Unlike Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) and Arrow of God (1964), which infuse the elements of the tragic into the themes of the impact of colonialism on traditional African cultures, Elechi Amadi’s lesser-known The Concubine focuses on the private, the social, and the supernatural. Notably lacking the fanfare of color, ritual, rhetoric, and ceremony characteristic of many West African novels of the 1960’s, Amadi’s novel concerns the notion of cosmic totality, the precarious nature of man’s relationship to the supernatural—a relationship in which unseen forces manipulate human life and control human thought and action in the painful and tragic human drama. From its opening chapters to the end, the novel teems with omens, its pages pervaded by fatalism. Divine authority predominates; the presence of the gods is felt long before the story of Ihuoma’s status begins to unfold. Its plot and structure are controlled by supernatural forces. The remarkably simple plot describes a complex situation in which the fortunes and misfortunes of four key characters are set against a background of communal peace and harmony, an idyllic setting governed by a traditional propriety. Good behavior is applauded, excessive and fanatical feelings are frowned upon, and personal feelings are controlled almost to a fault. Except for Madume, the quarrelsome and greedy land grabber, the generous villagers of Omokachi live peacefully with one another. The good-natured humor, the constant bantering, and the profuse singing and dancing that characterize this seemingly perfect community is disrupted by implacable gods. In their hands it appears humans are like puppets, goaded by fate into the gods’ wily snares.
The tragedy of The Concubine is centered on the dual character of Ihuoma, the almost flawless embodiment of Omokachi’s ideal of propriety, a goddess-human who, unbeknown to her and the villagers, is fated to be the wife of the Sea-King even before birth. Reincarnated into the Omokachi community, Ihuoma becomes a death-snare for men, the bait to lure those with amorous intentions to a deadly rivalry with the Sea-King....
(The entire section is 884 words.)