27 February 2009

Response to A Grain of Wheat

The novel, A Grain of Wheat, is thought-provoking. Simultaneously, it is a story of love, political action, race relations, and human struggle. In essence, it is complicated, intricate, and complex. I found the novel to be reflective, as well as, insightful. I love the way the novel is not told in a chronological sense. The use of flashbacks, foreshadowing, etc. really allows the reader to become submerged into the plot of the novel, but these statements are general. James Ngugi is thought provokingly genuine and informed; he delivers more than a story, more than an idea. A Grain of Wheat is a tribute to a people, a culture, and a history.


The characters presented in this novel are real. We, the reader, know them intimately. We know and experience what they experience. The characters are multi-dimensional. They have flaws and virtues alike. The characters are human beings like each and every reader. In essence, they are living characters—feeling, sensing, and knowing.

Specifically, the characters of Mugo, Gikonyo, and Mumbi were the most appealing to me. I believe that these characters offer the most to the reader. Through them, the reader senses that dynamics of the world within the pages of the novel. Mugo is a strong, older man. At the beginning of the novel, he is described as a man without a wife or family. Yet, he is compelling. He is aware of his surroundings, a hard-worker, and an unlikely hero. The reader grows to love his humility and self-doubt. These flaws are familiar to reader; they, themselves, have felt the same inadequacies and the same self consciousness.

Through Mugo, we are given the early history of Thabai, as well as the present day circumstances. For instance, his interaction with Warui informs the audience. Warui had given Mugo land after his own property “had been confiscated by the government” (5). Then “Githua, who was hobbling towards him on crutches…stood to attention, lifted his torn hat, and cried out: ‘In the name of blackman’s freedom, I salute you’” (5). From the combination of these lines, the reader instantly realizes by page five of the novel that there has been a war dealing with black men, personal property, and the government. For this reason, I believe Ngugi successfully created a people with a defined heritage and a combined socio-economic and political history.

Gikonyo and Mumbi are two separate characters, but they, I believe, must be reconciled as one. They are connected in experience, both culturally, politically, and historically. Gikonya exiled as a mere baby by his father is an honorable man. Gikonya has decidedly respected and supported, what his father rejected and aborted, his mother. He is a master carpenter, market entrepreneur, and political activist. He is multi-faceted and thoughtful.

The audience becomes most aware of the world, in A Grain of Wheat, through him. He is the cultural sounding-board for the reader. We are instantly made aware of his political prowess in the beginning pages of the novel, and this continues through the remainder of the novel. He is the organizer of the Uhuru; he asks Mugo to speak. We follow his life from his childhood, his vocations, and his relationship with his wife.

The audience experience his love for Mumbi, and we understand the decisions he has made because of her. We are able to see the human struggle mostly through the life of Gikonyo. Mumbi provides the intimate character of Gikonyo. She alone has the power to cause him pain. I believe Gikonyo and Mumbi are the heart of the story.

In essence, Ngugi’s development of characters in A Grain of Wheat was masterful. He created a convoluted story of the human experience as it relates to oppression, with an emphasis on the political history of Kenya during pre-colonization to post colonization.

24 February 2009

Response to The Dilemma of a Ghost

The play titled The Dilemma of a Ghost is compelling. I believe the play specifically addresses an important issue that is still relevant today -- cultural miscommunication and misrepresentation. Throughout the cover image, stage directions, prelude, and the individual acts, Ama Ata Aidoo is meticulous and thought-provoking.

The cover of the Longman African Writers edition is intriguing. It caught my attention, and I spent some time exploring the details of the scene. It entails a yellow beach, an azure sea, fresh fish, and African clothing intertwined with regular (American) clothing. One African garment seems to possess an all-seeing eye. Eulalie Rush-Yawson even mentions a few of these very details as she views a travel brochure. In retrospect, after reading the play, these images are poignant and fitting.

Furthermore, after reading the character list, the reader is able to see a potential conflict. Specifically, the African versus the African-American experience is quite different. Also, the number of women listed in the character list is interesting. In essence, there are many women who have the potential to greatly influence the main character, Ato Yawson.

Moreover, Aidoo is Ibsen-like in his stage directions. The directions are very detailed and methodical. I felt as if they are used to foreshadow the plight of the protagonist. The main character is trapped, but there appears to be hope in the horizon. To further explain, on the right, the old building represents the old customs. On the left, the protagonist is enclosed by new customs. The enclosure, in the center of the building, represents the struggle within Ato.

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I believe the building is used to symbolize a life struggle, a life choice. If he chooses to follow the narrow passageway, the old ways offers spaciousness in an enclosed space. The door on the left, in the new building, leads to new rooms, new ideas. However, in the background, there is a path that leads to endless possibilities – the river (salvation, sanctification), the farm (everlasting life), and the market (new ideas, new relationships, and new commerce).

Similarly, to explicate the prelude, the reader senses the “Bird of the Wayside” as a listener, an observer, or a bard. This is important. Similar to Shakespeare’s usage of the chorus in his plays, Aidoo’s “Bird of the Wayside” is aware of the past, present, and the future. He is ever-present, knowledgeable. He is the informer. Possibly, he is represented by the all-seeing eye that is illustrated on the cover of the book. Also, in the prelude, the narrator sets up a conflict with the One Scholar. Finally, the “Bird of the Wayside” states, “I can furnish you with the reasons why / This and that and other things / Happened… / Look around you, / For the mouth must not tell everything. / Sometimes the eye can see / And the ear should hear” (11-13, 16-19). The narrator is calling the audience to action. The reader must take apart in the play.

Finally, as the Acts begin, the audience immediately recognizes the cultural disconnect between the protagonist, Ato, and his wife, Eulalie. Eulalie makes ignorant statements about African women and culture. Eulalie even states that all palm trees are the same, and she asserts that knowing the difference does not really matter. Similarly, Ato’s female relatives make ignorant statements about African Americans. The cultural miscommunication and misrepresentation is highlighted. Ato is the mediator, the educator. In essence, he is the bridge between the two spectrums of experience, but he fails at his tasks. Each Act can be explicated in a similar manner.