Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Like most African novels of the 1960’s, this one attacks both the colonialism that controlled the Sub-Sahara for a hundred years and the black leadership that replaced the white administrations after Independence. The new governments seemed little different from the old, and the European influence had not departed. The promise of self-rule soon gave way to disappointment. Armah’s own version of the new situation reflects the Ghanaian setting but more particularly his personal reaction, colored by his experiences in America. The racial aspect of the problem is highlighted, even in this first novel, but becomes more intense and emotional in succeeding novels: Fragments (1969), Why Are We So Blest? (1972), and Two Thousand Seasons (1973). Armah insists that the answer to Africa’s problems must come from blacks, not whites. In the language of the novels, in any case, the evils of Western civilization are inseparable from whiteness.

Each of Armah’s novels is a progression toward a solution. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born offers only an occasional vision of hope sparked by something within the individual. By the time of Two Thousand Seasons, Armah had achieved a historical perspective, tracing the fall of Africa from the tenth century to the recent past. The Healers (1978), his fifth novel, through a scenario similar to that in Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy (1973), posits a community of freedom fighters hidden away in the forests. For both Soyinka and Armah, the values underlying the community are traditionally African, but they exist in a mythical, romantic realm; they are part of a secular vision (as Soyinka would call it) that holds promise but has not yet made a lasting impact on the fallen African society.