The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

by Ayi Kwei Armah

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Who is the antagonist in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born?

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The antagonist in Ayi Kwi Armah's novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is actually the environment and the circumstances of poverty and corruption that the man faces every day.

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The antagonist of a literary work is someone or something that stands in opposition to the protagonist (or main character). In The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah, the protagonist is simply called “the man.” He is never named, which suggests that he is symbolic of all people like him who struggle to survive in their environment and circumstances. The antagonist in this novel, then, is not a single person but rather the environment and circumstances in which the man lives. Let's see how this works.

The man rides the bus to work on the morning the story opens, and the conductor gets angry with the man for staring at him. The man isn't staring at the conductor at all; in fact, he has fallen asleep. But this little incident already begins to reveal the nature of the man's life. At his job at the railway station, the man is confronted by a timber dealer who wants to bribe him to purchase timber. The man turns him down, but here we see society's corruption in action.

The man is not even free from difficulty when he gets home. His wife, Oyo, is angry at him for not taking the bride, and she is upset that they don't have a wealthy lifestyle like their friends the Koomsons who are coming for dinner that night. The man goes to the Teacher's house to escape the pressure from his wife, but he only encounters more opposition, for the Teacher, too, thinks he should have taken the bribe, and he tells the man stories about how rotten Ghana has become.

As the story continues, the man is insulted by his mother-in-law, fails to be able to afford his wife's request of an expensive liquor, and feels wholly inadequate with Koomson. He just cannot catch a break no matter what he does. Even his mother-in-law's boat scheme does not work. The man is surrounded by troubles on all sides.

Then the country's regime is overthrown, and the man must help Koomson escape. They are successful, and the man realizes that perhaps his life is not so bad after all. Even though he must face the continual antagonist of his circumstances, he can still have hope.

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