when she sees the painful consequences of corruption that come when the criminals are arrested.


(The entire section is 517 words.)