Motif of Vision
Ben Okri utilizes vision as a recurring motif in “In the Shadow of War,” contrasting images of light, vision, and visibility with images of darkness (or shadow), blindness, and invisibility. Light, vision, and visibility function as metaphors for truth, knowledge, and understanding, while darkness, invisibility, and blindness function as metaphors for lack of knowledge, comprehension, or a clear perception of the truth.
Okri in “In the Shadow of War” represents the experience of war from the limited and uncomprehending perspective of a young child. The narrative is thus restricted to the sights, sounds, and smells that the boy perceives. In representing the boy’s limited understanding of what he sees in the wartorn world around him, Okri refrains from explaining to the reader the broader meaning or context of Omovo’s observations and perceptions. As a child, Omovo lives “in the shadow of war.” His lack of understanding of the war is indicated by the narrator’s statement that he “listened without comprehension to the day’s casualties” announced on the radio. Omovo’s understanding of the war is limited to his perceptions as a child.
“In the Shadow of War” opens with Omovo’s perspective as he gazes from the window balcony of his home, looking down onto the street. This thematically places Omovo in the position of an observer, who watches the world around him, as figures “appear” and “disappear” from his sight. For example, as the story opens, Omovo is waiting for the woman in the black veil to “appear” on his street, recalling that every day she has walked past his window then “disappeared” into the forest.
The title “In the Shadow of War” clues the reader into the story’s recurring motif of shadows, light, and darkness. This motif is emphasized when the radio announcer states that an eclipse of the moon will occur that night. An eclipse of the moon, or lunar eclipse, occurs when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, and the shadow of the Earth blocks the sunlight from reaching the moon. This phenomenon causes the moon to go dark, from the perspective of a person looking up at the night sky from Earth. Hearing the announcement of the eclipse, Omovo’s father comments, “As if an eclipse will stop this war.” When Omovo asks his father what an eclipse is, his father responds enigmatically, “That’s when the world goes dark and strange things happen.” This statement could also describe the effect war has on a society. Metaphorically, one might say that war eclipses human understanding and human experience by casting a shadow over an entire society.
The motif of the shadow occurs again in reference to the black veil worn by the mysterious woman. The narrator explains the children’s superstitious belief that the woman in the black veil has no shadow. While to the children this suggests something supernatural and perhaps evil, it symbolically functions in the story to resonate with the motif of shadows and light. Omovo’s concern with watching and vision is again indicated when he follows the woman in...
(The entire section is 1271 words.)