The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born Characters
The main characters in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born are the man, Oyo, Koomson, and Teacher.
- The man is the novel’s protagonist, a modest worker at a railway office whose moral compass is at odds with postcolonial Ghana’s corrupt atmosphere.
- Oyo is the man’s wife. Her desire to improve her family’s situation leads her to challenge her husband.
- Koomson is the man’s old friend. He has risen to wealth through his role in the current regime.
- Teacher is the man’s friend and confidant. His experiences have given him an especially keen but despairing view of Ghana.
Last Updated on June 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1045
The unnamed protagonist, typically referred to as “the man” by Armah, leads a mostly uneventful life as a worker at a railway station and family man in postcolonial Ghana. The narrative perspective, while told in the voice of a third-person outsider, focuses on the man and has access to his inner thoughts. For example, he often ponders the sorry state of his country and the omnipresent decay that surrounds him and symbolizes the hopelessness of Ghanian life. The man is set apart from others in his society by his principles; the man refuses to give into the corruption that surrounds him. He is offered a bribe early in the novel by a timber merchant, and he turns it down. The man’s reaction is met with laughter and disbelief from the merchant and with disdain and exasperation from the man’s wife, Oyo. His mother-in-law questions his ability to support his family, repeatedly asking whether the children are hungry and why they don’t have proper shoes.
Over the course of the novel, the man begins to question his own moral compass, as he feels tempted by the glamour of his friend Koomson’s lifestyle. However, he never personally engages in corruption. He comes to understand the consequences of Koomson’s actions when a coup topples the Nkrumah regime, forcing Party men like Koomson to flee. He assists Koomson in his escape from Ghana, but the man himself emerges from the incident with a sense of both freedom and constraint: although he has avoided Koomson’s unfortunate fate, he still must return to his own tedious, tenuous existence.
Oyo is the man’s wife, and she is mostly characterized in opposition to him. When the man returns home one evening after inviting Koomson and Estella to dinner, the reader learns that Oyo covets a life like Estella’s—one defined by access to luxuries, such as a personal driver. Oyo ridicules her husband when she learns he refused the lumber merchant’s bribe.
It is clear that Oyo desires the respect of those around her and wants to be viewed as belonging to a higher class than she actually does. In the taxi on the way to the Koomson residence, Oyo feels important when she mentions the name of the neighborhood, a wealthy area, to the driver. She makes a point to bring up relatives who have travelled or who bear other status markers that could be favorably connected with Oyo herself. When Koomson and Estella come to the man and Oyo’s home for dinner, Oyo wants to serve the finest European liquor and is dismayed when her husband can find only local beer. She is keenly aware of the distance between Estella’s position and her own and easily adapts her speech and mannerisms to convey an attitude of deference towards those of higher status. Near the end of the novel, however, Oyo undergoes a significant change when Koomson falls from power and comes to their house, weak and dependent. She then admits to the man that she is grateful that he did not become like Koomson.
Koomson is a friend from the man’s youth who has more recently become a Party man under the regime of Nkrumah. Koomson, along with his wife, Estella, represents the powerful but corrupt upper class of Ghanian society. The man tells Teacher at one point that “the blinding gleam of beautiful new houses and the shine of powerful new Mercedes” are embodied “in the person of Koomson.” The man fails to understand how Koomson could become so prosperous while he himself scrapes by, given that they were classmates in school. However, he also knows that Koomson’s power has been gained through corrupt means and not through any inherent entitlement or meaningful work. Koomson also becomes symbolic of the Western influence that overtakes and poisons those who would lead Ghana. Teacher notes that there is “no difference at all between the white men and their apes . . . our Party men.” This critique of these supposed leaders, who only seem able to imitate the former colonizer’s behaviors, runs throughout the novel.
Koomson is later humbled when his leader is deposed and he, a loyalist, is forced into hiding. He takes refuge in the man’s house, utterly pathetic and dependent on his former classmate for help. The man helps him escape the country, but Koomson comes to represent for the man the very specific ways that changes in power structure ruin individual lives, even when new regimes may not alter the country as whole.
Teacher is a seemingly liberated man whom the protagonist visits and from whom he seeks advice. After refusing the bribe, to the chagrin of his family, the man wanders in the night and ends up at Teacher’s home. The two then have an extended conversation about Ghanian independence, corruption, and the loss of hope in their nation. To the man, Teacher is free of obligations to others, which seems appealing since he himself feels so restricted by the desires of his own loved ones; however, Teacher reveals that he still feels the pull of his own loved ones, even though he is apart from them.
Teacher tells the man a story about his past, explaining that he was once very hopeful for the future of Ghana. In that time, he was a follower of a woman named Maanan who introduced him and his friends to a drug called wee, which they used to access a wider perspective of the world around them. It became difficult, though, to reconcile that vision with the brutal reality of independent Ghana. While Teacher admits to the man that he understands how Oyo disapproves of his piety, he also calls the man “brave” for sticking to his principles.
Estella is Koomson’s wife, and she, like Koomson, embodies the Ghana's upper class. She is used to the luxuries her privileged status affords her, and she displays a distaste for the man and Oyo’s offerings when she is a guest in their home. Perhaps her main role in the novel is to serve as a foil for Oyo. Indeed, Estella lives the glamorous, comfortable existence Oyo explicitly wishes she could have.
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