Themes and Meanings
Abrahams precedes A Wreath for Udomo with this quotation from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855): “Did we think victory great?/ So it is—But now it seems to me, when it cannot be help’d, that defeat is great,/ And that death and dismay are great.” These are the concluding lines of his “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire,” in which the poet urges defeated rebels to continue their work for liberty despite their setbacks and sufferings. He suggests that if the cause is freedom, any downfall in its name is not a shame but something worthy of admiration. Similarly, Udomo and Mhendi must be judged not by their failures but by the self-sacrifice and single-mindedness they apply toward their goals. Fulfilling Mhendi’s observation that “the revolutionary leader ends up being the prisoner of the revolution he has led,” both Udomo and his Pluralian friend lose lovers and allies in the wholesale pursuit of their courses. That increasing isolation is the price of committed leadership is especially indicated by the novel’s organization. In the American edition, the final two parts are named after supporters who desert or are deserted by Udomo. The middle section, where Udomo initially acquires power, bears only his name.
Two years before he wrote this novel, in an essay entitled “The Conflict of Culture in Africa,” Abrahams presciently identified another prominent theme: “the problem of the African’s transition from...
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