In the Shadow of War Characters

Ben Okri


(Short Stories for Students)

See Omovo

Omovo is the main character of “In the Shadow of War.” He is a young Urhobo boy who is about seven or eight years old. In the story, he acts primarily as an observer. He watches as his father gets ready and leaves for work, as well as for a woman in a veil who has been passing his house every day for the past week. He also watches as three soldiers, who have newly arrived in town, talk to the village children and give them money. Intrigued, Omovo invites an exchange with the soldiers by walking past them. After telling them that his name is Heclipse, he turns down the ten kobo that they offer him in exchange for information about the woman in the veil. He lies to the soldiers, telling them that he has not seen her. Omovo then returns to his home to watch for the woman in the veil again. After the woman passes, Omovo dashes off to the forest, where he watches the woman give a basket of goods to some women and children. When the woman then sets off again, Omovo continues to follow her. Ultimately, the soldiers also catch up with the woman and murder her. While this happens, Omovo hides in the shadow of a tree. Horrified by what has transpired, Omovo attempts to run out of the forest, but he falls and blacks out. He awakes to find himself at home, where just below his window, he sees his father drinking palm-wine with the soldiers. Omovo tries to tell his father what happened in the forest, but his father simply asks him to thank the soldiers for bringing him home and takes Omovo off to bed.

Although the narrator at one point mentions that Omovo does not understand the news of war that he hears on the radio, Omovo seems to have an instinctive humanitarian side that prompts him not to disclose information about the woman in the veil. When he tries to tell his father what the soldiers have done, Omovo reveals an allegiance to the woman in the veil rather than to the soldiers, who claim that she is a spy who is helping their enemies. As a young boy, Omovo may not understand the political implications of his loyalty; however, for readers, such fidelity points out how war makes human beings do terrible things to each other. It is inconsequential to Omovo whether the woman in the veil is a spy—or a witch, for that matter. For him, her murder is wrong because it is a crime against another human being. Having seen the woman give her basket of goods to starving children and obviously needy women, Omovo likely feels even more strongly that the soldiers’ actions are wrong. Omovo’s youthful perspective confirms Okri’s belief that, in war, morality and ethical behavior are not the norm.


(The entire section is 1097 words.)