The Ghanaian novelist, AyiKweiArmah, in this novel, The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born presents an obvious reaction to the perceived hopelessness he found in his nation. He did not seem to see the beautiful ones who would help to steer the ship of sociopolitical and cultural development of his country to a safe haven. He presents the state of corruption and social decadence in a graphic, symbolic and figurative manner. He illustrates these vices as vomit, decay and farting in private and public places.
Background of the Author/Work
AyeiKweiArmah was born in Takoradi, Ghana, in 1939 and was educated at Achimota High School, Groton School and Harvard University. He has worked as translator, editor, television script-writer and lecturer at the National University of Lesotho. His published novels include:Fragments, Why are we so Blessed,Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers and The Beautiful Ones Are Not YetBorn.
In his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Armah showed his deep concern about greed and political corruption in a newly independent African nation. In his second novel, Fragments (1970), a young Ghanaian returns home after living in the United States and is disillusioned by the Western-inspired materialism and moral decay that he sees around him.
The main theme of this novel is corruption. The novelist presents the struggles and frustrations of a man who determines to live an honest life in a society that is engulfed in corruption. We see the level of corruption and moral decadence in the society through the eyes of this man who is the protagonist in the novel. He is simply referred to as Man. The subject matter is the story of a Man who struggles to remain clean when everyone else around him has succumbed to ‘rot’.In the end he could not change the system instead he aids one of the corrupt government officials to escape. This further amplifies the title of the novel which states that the beautiful ones are not yet born. It means that there are no honest citizens with firm characters who can change the system.
Another theme discernable in the novel is that of bad leadership and the negative effects of capitalism. The capitalist system encourages individual acquisition of excessive wealth. The leaders who are in the minority amass wealth for their personal aggrandizement while the citizens who are in the majority wallow in abject poverty. They therefore explore every opportunity to make quick money in fraudulent ways. The bus conductor is ready to cheat and the worker in the office does not blink an eye as he accepts bribe from the merchant and the merchant does not see anything wrong with that. On the contrary, he is spiteful of Man who refuses to accept bribe from him.The societal ill of corruption which the leaders profess to wipe out ends up swallowing the leaders as they get tainted with greed and corruption, in most cases, more than ever.
AyiKweiArmah has used his contemporary locale of Ghana, to paint a sordid picture of the unspeakable rot and decadence that has eaten deep into the political and social landscape of Africa as a whole. The entire story presents a mental graphic picture of an intractable decay and corruption, in Ghana in particular and Africa in general, to the reader. The author in presenting his themehowever does not utilize the writing style of the chronological plot. Most part of the narration is presented in incidents that are manipulated to present gory pictures of the decadence, corruption, rot, dishonesty in the system. These are reflected in decay in various forms like the dirt on the banister, the phlegm and the dirt in the streets.
The novelist adopts the multiple point of view though the greater part of the narration is in the omniscient point of view. He uses the first person point of view to present the incidents that are recalled in flashbacks. You can see this in chapter six. Armah also uses dialogue in a peculiar way to provide important information. The dialogue here is not the conventional interjections we find in prose work but the presentation of almost a chapter in dialogue. A good example is the conversation between Teacher and Man in chapter fivewhich is presented in ten pages out of sixteen pages of that chapter.
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a novel byGhanaian writer AyiKweiArmah. It was published in 1968. It tells the story of a nameless man who struggles to reconcile himself with the reality of post-independence Ghana.The unnamed protagonist, referred to as “the man” works at a railway station and is approached with a bribe; when he refuses, his wife is furious and he cannot help feeling guilty despite his innocence. The novel expresses the frustration many citizens of the newly-independent states in Africa felt after attaining political independence. Many African states like Ghana followed similar paths in which corruption and the greed of African elites became rampant. Corruption in turn filtered down to the rest of society and the ‘rot’ that characterized post-independent Ghana in the last years of Nkrumah is a dominant theme in the book.
The locale is Ghana, though the message of societal decadence is a universal one so we may not pin down the setting to any particular physical environment. The novel’s time-frame is the post-independent Ghana. The societal ill of corruption which African leaders profess to wipe out, as for instance in Nigeria’s anti-corruption “war”, ends up swallowing the leaders as they become more and more corrupt and wallow in senseless self-indulgements.
The main characters are The Man, Oyo. Teacher, Joseph Koomson, Estella Komsoon. These characters are not fully developed. The fifteen-chapter novel does not have developed characters, rather vague and imaginary nomenclatures are utilized through the text. For instance, the hero of the novel is known as the man, also known as (a.k.a), ‘the Watcher’, ‘The Silent One “The Giver,’ and his family is called “The Loved Ones”. Furthermore there is no way somebody’s name, real or imagined, literal or figurative, could be ‘teacher’ unless stressed or raised to the level antonomasia or metaphor, and this is a semi – hero’ in the novel. Symbol, therefore rather than clarity of presentation and development of character, engages Armah’s attention in this beautiful literary work on corruption and bribery.
Again, though the language is simple, it is raw and unrefined in the sense that he presents a very graphic picture of the decay.You can read the opening scene of the novel as the novelist describes the man who is sleeping in an old choking commuter bus arriving at a bus stand. The conductor is careless and uses abusive language to both the passengers on board and the driver.
Another stylistic feature of the author is the use of the story of Chichidodo,to illustrate a point. Chichidodo is a bird that hates excrements yet survives on maggot, whose life is sustained in the lavatory. Storytelling, therefore and rich proverbs abound in the novel. The novel is rich in graphic details and this is enhanced by the following literary techniques.
This literacy device is the wheel upon which the entire work rotates. The writer uses the bus to symbolise the state of Ghana soon after independence and presents corruption and disorderly and immorality especially of the leaders. As the writer builds up the plot of the novel, he carries corruption as the main theme of the book. Poverty is also shown by the writer to be the main problem facing the Ghanaian people despite their freedom from colonialism. The writer affirms that after independence the people are poorer and the filthy state symbolizes the level of decadence and that it runs through from the richest to the poorest. Man and Teacher symbolize the conscience of the nation but they are overwhelmed. The novel ends with a coup d’état, a revolution as a solution to increased socio-economic problems. However, that may not present the desired solution as a policeman is seen taking bribe soon after the revolution.
The novel treats the subjects of the 1960 concerning Africa or Africans, power play at public and personal levels, the evils of capitalism, revolutions, and leadership, but these issues are still contemporary in many African societies.The events of the novel take place between Passion Week in 1965 and February 25, 1966, the day after the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. On the political level, they describe the failure of a purportedly socialistic government, which is, in fact, as capitalistic as the white colonial regime it replaced. The new black leaders with white souls have, according to AyiKweiArmah, used their positions of power for personal gain. The corruption has filtered down to all levels of society and economic relationships are based on intimidation and bribery.
In this article, we have presented an African novel that treats socio-political issues that face many African states. The author insists that there is no hope yet for the amelioration of these issues and the entrenchment of social justice because the beautiful ones are not yet born.