It is very possible for two different writers to address similar issues of life in their writings though they are from different societal backgrounds, and it is also very possible that the two will use different approaches to address these similar problems. This is how language in narrative works, evident in the novels of Ifeoma Okoye and Ayi kwei Armah – Men without Ears and The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born. The two writers have deliberately employed different styles of language use for the specific purpose of criticising the ills in their societies – Nigeria and Ghana. Ifeoma Okoye and Ayi kwei Armah are two writers from two different countries, but they have independently written about corruption which is prevalent in the two countries. Ifeoma’s title is Men without Ears to mean that there are people who engage in corrupt practices, who have refused to listen to advices against such practices; while Armah’s title is the Beautyful ones are not Yet Born to mean that this is a generation of corrupt leaders, and that people with the right attitude against such ills are not yet born. It also expresses hope that good leaders would be born someday to eradicate the evils and make the society a pleasant place to live in.
Narrator’s point of view
Ifeoma Okoye uses first person point of view to tell her story. Chigo is the narrator through whom all other characters are exposed. The narrator uses the first person pronouns: I, me and my in his narration which shows that he is telling his own experience, for example: I felt ill at ease as I picked my way through the chaos…, I had received a letter from my father urging me to come home immediately. It is certain that this choice of narrator’s standpoint is not by chance but the writer chooses it in effect with the intension to create a conversational relationship between the narrator and the reader. It also reduces the tendency of mixing up characters because of what looks like equal character status share by many of the characters.
Ayi Kwei Amarh uses omniscient point of view whereby he is able to talk about things happening in different places at the same time. He is also able to say what is in the mind of a character at a particular time – a style also referred to as all-seeing-eye. The dominant pronoun here is that which indicates third person: he, she, they, his, her etc.
The driver climbed down onto the road from his seat, took a crumpled packet of Tuskers from his shirt pocket, stuck a bent cigarette in his mount, and lit a match… Inside the bus the conductor took down his bag and slowly rubbed his neck just above the patch where the long strap had been pressing down. Then he sat down heavily with his legs dangling down the front steps and closed his eyes. (1)
This choice of point of view can mean to tell those perpetrators of evil that God sees all they are doing, and also that people are aware of their schemes and are not happy about it.
It is not out of place to acknowledge that there is likelihood that the gender of the two writers could have informed their use of language in their approach to the ills in their societies. There are gender related linguistic issues in every social community. As a woman, Ifeoma Okoye sounds soft, tolerant and motherly in her reproach. She uses kind words and proverbs as she advices those involved in corruption to stop. She gives warning as a passionate mother would. Her chosen narrator, Chigo, is a soft minded person who advices his desperate brother, Uloko, against decisions that are related to corruption. Uloko’s father also rebuked him for refusing to accept good advices. He uses proverbs to pass his warnings:
The rat that joins the lizard for a frolic in the rain will remember only when it is too late that he will not dry himself as easily as the lizard (48).
… a fly who refuses to heed advice follows a corpse to the grave.
Even when Uloko wants Chigo to get money from his company and give him, Chigo does not express anger. He only responds that it is improper to do so.
Armah’s use of language depicts him as a ‘tough father’ in contrast with the ‘motherly’ gentleness of Ifeoma Okoye. His approach is not persuasive but critical, insulting and vulgar. He refers to the leaders as apes and makes cynical remarks about them.
No difference at all between the white and their apes, the lawyers and merchants and now the apes of the apes, our party men. (81)
How were these leaders to know that while they were climbing up to shit in their people’s faces, their people had seen their arseholes and drawn away in disgust laughter?(59)
Your mother’s rotten cunt. (9)
He fearlessly castigates the corrupt politicians who took over power at independence. This is to show determination to ‘take the bull by the horn and call a spade a spade’; to be the warrior in the fight against evil leadership.
Humour versus insult
Ifeoma uses humour to lighten the tragic effect that corruption can bring. She introduces scenes like that at the airport where men and women ran to get a sit in the plane and how they struggle to save their headgears from been taken by the wind. She reveals the attitudes of the Uloko and his friends as they give names to themselves: Young Millionaire, the River that Never Runs Dry, etc. Chigo says: I looked around me and saw women, lipstick and all, devouring their chickens like lions. The projection of the facial adornment of the women makes Chigo to also personify lipsticks by saying that they are devouring chickens.
Armah seems to feel that humour will water down the gravity of the sad situation, so he uses insulting statements to express his feeling, even though some the statements sound humorously sarcastic. He calls the leaders ape and speaks despitefully of their private body parts like arseholes. He describes the visitor’s mouth as wolf shaped and the description of the generation of teeth is humorous. One can sense anger in the extract below:
This men who were to lead us out of our despair, they came like men already grown fat and cynical with the eating of centuries of power they had never struggled for… their brothers and their friends were merchants eating what was left in the teeth of the white men with their companies. They too came to speak to us of salvation. Our masters were the white men and we were coming to know this, and the knowledge was filling us with fear first and then with anger. And they who would be our leaders, they also had the white men for their masters, and they also feared the masters, but after the fear what was at the bottom of their beings was not the hate and the anger we knew in our despair. (81)
Proverbs are good tools for addressing societal ills in Africa. They are used for warning and correction. Messages are passed in a condensed way to people; one proverb can capture what can be said in a whole page using normal language.
The phrase used as the title of Okoye’s novel is a proverbial statement also used in the book where Chigo’s father says that “Uloko has come to the land of people without ears and is bent on cutting off his own too” (49) to mean that Uloko would not listen to advices. To cut off ones ears passes the feeling pains will be experienced by the person, and that the person becomes deaf. This is a clear indication that Uloko obstinately exposes himself to danger. This is definitely a supposedly more effective means of passing a warning than just to probably say “Uloko is stubborn and would not accept good counsel.”
In the Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born, Armah says: and the man wondered what kind of sound the cry of the chichidodo bird could be, the bird longing for its maggots but fleeing the faeces which gave them birth. The story about the chichdodo comes up when Oyo calls her husband a chichidodo because he does not despise what Koomson has but he criticizes him as a corrupt person.
Ifeoma uses a combination of short and long sentences in her narration. Short sentences like She cut me short, ( 43) Lagos airport was a pandemonium (1), I am sorry (4); long sentences like Surprisingly, the airport officials seemed to thrive on the disorderliness, for their countenances showed a benign contentment; a sort of silent approval of the confusion (1).
She uses ellipsis sparingly. Well, it all depends on… (43), it pains me greatly to see a well-brought up son change overnight into a … a … (49)
Armah also uses a combination of long and short sentences, and in some cases, he uses ellipsis and prolepsis. He uses marked ellipsis: no country, no work; but when man is alone here all through the night… (Armah, 15); the food is fine, but the drink… (Armah, 115); …minutes late.
Armah uses incomplete sentences believed to achieve an effect similar to that achieved by ellipsis. It is used to express the extent to which the state of affairs is worrisome, how unbearable it is to continue living with the evil of corruption and the level of urgency that is needed to handle the situation. It can also be used to mean that the reality of the situation is obvious that there is no need for many words.
Much better the swollen days of the full month, much better. (2)
Five. Abrupt drop, this. So many desperate needs. (26)
Stealing by means of employment. (129)
Ifeoma Okoye may have avoided many incomplete sentences and ellipsis because, in her subtle approach to the evil people do in the society, she wants her message of warning to be clear as possible, and should would not enrage the listeners or get them confused by saying too little or less than the required information, and this may result to more damage instead of repair.
Character code concordance and the use of Pidgin
The use of pidgin can be seen in the two books, which shows that the two countries have some common linguistic features. Though the pidgin used in Nigeria varies from that used in Ghana, their differences from Standard English are obvious. Ifeoma Okoye uses pidgin in her story, spoken through uneducated characters. At the earlier part of the story, Chigo was met by an uneducated fellow at the airport, who uses pidgin to communicate: You de travel, sir? You don get boarding pass, sir? (2).
Armah uses pidgin also as a way of indigenizing his story. It also shows that not all the people in Ghana are educated and can speak Standard English. Language can be a mark that is used to identify the elites and the masses in society, so Armah has used pidgin to register the voice of the masses in the struggle for good governance.
Oh contrey… I tire (15) the clerk said when he was woken from sleep.
You think say ah no sabe… ah sabe sey you be Nkrumah party man. You no fit pass(175). This is the watchman at the beach who is in position to help Koomson get away from his pursuers after the military coup.
LEXICAL DENSITY/SEMANTIC DENSITY
Certain words and sentences in these two stories can be said to be ‘pregnant’ with meanings in the sense that they tell more than they actually would mean at the surface semantic level.
For instance, this statement in Men without Ears tells much about how people in Nigeria have accepted the live of disorderliness:
Surprisingly, the airport officials seem to thrive on the disorderliness, for their countenances showed a benign contentment; a sort of silent approval of the confusion (1).
The women would not allow themselves to be beaten in this marathon race (5).
The marathon race here is not the real athletic activity but a metaphor to show how people have to struggle for everything including seat on the plane, because more tickets than the number of seats available on the plane are issued.
Ayi kwei Armah uses such expressions as: swollen days of the full month; walking corpses; restless happiness of power; pair of wide-open staring eyes.
…the conductor felt the excruciatingly tortured as they drilled the message of his guilt into his consciousness. These statements are metaphorical thereby carrying more message than can be deduced based on the semantic contents of the individual words.
Extravagance and pride
The two novels identify the extravagant displays of those who are privileged to have money. Armah reveals how people want to be recognized as people who have money. In the society where people are dying of poverty, everyone tries to display his level of importance so that even bus passengers are not left out in this crave for recognition.
Collecting was certainly easier during the swollen days after pay.
The men who dreamed them walk like rich me, and if they give a fifty-pasewa coin they look into the collector’s eyes to see if he acknowledges their own importance. They do not look in their palms to see how much change is there. Much better the swollen days of the full month, much better. (2)
Ifeoma reveals this attitude through the character of Uloko and his friends. Uloko cautions Chigo:
Please don’t fail to address them by this titles or aliases. (87)
Without money, you’re nothing in this country (7) is Engineer Akah’s remark as he tries to justify his reason for quitting his job as a university lecture to engage in business. He adds that nobody talks of job satisfaction these days. This to say that people don’t care about the satisfaction they can derive from the job they do, people are rather concentrating on making a lot of money and getting public attention. Uloko is described to dress in lace agbada, three rows of coral beads and long gold chain with a pendant as large as a saucer that feminized his neck. This statement reveals the urge for flamboyance shown in the dress people choose to put on. The description of the Mercedes car: the seats were upholstered in a velvet material and the floor was covered with soft red rug. It was truly an exquisite car” is equally to show the extent to which Uloko strives to impress people around him using his wealth.
They call themselves names like “Young Millionaire,” “the sea that never dries” which is written in Igbo as ‘Orimili’ etc.
Chigo remarks; “I watched with amusement as young Millionaire swaggered up towards the front row seat. Never had I seen a person so full of himself, so puffed up by pride” (85).
A phrase like doing what everybody is doing used to refer to the practice of corruption appears to be common in both countries. Corruption thrives in these two countries so that those who stand for the truth do not get public approval and they end up living a more frustrated life. The society has so accepted the ills as part of its existence that people no longer frown at evil but find ways of participating. Ifeoma shows Chigo as a frustrated person who gets so much criticism at his place of work, in the street and even by some members of his family all because he chooses to stand for truth and justice.
The unnamed man in the Beautyful Ones are not Yet born faces a lot of rebuke by his wife and her mother because he would not do what everyone else does. His friend says to him: you have not done what every person is doing…and in this world that is one of the crimes, (54) when he laments that he does not understand what he has done wrong to Oyo. Armah uses kola (182) to refer to bribe; Ifeoma uses to see; where to see a person means to give bribe to the person.
In Ifeoma’s Men without Ears, when Uloko gets a job for Chigo and is asked how he does it so fast. Uloko answers: I did what every other person does.
This has been explained by some critics as been the major centre of attraction in the Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born. This is because they feel that the confidence and shamelessness with which corruption thrives in Ghana requires such blatant reproach. Armah uses words that can be considered morally offensive and disregarding to consciousness of the secrecy of some parts of the human body. For instance he uses such words as shit, anus, vagina, penis, breast etc. in a way that feels unguarded: you bloodyfucking sonofabitch, Article of no commercial value, Uncircumcised baboon, Moron of a frog. (6)
…cleared his throat and spat out a generous gob of mucus against the tire… (6).
Or were you waiting to shit in the bus? (6)
Your mother’s rotten cunt (9).
I can say that this use of language by the characters shows how the people have lost every sense of respect and decency in the use of language as a result of their daily contact with evil behaviours. Armah makes his readers go through the same experience by making his description very vivid and without any euphemistic concept.
Ifeoma Okoye has meticulously avoided such vulgar use of language. Uloko who refuses to listen to his father and brother, and who goes as far as trying to use a child for ritual to make more money is not rejected or insulted. Chigo helps to keep Uloko’s evils a secret because he loves him not minding his stubbornness and willingness to do evil for money. Ifeoma feels that subtlety is the better approach to dealing with such desperate people.
There is a great relationship in the way Ifeoma and Armah have used language to depict the ills that are prevalent in their separate societies. At the same time, there are observable evidences of deference in approaches used by the two to address issues of corruption. It is evident that from their use of language, there are similarities between what is experienced in Nigeria and what is experienced in Ghana. It shows that there is uniformity in human experience such that what is being experienced in one society is also being experience in another society.
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