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THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN
By Ayi Kwei Armah
About the Author
Ayi Kwei Armah (born 28 October 1939) is a Ghanaian writer whose work deals with corruption and materialism in contemporary Africa. He is also an essayist, as well as having written poetry, short stories, and books for children. He is best known for his novels including The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and The Healers (1979).
In his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Armah showed his deep concern for greed and political corruption in a newly independent African nation, Ghana.
|Ayi Kwei Armah|
The man, who acts as the book's narrator, represents the honest members of society in Ghana. Armah uses him as the main character to depict what the life of the ordinary Ghanaian citizen looks like. The man has a meagre job as a clerk and struggles to feed his wife, Oyo, and his children. Despite being tempted by numerous people including his politician friend, Koomson to take bribes and enrich himself quickly, he refuses to be tainted.
The teacher is a middle-aged man full of wisdom who has given up on life and sees no hope for Ghana. He represents the citizens who think life will change after the colonizers leave, only to be disappointed. He is also the man's friend, and they occasionally discuss Ghana's political situation.
Oyo is the man's wife. She admires wealth, regardless of how it was gained. She represents those poorer Ghanaians who have no problem with corruption or ill-gotten wealth when they consider their current situation. She always blames her husband for her suffering.
Koomson is Nkrumah's socialist minister and the man's former classmate. He represents the corrupt and selfish political system. He lives in comfort with his wife, Estella, and forgets about the plight of the poor. He does nothing to benefit society.
- He is a dock worker
- He lost his leg in an accident (a white man’s fault) – replaced by a wood-and-metal one
- He commits suicides (hangs himself)
- She is a beautiful woman
- She finds escape in smoking wee (marijuana)
- She goes mad in the end
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 son of a bitch! Article of no Commercial Value! You thing the bus belongs to your grandfather?” 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 someone 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 instead 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. 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 someone 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 they shouldn’t 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 BROKE YOU 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 something 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 harbor underscores the vanity of irresponsible power. The novel ends with the man returning home from the harbor. The camp has not really changed anything fundamentally in the life of the nation. Soldiers and police still extort Kola – euphemism for bribe – from travelers. The man is going back to his home “the land of the silent ones” and his dull working environment.
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 molding of the whole story. The incidents are organized in such a way that the story is straight forward (chronological order) with some flashbacks.
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.
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 realize that the teacher too has no answer, and that he must face his problems alone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(ii) 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 T-shirt like Europeans. In short African Cultures are being undermined day to day by we African themselves.
(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 does no longer exist 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.
(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.
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.
Hopelessness 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.
Struggling 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. Classes Ghana society is occupied with classes of haves and have-nots. They have class is characterized by people who live luxurious life.
Dilemma 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. 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.
- Family conflict. Man’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.
- 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.
· Poverty is a source of misunderstandings in any society.There is 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.
· 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 and 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.
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.
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.
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VIDEO - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born