A Wreath for Udomo

by Peter Abrahams

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Last Updated on October 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332

By creating a fictional landscape of invented countries on the actual continent of Africa, Peter Abrahams explores the challenges that new nations faced in reality as the independence movement swept Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. The nation he calls Panafrica is the primary site of struggles for power in the early decades of its independence, but Abrahams also considers that country’s relations with its neighbor, Pluralia. By focusing on a single ruler, Michael Udomo, Abrahams analyzes the dilemmas experienced by African intellectuals and politicians who had been raised within European colonial systems. His one-sided concentration on the male characters, however, which relegates women characters to supporting roles, is problematic.

Abrahams seems pessimistic about the political prospects of African self-rule, an attitude that often makes the novel a bitter pill to swallow and works against his successful realization of a creative work of fiction. The strengths and weaknesses of Abraham’s approach are contained within the singular focus on the new class of rulers. Udomo has many admirable characteristics, including a genuine desire for social improvement and economic development of the nation’s people. As a revolutionary leader, however, he is susceptible to the corruption than runs rampant through a country which lacks a tradition of democratic self-government. Abrahams presents an alternative—and equally unfeasible—approach to leadership: Tom Lanwood. This intellectual has been wholly immersed in an academic approach to political theory and, after decades in England, is no longer capable of understanding the changes Africa is undergoing.

The author tends to emphasize a general situation in which power corrupts the person who holds it, which leads him to make Michael Udomo a rather flat, stereotypical representative of that type rather than a fully formed individual. Similarly, the negative characteristics that the author emphasizes in Udomo’s rival, Davis Mhendi, stand for a type: the fervent, inflexible revolutionary. Udomo becomes such an ardent advocate of his political perspective that he justifies killing Mhendi as a way to achieve his ends.

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