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ANALYSIS: Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born
About The Author
Ayi Kwei Armah was born in 1939 to Fante-speaking parents in the port city of Takoradi, Ghana. He left Ghana in 1959 to attend the Groton School in Groton, MA. Afterwards, he attended Harvard. Much of his work deals with the problems of post-colonial Ghana.
The Beautyful Ones Are not Yet Born (1968), describes the life of an unnamed rail worker who is pressured by his family and fellow workers to accept bribes and involve himself in corrupt activities in order to provide his family with material goods. The other workers who accept bribes are able to live a prosperous life, while he and his family live from pay check to pay check as a result of his honesty. At times he perceives himself as a moral failure for not providing his family with the money which would allow them to have the beautiful things that they seek. His honesty also makes him a social misfit, and he is a man who is truly alone. The book is filled with images of birth, decay and death, most notably in the form of a manchild through Aboliga the frog p.63 who goes through the entire life cycle in seven years. This manchild is a metaphor for post-independence Ghana.
Full summary of the novel
The novel starts with the man in the decrepit old bus on the way to his place of work at railway station. At the end of the bus journey, all passengers climbed onto the road sleepy and tired. For dirtying the bus with saliva, at the very back of the seat, the bus conductor insults the man, “Your bloody fucking sonofabitch! Article of no Commercial Value! You thing the bus belongs to your grand father?” Since the man was very asleep, he wakes up and looks at his accuser and understands nothing. The conductor continues throwing accusation to him, Are you a child? You vomit your smelling spit all over the place. Why? You don’t have a bedroom?”p.6.
The man looks down on his glistering offence shame dwarfs him. He takes the old ticket from the pocket and wipes the moisture off, then conductor laughs at him a crackling laugh and scorns the man, “So country man, you don’t have a handkerchief two” “ get out!”… “ Or were you waiting to shit in the bus? ”
Without saying a word, the man moves slowly past the front of the bus as he walks by the driver, the driver coughs a short, a violent which ended with a horse growl as he cleaned his stuffed throat p.7.
On the way to his office the man walks nearby decipherable box printed “K.C.C. RECEPTACLE FOR DISPOSAL OF WASTE. KEEP YOUR COUNTRY CLEAN BY KEEPING YOUR CITY CLEAN”. We are told that a lot of money was used to install this box but words are no longer decipherable because of the heap of rubbish poured nearby. As the man reaches at the place he takes debris of old tickets from the pocket and throws them to the same heap. As he continues walking asleep, he is nearly knocked by the taxi the situation that leads the driver to pour scorns at him, “uncircumcised baboon…your mother’s rotten cunt…moron of frog. If your time has come, search for some one else to take your worthless life”p.9.
Man arrives at his office
After fed up with scorns, man arrives at the station where he finds a night clerk fallen asleep. When he awakens he informs the man all the problems occurred over the night among others; the death of control telephone at Kajokrom and other lines. p 14-16. The night clerk has not also completed some of his responsibility as logging the date therefore, the man completes in stead of. While man still in his office comes a messenger who won a 100 cedi in lottery but he is not sure of getting the money because of the bureaucracy and corruption system in their government, “I know people who won more than five hundred cedis last year they still haven’t got their money…I hope some officials at the lottery place will take some of my hundred cedis as a bribe and allow me to have the rest”, says the massager, p.19.
Again enter Amakwa, the timber man in the very same office to bribe man because his timbers are rotting in the forest of lack transporting space in the train, but the man replies him negatively as, “I am sorry” but I have nothing to do with allocations” I have my job: the booking clerk has his job. I don’t interfere with him”p.29.It means that the man is not responsible with the allocations of luggage train rather with passengers. Amakwa takes two notes to bribe the man, “ Take that one for yourself and give the other one to your friend” (Pg 30).but the man disclaims the offer.
A man returns home
When work ours are finished, man leaves for home. On the way to home he meets with Koomson and his wife Estella as they are going to nightclubs. He exchanges gossips with them and promises to visit man on Sunday. At the bus stand there are merchandise women selling slices of bread. One woman asks Koomson to buy more bread for his girl friend but Koomson refuses by saying that he does not have girls. This surprises the woman as she says. “Have you ever seen a big man without girls…”p 37.
Soon the bus arrives and the waiting people slide towards it, but the conductor walks away down the road. In a few moments the waiters can hear the sound of his urine hitting the clean – your – city can. After urinating the conductor goes to bread sellers and returns while eating a shiny loaf of bread. With a full mouth the conductor shouts abuses at those who have already climbed inside the bus “Get down! Get down! Have you paid and you are sitting inside?” p39.
The man gets in the bus choosing a seat by a window. On the way via different streets there is a hot smell of caked shit, rubbish, crushed tomatoes and rotten vegetables. The smell makes people spit so much in the bus. Across the aisle on the seat opposite the man, there is an old man sleeping and his mouth is open to the air rushing in the night with many particles.p40.
The journey is over and the man gets down, he arrives at home and explains to her wife his meeting with Koomson,“ I shook hands with his wife, and I can smell her still. Her hand was wet with the stuff perfume”. Oyo is not pleased at all with this message from her husband as she replies, “ Mmmm, life has treated her well” p.42. Mockingly man tells her wife “These were the socialists of Africa fat, perfumed, soft with the ancestral, softeners of chiefs who had sold their people and able celestially happy with fruits of the trade” p.131. He also tells the visit by Koomson on Sunday
The man also tells her about how he has declined the offer from Amakwa. But rather than being highly praised, his wife sarcastically refers to him as “Chichi dodo”, a bird that hates excrement but feeds on maggot p. 45.To escape further insults, the man fixes on visiting the Teacher where he carries conversations with a teacher in chapters 5,6 and 7,the conversations which provide historical insights into the disappointment with independence.
The man also expresses how Oyo and her mother are no longer listening to him rather his Excellency Joseph Koomson, minister Plenipotentiary, member of the presidential commission, Hero of socialist labour p 56.He also explains how Koomson has fooled them claiming that he would buy them a fishing boat. So they are using boat to despise and hit man on the head complains man.p.57.
He also explains how Oyo tries to use philosophical ideas to persuade a man to take corruption so that their children would look like Koomson’s children as,“Life was like a lot of roads, long roads, short roads, wide and narrows, steep and level, all sorts of roads”… “This was the point at which she told me that those who wanted to get far had to learn to drive fast, Koomson had learnt to drive so faster”. p. 58.
They are also talking of Koffi Billy who once worked in Transportation Company. Koffi Billy was cut his right leg away beneath the knee and he was told by his boss that he deserved it because he had been playing and he was dismissed from the job without any compensation. Because of frustration Koffi Billy engages with sister Maanan to smoke WEE ‘Marijuana ‘. p.69
Frustrations within Ghanaian society, has led to the majority resorting in commenting things which are so cumbersome, as the author writes that it was not only Koffi Billy who faces with frustrations, but the Teacher also has alienated himself from his home because he knows that he cannot take care of his family. He decides to live alone, listening to music and reading p. 94, thus why when man arrived at that night he found teacher studying in his room while naked.
Armah writes that there were men dying from the loss of hope and others were finding colourful ways to enjoy power they did not have...“These men who were to lead us out of our despair, they came like man already grown fat and cynical with the eating of centuries of power they had never struggled for, old before they had even been born into power, and ready only for the grave”p.81.
They also remember when they fought for independence by referring to one of the speech which spells out “We do not serve ourselves if we remain like insects, fascinated by the white people’s power!”’… “Alone, I can nothing. I have nothing. We have power. But we will never see it work. Unless we choose to come together to make it work. Let us come together”p. 87.However after attainment of independence the party men lived luxurious life, fucked women, and changed them like clothes, asking only for blouses and perfumes from diplomatic bags and wigs of human hair. Armah writes, “ young juicy vaginas waiting for him, some hired place paid by the government ”p. 90.
Also the author flashes back to the journey that man once had to go to cape coast. On the way come three different policemen, to stopping their little bus and ask the driver for Kola (corrupt) because he does not possess a license (pg 95). On the same page, the author talks about Zacharias Lagos a Nigerian working for a sawmill, and lives like a rich despite his small salary a month. Every evening a company truck brings at his home great lengths of healthy wood, which he sells all of it. When he was caught people called him a good, generous man, and cursed the jealous man who had reported his dealings (pg 95).
In p.96 we read this person called Abednego Yamoah who uses to sell government petrol for himself, but there is always some one else, a cleaner, to be jailed and never Abednego. The whole world says he is a good man, and the people around the society ask themselves why shouldn’t they be like him.
Armah captures his doubt through the Teacher, a character who has a clear awareness of the origin and nature of the nation’s crises as he says, “Life has not changed. Only some people have been growing, becoming different, that is all. After a youth spent fighting the white man, why should not the president discover, as he grows older that his real desire has been to like the white governor himself, to live above all blackness in the big old slave castle?”p.92.Man comes from teacher’s home
When the man arrives home from his friend teacher he finds his wife asleep. He also joins the bed with his wife touching her through different parts of her body. We are told that genital parts of Oyo are so harder, with scars on the stomach. p.98 “He put out his hand and touched the body in between the things just below the genitals,” writes the author.
It is in the morning of the next day
The man goes to take bath in a very dirty and smelly bathroom, as the author writes that the door of the bathroom is rotten at the button and the smell of dead wood filled his nostrils and caressed the cavity of his mouth (p.101). The hole leading the water out is again partly blocked with everybody’s sponge strands, ‘mabaki ya spoji za kuogea’ .The water underneath goes out very slowly. After the bath, man goes back to his room, takes a cup of tea. After tea he collects bus fare and the handkerchief off to the bus stationary.Man arrives to the office
Man arrives at the office where he meets a messy of some traveller’s vomit. At the very office man rejects a greeting he was given simply because a person has addressed him as a sir. He goes directly to his office. While in the office, man is called by the nature (Toilet). Up stair toilets are closed because only the senior service men have keys. He takes some old stiff paper and goes directly to the public toilet down stairs. (pg 105).in the toilet he reads the writings on the wall,“…VAGINA SWEET,MONEY SWEET PASS ALL,WHO BORN FOOL SOCIALISM CHOP MAKE CHOP CONTREY BROKEYOU BROKEN NOT SO?PRAY FOR DETENTION JAIL MAN CHOP FREE.” Pg 106.
When man comes back he finds Amakwa, the timber man has already bribed the booking clerk and when the timber man sees man he scorns him, “You, you are a very wicked man. You will never prosper ”. p. 107.As usually man replies nothing.
In very late hours, arrives one of the official supervisors who was a bursar at one of the Ghana national Secondary Schools before coming to the Railway Administration. When he was at Secondary school he caused student to be fixed from school by the minister for education after writing the letter to probe the money embezzled by him as bursar. (p. 109). So instead of chasing him, he was transferred to another department in the samegovernment.Man’s home, a place of a silent one
What next, the author takes us to man’s home after he has completed his shift from work. Man finds his family in a great preparation for a visit by Koomson. Man is also joining the preparation as he starts to arrange his old cushions and chairs while Oyo prepares food. Oyo in his preparation she needs drinks of high quality though financially they are very poor.
While in her kitchen Oyo feeds her children before he assigns her husband to take them to their grand mother. Then after the husband take them to their grandmother. She also tells her husband to inform the old woman to come to talk to the minister (Koomson). On the way to the old woman something cut a little boy because he was in bare feet. As they arrive the old woman says to a crying child,“My poor husband! You have no shoes to wear, so your poor little feet get torn to pieces. Ei, my husband, you have no body to buy you shoes, so your little toes will all be destroyed. You must know you have nobody, you are an orphan, a complete orphan”p.123. As usually man replies nothing despite of the rude phrases.
Then man comes back home from his mother-in-law to complete his arrangements and ready to receive the minister. He finds his wife making her hair so that she looks beautiful woman as Estella, “Its only bush women who wear their hair natural” Oyo tells her husband. She continues burning while keeping on saying “If I had a wig, there would be no trouble.” replies man, “If you had a wig. ‘I’d be in jail ” (pg 128).Koomson arrives at Man’ home
Koomson arrives with his car, accompanied with Estella his wife. Koomson himself looks obviously larger than the chair he is occupying, writes the author. Then man opens the beer and Koomson says “Cheers!”. But the high voice of his wife cut the air to pieces as she says, “This local beer, does not agree with my constitutions ”. She continues. “ Really, the only good drinks are European drinks. These make you ill… you should have bought European drinks and not have wasted your money like this”. p 132. But she soon joins the drinks.
As we all know drunks are fluently go for a short call. Koomson therefore asks to be shown a toilet some thing makes man to worry as he says, “We don’t have a toilet here. We have a place all right, only it isn’t anything-high class. It isn’t a toilet, you see. Just a latrine ” p.134.
They then start talking of the issue of a boat as the main topic brought Koomson to his schoolmate. When the old woman asks Koomson the issue of fishing boat he says that socialism is doing bad since it prohibits people to have such things. In case of money Koomson says, “The money is not the difficult thing, after all, the Commercial Bank is ours, and we can do anything ” (pg 136). But we are told that the boat was bought using Oyo and her mother’s names whereby they peel off ‘waliambulia’ fishes to eat, though in page 153 the author writes that the man doesn’t like the fish, “please don’t cook more fish to me”.Man and Oyo are at Koomson home
Man and his wife have gone to Koomson’home for the issue of signing a boat project. At home a young girl in blue jeans and white T-shirt speaking English like white child welcomes them. The door is opened by servant girl (house girl) of 16 years. They get seated on sofas and asked to say what kind of drinks they would prefer.p.147.
The end of the novel and the escape of Koomson
Along with Koomson he passes through the latrine but cleanses himself in the seawater. Who is this man who wants to teach us how to live in a corrupt world? Is he the beautiful one?
Koomson escapes from the country with the active collaboration of the man. The humiliating process of his escape through the lavatory and the harbour underscores the vanity of irresponsible power.
The novel ends with the man returning home from the harbour. The camp has not really changed anything fundamentally in the life of the nation. Soldiers and police still extort Kola – euphemism for bribe – from travellers. The man is going back to his home “ the land of the silent ones” and his dull working environment.
PART TWO: Analysis Of The Novel
Corruption and bribery
The theme of corruption runs amongst the leadership and ordinary people alike. Successive governments come in with promises which end up as an opportunity for the leaders and their groups to enrich themselves. Corruption in Ghana and in all African countries at large are virtually acceptable as a legal means of enrichment, and it is being caused by bureaucracy, poorly paid workers and modernization. For example Amakwa approaches the man to get his timber transported from the bush for a reward. This is due to bureaucracy that exists in most of African countries. It has reached a time that if you don’t have ‘kitu kidogo’ you can never attain any services. Though man refuses the offer comes his fellow worker, accepts the bribe and man who refuses resorting in scorns from Amakwa, “You, you are a very wicked man. You will never prosper…”Pg 107
Modernization causes corruption in most of African countries to such an extent that if at all you refuse to take the bribe, people seem to despise you. For example when man tells his wife how he declines the offer s his wife rather than highly praises him she sarcastically refers to him as a “ Chichidodo”, a bird that hates excrement but feeds on maggot. But another man in the same office takes it.
The state apparatus that is supposed to ensure that corruption is not practised in the society is also in the forefront of the practice. There is an incidence for example when a policeman receives bribe from the bus driver in public.
There is also a messenger, who won the money in the lottery but, he is sure that without giving bribes to some officials he will not get the money. The messenger has an experience of this savagery (ushenzi) as he says, “I know people who won more than five hundred cedis last year they still haven’t got their money…I hope some officials at the lottery place will take some of my hundred cedis as a bribe and allow me to have the rest’’
It seems that corruption amongst public officials has become an accepted practice. The life of
is represented in the Atlantic Caprice, a luxury hotel which even the man is attracted to; he feels set apart from society and even from his family. His closest friend is the Teacher who freed himself and lives away alone. In his view, the country’s leaders feel a twisted form of love for the white men they have replaced and as an example the corrupt
Koomson, who takes every opportunity to advance his interest.
Money and corruption
The issue of money arises constantly throughout the book. In the first chapter, the Ghanaian currency, the Cedi, is introduced. The conductor of the minibus collects the fare from each of the riders, making sure that he gets the big amount of money and no less. One rider gives a cedi note which is much more than is necessary, but does not ask for change. The conductor reflects as he waits nervously at the front of the minibus savoring the touch of the bill. He reflects that the economy must be doing well so late in the month since one rider still has a cedi bill remaining for his fare. The conductor hopes that the rider will not ask for change, for he would profit more if he does not have to give any change. In a time when currency is scarce, people would do just about anything to obtain some.
In the second chapter, a messenger of the man wins something in the lottery. One hundred cedis is not a large sum, but a sum that he says so many people would jump on him to help him eat it. The messenger's worry is that he wouldn't receive his money. He says that he knew several people who had won 500 cedis in the lottery the previous year who had yet to see any of their winnings. The main character suggests that he go to the police for help. The messenger replies that it would cost more money to go to the police, so he would just wait until something happens.
Embezzlement of government fund
Armah reveals to us the social life of Ghanaians whereby government leaders like Koomson, Zacharias Lagos, and Abednego Yamoah undergo luxurious life through embezzlement of government fund.For example Koomson and his wife Estella through embezzlement of government funds are able to buy expensive things such as cars, furniture like Sofa and their daughter princes is also dressed expensively and behaves like the British.
Moreover Koomson physique shows how much he embezzles the government fund. “… Koomson himself looked obviously larger than the chair he was occupying”pg 130 – 1. He is carved in the image of neo-colonial leaders who are fattened by the fruits of betrayal of their own people. As the man ironically says of him and his likes, “These were the socialists of Africa, fat, perfumed, soft with the ancestral softness of chiefs who had sold their people and are celestially happy with the fruits of the trade,” (pg 131).
Sending their children to kindergarten in Europe is something usual to them. p. 92.It is equally true that depending on monthly pay check it is difficult to live luxurious life, taking children to abroad for studying without swindling of government fund. What writes Armah exist in most of African countries, Tanzania being among. Leaders are living luxurious and expensive life than even colonialism as once said by Prof.Chachage from UDSM.
Koomson assures Oyo and her mother that the money to buy a private business boat is not a big issue as he says, “The money is not the difficult thing. After all, the Commercial Bank is ours and we can do anything.” Pg 136.If this is not embezzlement might be what? African leaders have reached to the point of doing what they feel only for their own advantages. Taking this example from a weekly newspaper “Raia Mwema Disemba 5, 2007”writes, “ Mzimu wa Buzwagi wamvaa Mramba; Alitoa msamaha wa kodi ya mafuta ‘milele’” meaning that the ghost of Mramba gave oil tariff excuse for ever (author translation). One would ask a lot of questions, Is this his country? Were another leaders asleep when this agreement was made? Was the county in leave? This is how our African countries have been monopolised by few people put in offices by the majority African themselves.
Taking of Zacharia Lagos a Nigerian who works for a sawmill and lives like a rich despite his small salary a month. We are told that every evening a company truck brought home great lengths of healthy wood, which he sold all of it. Such people are many in African countries who are supervising various business for their own profit, thus why most of African industries have died a natural death. We had for example in a numeral of textile industries of which are no longer existing.
In Ghana society has reached to the extent of praising those who embezzle government funds. For example when Abednago Yamoah used to sell government petrol for himself, the whole world says he is a good man and the whole world asks “ why we are not like him.”(pg 96).Therefore it is we Africans who are ignorance. Have you ever wondered why our parliament never took time to have a lengthy and candid discussion on the purchase of the military radar ? The radar that was found tobe "wrong for the country, overpriced, and had all signs of corruption"?
Ask your selves how comes African countries are very poor indeed and still we have, several gold mines and various potential gold deposits, large coal deposits, iron ore deposit, diamond mine and diamond deposits, Songo Songo gas and other newly discovered gas deposits, large forest reserves, beautiful National Parks and several ports. The Beutyful Ones is the answer to these questions.
Lack For Hope And Despair
Towards the end of the book, Ayi hopes that things will get better, although he confesses that there is no indication of any present efforts to help prepare for a better future for independent Africans. That tomorrow is yet to come 40 years on, although we mouth the word "independence", as if that is a satisfactory end in itself. Was Africa's independence a mere exchange between white exploiter and black exploiter? Why do the same patterns recur across the continent? Is this in fact the real face of African leadership? African tribal chieftains regularly sold their own people into slavery long before the transatlantic slave trade became the norm.
Alianation,refers to the individual subject's estrangement from its community, society, or world.The author shows alienations in three aspects namely;
(i) Alienation of the lucky ones from the mass.
At these aspects the novelist talks of these government officials such as ministers were put on power by the mass, instead they are less pre occupied with problems of ordinary citizens. They have caused the condition in the society be more worse. They are more concerned with leisure and pleasures, making parties, going to nightclubs and running after girls as Koomson represents them. Leaders are now changing girls as clothes simply because they have money as the author writes “Young juicy vaginas waiting for him in some hired place paid by the government” (pg 90). The society have experiences these dealings by their leaders as says this woman who is selling loafs of breads, “Have you ever seen a big man without girls…”pg 37. Big man means those people with authority,and,man,in-Ghan-asociety.
(ii) Alienation of a person from the society
The man is being insulted by a number of people in his society for not being in corruption. This is because corruption in Ghana society is accepted as a social norm. They believe corruption to be as a means of getting rich quickly. For example Oyo and his mother pour scorns at him that he is nobody.
Also Teacher sees that in his society everyone who wants to be happy will soon get involved in corruption. Having seen this he sees that it is difficult to look after his parents and married, hence he runs away from his home and decides to lie lonely life. For example when the man goes to him tonight he finds the teacher sleeping necked, reading and listening to music (pg 91).(iii) Alienation of a person from himself. The teacher, Koffi Billy and sister Maanan are alienated from themselves by resorting to drug abuse (wee). For example Maanan through exploitation and neglect from her the government she is driven into insanity.Another ill treated victim is Koffi – Billy. He lost his leg accidentally yet, no one cares for him hence he commits suicide.
Lack of unity
The man is alone in his uprightness and this loneliness is a burden to him. He is not supported by anyone in the society even his own wife is against his character. The man fails even to explain why he hates bride while every one in the society is corrupt. We have such people in most of African countries who see evils being done within a society but nobody reports such evils. For example during elections in our society leaders are bribing the majority but the work to fight such bribe is left to PCCB officials who at sometimes are not nearby the scene.
Hence the novelist shows us that, evils in the society cannot be fought alone. Therefore the man needs cooperation with his fellow members of the society who might in one way or another hate corruption.
The role and position of women
The novelist portrays:-
(i) Woman as a person who praises and embraces the western culture and despises her own culture. She likes to look very modern despite the means of achieving her to the modern world. For example Oyo burns her hear so that she can change her natural beauty to be like a white man.
The situation of Estella to degrade Ghanaian drinks and praises European drinks shows how women abandon their cultures and embrace foreign cultures as Estella says, “This local beer, does not agree with my constitutions ”... “ Really, the only good drinks are European drinks. These make you ill… you should have bought European drinks and not have wasted your money like this”(pg 132).
(i) Woman as a person with bad advice. Estella and princes have tempted Koomson to embezzle government funds in order to facilitate placement of the life style of Europeans. For Example prince’s wears jeans and Tshirt like Europeans.
In short African Cultures are being undermined day to day by we African themselves. The ideology that Western cultures to be superior than Africans has made a large number of Africans to embrace them in various ways. They have imitated everything interims of dressing, talking and love affairs
The results of all means are seen on our Youth, they cope each and everything from Europe just to mention a few, the way of dressing, walking and even talking. Further still some are adopting nudism culture of dressing half naked as the author writes.Women are busying themselves decorating them so that they look like European women. They use a lot of money to buy cosmetics for body wearing and air changing, among other cosmetics according to (Msafiri 2007:28) synthetic perfumes, fragrances scents, and toxic household products include deodorants, detergents, powders, colognes, laundry detergents, soaps, shampoos, incense, suntan lotions, aftershaves, floor polishes, analgesic creams, fabric softeners, anti-cling which have negative effects to their health.
Oyo and her mother view a man as a coward simply because he refuses to take bribe and hence he fails to raise the standard of life for himself and his loved ones
(iii) Woman as a person with unconstructive ideas. Women have also been portrayed as being among the suffering majority who take resolutions, which are in no way constructive. Maanam who symbolizes the millions of marginalized Ghanaians after being disillusioned by the vision of the betrayal by their men, she resorts to take drugs as a means to postpone her despair, in the end she is a drunk to the extent.
(iv) Woman as dynamic person. Moreover women have been portrayed as being dynamic and they act according to situations. The man’s wife who was former on opposition with her husband who rejected bribes, supported her husband’s only following the situation, which corruption supporters face after the coup .
(v) Woman as disdain person. Also the author draws a woman as a disdain person (mtu mwenye dharau.).This is verified from the words of man’ mother-in-law which describes man as is no body, is no longer existing and as a person who doesn’t take care of his family. Here are the words by this old woman, “My poor husband! You have no shoes to wear, so your poor little feet get torn to pieces. Ei, my husband, you have no body to buy you shoes, so your little toes will all be destroyed. You must know you have nobody , you are an orphan, a complete orphan. 123.
(vi) As a businessperson. The author portrays a woman who sells bread at the bus stand and asks Koomson to buy more bread for his girl friend but Koomson refuses by saying that he does not have girls. This surprised the woman as she says. “Have you ever seen a big man without girls”p.37.
The Past and Present in the Post-Colonial Novel
In The Beautyful Ones however, the role of history plays a much more sinister role. Armah uses a two-fold approach, firstly examining contemporary Ghanaian politics in the post-independence period. However, he places this against a second perspective, that of centuries of oppression and betrayal of the Ghanaian people: first by white colonialists, and subsequently by the indigenous leaders that collaborated and eventually replaced them.
Between 1951 and 1966, a process of decolonisation took place in what was then the Gold Coast under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party. Nkrumah’s vision was one of a modernized and socialist Ghana leading a pan-African movement. Armah’s opinion of Nkrumah in practice is made clear: years of state intervention in the economy managed to do little but encourage the personal power of the black elite. Much of his narrative is spent examining the likes of Konsoom, as they abuse the resources of the state in striving to imitate their former European masters: accumulating their possessions, imitating their accents and anglicizing their names. Armah’s scornful disappointment in the promises of independence can be seen in the following passage:
We were ready here for big and beautiful things, but what we had was our own black men hugging new paunches they came like men already grown fat and cynical with the feasting of centuries of power growing greasy on the troubles of people” p. 94.
To Armah, officials of the newly independent State have simply replaced the colonial officials, and the same giant gap still separates the few who control wealth and power, and the masses attempting to survive on a daily basis. In Armah’s opinion, captured in the lament of the teacher, nothing has really changed since the struggle for independence:
This was for which poor men had fought and shouted not that the whole thing might be overturned and ended, but that a few black men might be pushed closer to their masters, to eat some of the fat into their bellies too. p. 147-8.
However, Armah’s clear disgust for African politicians must be seen in the context of a much larger picture. Ghana’s (then the Gold Coast) interaction with Europe began in 1471 when the Portuguese first landed in search of gold, and by the sixteenth century, slaves. Over the next three centuries, various parts of the coastal area were controlled by a number of European powers. As the Gold Coast was searched, many tribal chiefs participated in this exploitation by aiding Europeans in their endeavors, selling their people for the trinkets of Europe. p. 175.
It is against this historical backdrop that Armah makes his assessment of contemporary Ghanaian politics: the betrayal of indigenous leaders is inevitable. Armah writes: “These were the socialists of Africa, fat, perfumed, soft with the ancestral softness of chiefs who have sold their people and are celestially happy with the fruits of the trade”. p. 153-4.
Leaders such as Konsoom, personally profiting from the misuse of the public purse, are simply the latest in a long line of those who have let down the people of Africa. The teacher recalls the sense of hope he had for Nkrumah’s leadership to bring a social, political and economic rebirth for Ghana. Instead, he realized that upon reaching power, the new leadership had already grown old and decayed. Following the coup at the end of the novel, the man too realizes that things will be no different, but merely new people, new style, old dance. p. 185.
Armah’s observations therefore suggest that post-independent African nations such as Ghana are locked into a cycle of political, social and economic despair. He appears to view the current situation as simply inevitable in light of the centuries of moral compromises made by both Africans and Europeans.
In The Beautyful Ones, the hopelessness of the nation is highlighted when the man feels burdened with the knowledge that their future is sacrifice, their birthright bartered in advance to the occupants of the white men’s gleaming bungalows. The man wonders about his children whether one of them would grow up and soar upward with so much power that there would be enough left over to pull the others also up. For the moment, however, there is nothing but dirt and human excrement that Armah uses to paint the man’s surroundings.
Political disillusionment is clearly a theme in Armah’s novel, and it is aimed squarely at Ghana’s political corruption and failed development. It includes, too, the remaining effects of colonization on a post-independent society and the continuance of a cycle of exclusion, both socially and economically. He vividly depicts the filth, rot and corruption of the man’s surroundings, where the public lavatory becomes the show-room of a people’s sins, the banister a symbol of civil and civic corruption.
The man (who remains nameless throughout the novel) struggles to find something good about life in Ghana, but can only hold onto his own integrity for comfort. He watches his friends grow rich through cheating their fellow countrymen out of money and by sucking up to rich white men, and is betrayed by his wife and family for failing to provide for them and bring in the money to buy European beers and Japanese cars. He suffers as he watches his own children go without, but cannot bring himself to abandon his own morals. When the old regime is overthrown by the military, his formerly rich friends have a price slapped on their heads overnight, and the man must choose between helping his corrupt friend and saving his life, or allowing the authorities to catch him.
Ghana society is occupied with classes of haves and have-nots. The have class is characterized by people who live luxurious life. They have their own residential like the Sikofo Estate; they use expensive cosmetics and changing girls, as punts are something usual to them.
However the class of have-nots is characterized by people whose standard of living is very bad and sad. We see for example, a mother sucking her child’s wet congested nostrils, “under a dying lamp a child is disturbed by a long cough coming from somewhere deep in the centre of the infant body. At the end of it his mother puts her mouth to the wet congested nostrils and sucks them free. The mess she lets fall gently by the roadside and with her bare foot she rubs it softly into the earth. 41.
Also people under this class are paid lowly the situation, which leads to alienation. For example teacher having seen that he is not able to taking care of his family he resolves to alienation. Man’s children are walking bare footed as the young boy is cut by something when on the way to his grandmother. Had these children have shoes; man wouldn’t have embraced scorns from his mother in law.
However the teacher a character who has a clear perception of the origin and nature of the nation’s classes doesn’t take any action which is for the better of the society. “Life has not changed. Only some people have been growing, becoming different, that is all. After a youth spent fighting the white man, why should not the president discover, as he grows older that his real desire has been to be like the white governor himself, to live above all blackness in the big old slave castle?” (Pg 92).
The book begins coldly. The hero is introduced to the reader only as "the man.'' In fact one never learns his name or reads a description of him. It is almost as if the man is hidden by his surroundings. This man's world is rotting. The book is full with horrifying images. The plants, the air, even the furniture seem to be alive and sucking all of the oxygen out of his world. Everything is covered with a thick layer of filth and excrement. The whole universe pulls on the man. If the man already feels crowded with the force of unnaturally alive inanimate objects, then his family seems to almost break him with their demands and complaints.
The man finds no comfort, no understanding in the requests of his world. No one congratulates him on his efforts to remain honest and fair. Instead they push him to take bribes and favors. He is, his mother-in-law, explains a useless nobody who refuses to "improve" the lives of his family. They wonder why he can't be more like his former schoolmate Koomsom, a minister in the government who has sacrificed ethics for elegant living.
The man must suffer alone as he tries to keep his eyes and mind on what is right. He lives in isolation among his family. The only one who understands him is "the teacher," who the man visits late at night for some consolation. But the teacher is burnt out and suspicious, spending his time reading naked or aimlessly listening to the radio.
The coup shifts the country's leadership. Suddenly the powerful Koomsom is powerless, stinking with the horrible smell of fear. The man is his only way to safety and freedom outside of the country. Together the men must crawl through the neighborhood latrine to find safety and freedom. They rush through the countryside avoiding the police. It is only then that the man can smell fresh air for the first time.
Family conflictMan’s family falls under conflict because of poverty. He lives in poverty with his family to such an extent that he faces hostility from members of his family since; he fails to provide them with good life. Having failed to provide his family with the things they want, he is viewed as a worthless person who does not even deserve to be respected. His mother in law keeps pouring scorns on him every now.Personal conflicts Man is very nervous every time because he sees the reality but he finds no solution for the problems that exist in his society. He is just passive and submissive in various confrontations his reply is always ... “I don’t know”...or “keeping silence” while he has a lot of contracting ideas in his mind.
Koffi Billy also loses hope of getting good life because of aggressive government. Hence his decision was to hang himself. The teacher is living under frustration; he compares the situation before and after independence. His findings were that, in order for any person to give his loved ones the things they want must involve himself in corruption. However his idealism makes him passive and just maintains his hope that one day he will meet the loved one. Maanan resorts to take drugs to the case of her frustrations. She is later driven to insanity.Political conflict This conflict arises among members of the first government and those who won out coup d’etat. It was found that the first government was leading the country to a bad end. Therefore some leaders of the first government were killed and put in power new leadership hoping that the new government would do away with evils. However the new government seems to be in many ways the same as the previous one.
Passive resistance leads to more frustration.This means people are supposed to express their dissatisfactions openly with the hope of imparting awareness to others and hence to mobilize majority support and emerge wars against evils. The man, Maanan, Koffi Billy and Teacher who see the reality and take impossible resolutions rather than speaking out openly and organizing the masses to oppose the corrupt government, are not regarded as revolutionaries. Hence their passive resistance contributed a lot to their frustration as others have committed to suicide and drag abuse..Poverty is a source of misunderstandings in any society.There are a lot of misunderstandings in the family of Man, he is not in good atmosphere with his wife and his mother in law, because, the two cannot be provided with what they want by man. However, they think will able to get the required things if he involves himself in corruption .He remains poor hence misunderstandings.Classes are inevitable where there is no equal chance of access to people’s rights.Following the betrayal of masses by leaders, the masses find themselves having, narrow chances of access to basic human needs like education while their leaders have access to everything. For example luxurious life lead by Koomson ands Estella, sending their children to Europe and speaking English as white children.
With exploitation the beautiful one will remain a day dream
The idea of leaders exploiting their own people is nothing new. African peoples must begin addressing this leadership crisis at the community level. In particular, the collaborator culture that allows Africans to exploit their own people must be addressed if real change is to be achieved. Otherwise, the "beautiful ones" will remain a daydream. All over the world, it is peasants who have forced changes in their communities. In Africa, tribalism is used to divide the peasants so that they become collaborators even to very bad governments. The earlier mentioned cohorts of collaborators are adept at engineering this situation.
Ayi Kwei Armah is a writer who has fought with the trajectory of he continent history. He offers deep philosophical reflections on “the trouble with Africa”, then and now. He consistently engages what he calls the pet assumption of the west, “ Africa is inferior; the west is superior while not sparing the misrule of indigenous elite”.
Further Ayikwei identifies several factors responsible for underdevelopment. First is the adoption of a socio – political formation that is not totally, but dependent on Europe and America.
Second is an exploitative economic system superintended by the so-called developed nations of the world, with collaboration of African ruling elites. Linked with this is the character of the elite parochial, self – centred, committed to accumulation of material possession rather than general well being.
The fourth is bureaucracy that is ironically a cog in the wheel of genuine development, marked by inefficiency, inconsistency, nepotism and slothfulness. The last factor is a Western oriented educational system that is not properly connected with indigenous value system, and hence generating alienation.
A new leadership creates its own cohort of collaborators both new and old. Old-new collaborators switch sides very quickly with a regime change, becoming the most public "praise singers" for the new regime. Of course the old top leadership has to go into hiding to avoid any negative repercussions from the new 'power barons.“How long will Africa be cursed with its leaders? There were men dying from the loss of hope, and others were finding gaudy ways to enjoy power they did not have. We were ready here for big and beautiful things, but what we had was our own black men hugging new paunches scrambling to ask the white man to welcome them onto our backs…we knew then and we know now that the only real power a black man can have will come from black people”.
Political, Social And Economic
What Armah do make clear through the constant struggle of his characters is that the political, social and economic issues in the post-colony are remarkably complex.
The most striking example of this can be witnessed through the man’s employment by the national railway. This was a railway set up under colonial rule to export out the wealth and resources of Ghana. The man’s seemingly earnest job, in which he tries to avoid amoral and corrupt practices, is in fact a part of the system that has, and continues, to be a part of a system of exploitation removing the wealth and resources of the Ghanaian people.
Title The title “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” is iron. This means, it does not portray direct meaning, rather shows that in our societies beautiful ones are being born every day. But they are being destroyed by their societies in engaging themselves in filth. The word itself “beautiful” is wrongly misspelled to symbolize evils in the society.
Every time those who were thought to be the beautiful ones they then indulge in corruption and black mail. They earn themselves luxurious things, style of life, big salaries, high respect and good houses. Hence the masses are left to suffer poverty as wearing of rags, being illiterate and hardly get sufficient social services. According to Armah, the blame is to the leaders. Hence good leaders have not yet come or been elected. Therefore the author has used the title to summarize what are in the novel.Plot structure
The plot of this novel starts with an incident in the decrepit old bus. Later it shifts to other incidents. Some incidents are closely connected while others are not connected, but they all contribute to the moulding of the whole story. The incidents are organized in such a way that the story is straight forward (chronological order) with some flashbacks.Language
The author has used the purely literacy language as manifested by the followingartist’s features.
Symbolism, satire, style and cycle
Armah in “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born” comments on the circle and cycle of corruption in African societies, majorly, Ghana. He presents a situation of a society filled with stench, rot, filth, and decay. In this novel, everybody seems corrupt. It is a direct comment on human essence.
The style of Armah writing is also crucial in telling his stories. Symbolism is rife in the work. Armah fixates on notions of rebirth, imagery of which is scattered throughout The Beautyful Ones. The very centre of the novel is based on a desire for a regeneration of Ghanaian society, for future generations, the beautyful ones of the novel’s title. However, rebirth is also something that Armah mocks, witnessed in the passage describing Koomsom struggling to escape headfirst and naked down a drop-toilet.
The man in The Beautiful Ones is a symbol of urban poverty and social obscurity, a single individual in conflict with values of his society. The man’s only hope is in the guidance of his friend the teacher, but through the course of the novel, he comes to realise that the teacher too has no answer, and that he must face his problems alone
Most of Armah’s satire is directed at Koomson, an embodiment of political leadership, but corrupt practices are also shown throughout the rest of Ghanaian society.
Filth as a symbol for situation Africa that has undergone and still undergoing is a bitter one as filth is everywhere even on the banister which is supposed to be cleaned and that the glimmer of change is not yet reached, still it is not impossible but needs good wills to passion added to a good planning .
The unusual spelling of the title is from an inscription on the back of A Ghanian taxi-bus which Armah chooses to indicated his largely pessimistic vision of the state and society of his country just before, during and immediately after the reign of Kwame Nkrumah.
The man in the novel is never named and this is an important aspect of the book for you to think about. After reading this novel, it can never be forgotten because it is intense and although often the narrator describes a wasteland it is ironically his values and persona that seem beautiful. This is what leaves you feeling sad that the narrator and other characters do not have what they deserve in their lives. So although the future of the country is undecided, Armah displays the power of the human spirit and the values of society as being of utmost importance for the future of postcolonial Ghana.
PART FOUR: Novel Outlooks
Criticisms, Hope and Perspective
Armah does not provide a clear ending in his novel. He leaves us with any sense of positive resolution at the conclusion. Towards the end of the novel, a leadership coup sees the once important Konsoom powerless, fleeing for his life through the neighbourhood latrine. Whilst this at first seems like the tables have been turned, this sense of hope is not long lasting. In the closing passages of the novel, the man witnesses a policeman of the new regime accept a bribe from a bus driver, just as he did at the beginning of the novel p. 182-3. It appears to confirm that things will continue exactly as before, tying into Armah’s belief in the inevitability of historical circumstances.
Hopeless despair, Total disillusionment, and Profound pessimism, have been just some of the labels applied to The Beautyful Ones. The self-loathing and disgust that Armah directs toward Ghanaian society is viewed by some as unacceptable.
It is true that Armah creates a terrible existence for his hero. His indignity is displayed from the beginning of the book, where after having fallen asleep on the bus, the conductor declares the man to be an article of no commercial value. p.6
Treatment of the man continues in the same way throughout the novel, as he is cursed at and mocked, and wades literally through the most disgusting of circumstances.However, positives can be gleamed from his novel. In The Beatutyful Ones, it is suggested that the determination of the man to continue on despite the strongest resistance is a sign of hope in the novel.
Hope can also be drawn from the man’s character, from his sensitivity, refusal to compromise and his lack of self-righteousness. Comments and realism
The beautiful ones are not yet born is a wonderful book, that treats the issue of leadership in the Dark Continent concomitantly with the issue of corruption and the fatal relationship between these two matters. But it is very pessimistic vision of the issues of the actual nation. Suffice to say that Armah’s attack on corruption and the gleam mentality was not only against Ghana but every African country.
PART FIVE: Success and Failure Of The Author
The author manages to create vivid scenes of filth and evil throughout the novel but the plot leaves something to be desired. Characters are vague and action begins very late in the text. Despite courageous attempts to create a standard, this book still belongs in the upper floor with all the other dusty volumes.
The Beautyful Ones is so complicated and dark novel. It explores individual isolation, uneven development, corruption and wasted potential in newly independent African nations against a backdrop of centuries of colonial rule.
There is no clear resolution in novel, and the outlook of it can be easily perceived as miserable. Armah mocks with great forcefulness and misshapen language all that is rotten in the world of hypocritical people, lost opportunities and the enormous gap between the few with all the money and power, and the masses without anything at all.
It depicts the sad surroundings of filth and corruption, but there are also moments of laughter in his observations. Good can be found in the vitality of his characters, who are prepared to search for something beyond that of everybody else.
(This post was last modified: 02-21-2014 11:09 AM by MyElimu.)