THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
BY NIKOLAI GOGOL,
SAINT PETERSBURG, 1836, RUSSIA
The plot of The Government Inspector hinges on a case of mistaken identity, when a lowly impoverished young civil servant from Saint Petersburg, Hlestakov, is mistaken by the members of a small provincial town for a high-ranking government inspector. The town’s governors, as well as the leading government officials, fear the consequences of a visit by a government inspector, should he observe the extent of their corruption. Hlestakov makes the most of this misconception, weaving elaborate tales of his life as a high-ranking government official and accepting generous bribes from the town officials.
After insincerely proposing to the governor’s daughter, Hlestakov flees before his true identity is discovered. The townspeople do not discover their mistake until after he is long gone and moments before the announcement of the arrival of the real government inspector.
The Government Inspector ridicules the extensive bureaucracy of the Russian government under the tsar as a thoroughly corrupt system. Universal themes of human corruption and the folly of self-deception are explored through this drama of Russian life. The governor’s famous line, as he turns to address the audience directly, “What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourselves,” illustrates this theme, which is summed up in the play’s epigraph, “If your face is crooked, don’t blame the mirror.”
The play is set in a small town in provincial Russia, in the 1830s. Act 1 takes place in a room in the governor’s house. The governor has called together the town’s leading officials, including the judge, the superintendent of schools, the director of charities, the town doctor, and a local police officer to inform them that a government inspector is due to arrive from Saint Petersburg. The governor explains that this government inspector is to arrive “incognito” with “secret instructions” to assess the local government and administration of the town. The governor, in a panic, instructs his officials to quickly cover up the many unethical practices and general corruption of the local town authorities.
Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, brothers, and local landowners, rush in to inform the governor and his officials that they have seen the government inspector staying at the local inn. As the governor is leaving to greet the “Very Important Person” at the inn, his wife and his daughter, Marya, enter, asking about the inspector.
Act 2 takes place in Hlestakov’s room at the inn. Ossip, the middle-age servant of Hlestakov, muses that his master, a young man of about twenty-three years, is a government clerk of the lowest rank, who has lost all of his money gambling, and is unable to pay his bill for two weeks’ food and lodging at the inn. The governor enters, assuming that Hlestakov is indeed the government inspector. He offers to show Hlestakov the local institutions, such as the prison, whereupon Hlestakov thinks he is being arrested for not paying his bill. The confusion continues, however, until the governor invites Hlestakov to stay at his home, and the young man goes along with this apparent generosity without understanding that he is being mistaken for someone else.
Act 3 takes place in the governor’s house. The governor’s wife and daughter are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the government inspector. Hlestakov and the governor enter, the governor having given him a tour of the hospital and a hearty meal. Finally, catching on that he is being mistaken for a high-ranking government official, Hlestakov launches into an elaborate fantasy of his luxurious and privileged life in Saint Petersburg. When
Hlestakov retires to his room in the governor’s house, the governor’s wife and daughter bicker over which of them he was flirting with.
Act 4 also takes place in the governor’s house. The governor sends in each of his town officials to give Hlestakov as much money as he asks of them. The governor hopes this bribe money will keep Hlestakov from reporting them to the officials in Saint Petersburg. Hlestakov makes the most of this opportunity, asking each man for increasingly extravagant amounts of money. When they have all left, Hlestakov writes a letter to his friend, Tryapichkin, in Saint Petersburg, describing the situation for the sake of amusement.
A group of local shopkeepers arrive to speak to Hlestakov regarding the extensive corruption and bribery that takes place on the part of the governor. When they have left, Hlestakov proceeds to flirt with Marya, the governor’s daughter; however, the minute she leaves the room, he flirts with the governor’s wife. But, when Marya walks in to find Hlestakov pleading his love to the governor’s wife, he immediately proposes marriage to her (Marya). When the governor enters, he does not initially believe Hlestakov has proposed marriage to his daughter, but he is soon convinced. At this point, Ossip enters, having made plans for Hlestakov to leave the town as quickly as possible, before his deception is discovered. Hlestakov tells the governor and his wife and daughter that he is leaving town for only a few days, but he will return soon to marry Marya.
Act 5 continues in the governor’s house. The governor and his wife boast of the luxurious and privileged life they will lead in Saint Petersburg once their daughter has married this high-ranking official. The postmaster arrives, having intercepted and read Hlestakov’s letter to his friend in Saint Petersburg, revealing that he has deceived the entire town, and cheated them out of large sums of money. Calling himself an idiot, the governor wonders that he could have been so foolish as to mistake the young man for “an illustrious personage.” At this point, the governor turns to the theater audience and utters the famous line, “What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourselves.” Just then, a gendarme (a soldier who serves as an armed police force) enters with the announcement that the real “inspector authorized by the Imperial government” has arrived, and awaits the governor at the inn.
The play ends with characters remaining motionless in a posture of surprise and fear upon the announcement that the real government inspector has arrived.
Anna Andreyevna is the governor’s wife. In his notes on the characters, Gogol describes her as “still tolerably young, and a provincial coquette,” who “displays now and then a vain disposition.” Her concern with appearance is indicated by the stage direction that “she changes her dress four times” during the play. The governor’s wife flirts shamelessly with Hlestakov. When he informs her of his engagement to Marya, she approves, imagining the benefits she will enjoy in Saint Petersburg as a result of the marriage.
Bobchinsky, along with his brother Dobchinsky, is a landowner in the town. In his notes describing the characters, Gogol states that the brothers are “remarkably like each other.” They are both “short, fat and inquisitive . . . wear short waistcoats, and speaks rapidly, with an excessive amount of gesticulation.” Gogol distinguishes them by noting that “Dobchinsky is the taller and steadier, Bobchinsky the more free and easy, of the pair.”
Dobchinsky, along with his brother Bobchinsky, is a landowner in the town. It is Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky who first see Hlestakov at the inn and mistake him for the government inspector. They immediately run to tell the governor that the government inspector has arrived, thus initiating the case of mistaken identity that propels the entire play.
The governor of the town has the most to fear from the arrival of the government inspector because he has the most power of anyone in the town and is the most corrupt. In his notes on the characters, Gogol describes the governor as “a man who has grown old in the state service,” which “wears an air of dignified respectability, but is by no means incorruptible.” When Hlestakov announces that he has become engaged to the governor’s daughter, the governor immediately indulges himself in fantasies of the luxurious, high status life he will enjoy in Saint Petersburg as a result.
Hlestakov, also spelled Khlestakov, is a young man of about twenty-three. He is a government clerk of the lowest rank and is traveling through the small town accompanied by his servant, Ossip. Hlestakov has lost all of his money gambling and is unable to pay his food and lodging bill at the inn. The people of the town mistake him for the government inspector, who was set to arrive there incognito to check up on the workings of the local government. Hlestakov at first thinks the governor intends to arrest and imprison him for not paying his bill but eventually realizes that he is being treated as an honored guest of the town.
Hlestakov makes the most of this opportunity, weaving elaborate lies about his life in Saint Petersburg, gorging himself at a feast they have provided, milking the local government officials for all of the bribery money he can, and offering a false proposal of marriage to the governor’s daughter. Hlestakov leaves town just before a letter posted to his friend and revealing his chicanery is intercepted and read by the town’s postmaster—who brings it before the governor. By this time, Hlestakov is far gone; he is out of reach of any revenge that the townspeople may have wished to exact upon him. Gogol insisted that the character of Hlestakov is not calculatingly deceitful but an opportunist, merely making the most of the case of mistaken identity into which he has fallen.
Marya is the governor’s daughter. She and her mother rush to the inn to meet the reputed government inspector. She responds to Hlestakov’s flirtations and accepts his marriage proposal. Hlestakov, however, flees the town, telling her that he will return in several days to get her, but he has no intention whatsoever of doing so or of following up on his proposal.
Ossip is Hlestakov’s servant. Gogol describes him as a middle-aged man who “is fond of arguing and lecturing his master.” Gogol notes that Ossip is cleverer than Hlestakov and “sees things quicker.” Ossip muses aloud to himself, informing the audience of Hlestakov’s true identity and destitute financial circumstances. Ossip wisely hurries Hlestakov out of the town as soon as possible, fearing that his deception will soon be found out.
The postmaster is described as “an artless simpleton.” He abuses his station by opening and reading the letters of others, occasionally keeping those that he finds most interesting. His role is minor, but key to the plot, because he intercepts Hlestakov’s letter to his friend, which reveals that Hlestakov is not the government inspector.
As was readily apparent to Gogol’s contemporaries, The Government Inspector is a satire of the extensive bureaucracy of nineteenth-century Russian government. The Government Inspector: A Comedy in Five Acts, most public officials “tyrannized over the local population” of Russian towns. Beresford goes on to characterize Russia under the yoke of this vast bureaucratic system: “The whole of this immense empire was strangled by red tape, cramped by administrative fetters, and oppressed by a monstrous tyranny of paper over people.”
The fact that he successfully poses as a public official occupying a much higher level in the bureaucracy thus demonstrates both the ignorance of the townspeople he has duped, and his own sense of self-importance. The chaotic atmosphere of the office of the governor in the opening scene immediately establishes the image of small town Russian bureaucracy as ridiculously inefficient and unprofessional. Nothing of any value seems to get accomplished by the masses of paper and the proliferation of characters holding official government titles. The lack of communication between the small town and the government center in Saint Petersburg also indicates that the Russian bureaucracy was so geographically extensive there was no means of regulating the behavior of civil servants or the effectiveness of local government offices.
All of the public officials in the town are thoroughly corrupt. The judge “openly admits to taking bribes”; the postmaster indiscriminately opens and reads letters addressed to others; and the police are drunken, brawling, and given to flogging women. Most corrupt of all is the highest ranking official of the town, the governor: he regularly takes bribes, spends money allotted to the building of a church for his own purposes, and seizes money from the local shopkeepers. In satirizing the corruption within the Russian bureaucracy, Gogol addressed more universal themes of human corruption. Beresford asserts that the play is “an attack on all forms of moral depravity, of which bribery and corruption are but examples.” Because of this universal theme, Beresford insists that, “Gogol’s play is thus as relevant to the world of the twentieth century as it was to its own time, and it points to a perennial evil of civilized societies.”
The Government Inspector is a story of deception and self-deception. The townspeople deceive themselves into believing that Hlestakov is the government inspector, whereupon Hlestakov takes advantage of the case of mistaken identity, further extending the deception to his own advantage. Hlestakov takes such a liking to his assumed role that he almost appears to be convinced by his own deception, imagining himself to be the venerable high official he pretends to be. The townspeople attempt to deceive the government inspector as to the true corruption within the local government, but find that they have only deceived and cheated themselves in the process. Beresford comments that Gogol made use of the plot motif of mistaken identity “to reveal a fundamental state of chaos in human life.” Beresford continues.
It is no accident that the plot of most of his works hinges on a deception, because for him deception was at the very heart of things. He saw human beings as enmeshed in a web of confusion and deceptions, misled not only by appearances but also by their own delusions and lies. …
The governor’s wife and daughter lead an expensive lifestyle at the expense of the town’s people. The two change clothe often, eat well and lives large. The traders complain that the governor comes at his will and demands that he is given clothes which he then gives to his wife. Also, the governor appears to favour his close friends, he allows the judge to take bribes and the police to over drink at odd hours.
THE LION AND THE JEWEL
BY WOLE SOYINKA
The play is set in the village of Ilunjinle, Nigeria. Sidi, a beautiful young woman also known as “The Jewel," carries her pail of water past the school where Lakunle, a schoolteacher and a village outsider with modern ideas, works. He approaches her and chastises her for carrying her water on her head and stunting her shoulders; she is unfazed. Lakunle loves Sidi and wants to marry her, but he refuses to pay her bride-price because he considers it an archaic tradition. Sidi does not love Lakunle; she finds him and his ideas about making her a modern, Western bride obnoxious. However, she plans to marry him if he can pay the price as the village traditions necessitate.
While Sidi and Lakunle are talking, several young women run up to Sidi and tell her that the stranger, a photographer who visited the village some time ago, is back, and that he brought with him the magazine that contained within it pictures of the village and villagers. Sidi occupies a central space and is stunningly beautiful. Lakunle is dismayed to hear this, but Sidi glows with pride.
Sidi suggests the villagers act out and dance to the story of the stranger. She pushes Lakunle to participate and act as the stranger, and the performance commences. The drummers and singers and actors play out the arrival of the stranger and his camera. Lakunle gets into the spirit of the performance. As this goes on, the Bale (i.e. head) of the village, Baroka “the Lion" arrives. He plays the role of the chief. Later that day he stares at the pictures of Sidi and muses that he has not taken a wife for some time.
Sadiku, Baroka’s senior wife and head of the harem, finds Sidi and tells her that Baroka wants to take her for a wife. She paints this as an incredible honor, but Sidi laughs that Baroka is old. She glories in her photographs and says Baroka only wants her because she is so famous and has brought so much honor to the village. Lakunle, who is jealously listening, excoriates Baroka as being against progress and modernity.
Sadiku returns to Baroka and gives him Sidi’s reply. He is calm at first but becomes distressed when she tells him Sidi said he is old. He bemoans the fact that he is no longer virile, and tries to take comfort in the elderly Sadiku’s gentle touch.
Sidi is standing and admiring her photos near the schoolhouse when Sadiku, cackling to herself and carrying a bundle, arrives. Inside the bundle is a carved figure of the Bale. Sadiku looks at it and bursts into laughter, exulting in how she and the women have undone him. Sidi is confused, and Sadiku whispers to her about the Bale’s impotence.
Lakunle sees them talking and tries to learn what they are saying, but both women tell him to leave them alone. Sidi announces she has a plan, and tells Sadiku that it would be wonderful if she could go to dinner with the Bale and see him thwarted. Sadiku gleefully agrees, and Sidi bounds off. After she leaves, Sadiku and Lakunle argue, with Lakunle telling Sadiku that his plans of modernity are what is best for the village.
The scene shifts to the Bale’s bedroom, where he is engaged in wrestling with a man hired for the purpose of making him stronger. Sidi enters confidently, but the Bale’s dismissive attitude confuses her. She pretends to ask his counsel on a man who wanted to marry her, describing the Bale instead.
As the Bale continues to wrestle, he criticizes Sidi for listening to Sadiku and being one of the vexing young women of the village. He asks her if Sadiku invented any stories, and she says no. He pretends to complain about Sadiku’s constant matchmaking. He does admire Sidi, though, for seeming much deeper and more mature than how he once saw her.
Baroka confides in her his plan for a stamp machine that will have images of Ilunjinle on it, as well as of Sidi herself. He ruminates more to himself that he does not hate progress but only bland similarity. He admits he and the schoolteacher are not so different, and that they must work together.
The drums begin, and female dancers pursue a male. Sadiku and Lakunle wait for Sidi to return. Lakunle is very nervous, and claims he will go rescue Sidi.
The mummers play in the distance, and Sadiku joyfully assumes the Bale has been brought down. She also tells Lakunle he must pay the mummers for a performance or it would be rude. She grabs money from his pocket and pays them; they dance out the story of Baroka and his downfall. Sadiku herself is invited to help “kill” the Bale.
Suddenly Sidi runs in, sobbing. She throws herself to the ground. Lakunle is horrified and asks if she was beaten. Sidi sobs that Sadiku was fooled: the Lion tricked her and was not impotent at all, so he raped Sidi and took her virginity.
Lakunle announces he will still marry Sidi. She is perplexed and asks if this is true, he agrees. However, almost immediately when marriage preparations start, Lakunle becomes visibly distressed. He claims to need more time.
Sidi laughs and says she is actually getting ready to marry Baroka, because it is the only thing she can do. Sadiku blesses her and asks the gods for fertility.
The festivities begin, and even Lakunle seems to be getting into the spirit of things when he chases a young woman who shakes her butt at him.
Characters and Characterization
Lakunle is described as a young, energetic radical school teacher who uses his book knowledge against his societal wish. He is one of the chief characters involved in the daily affairs of his society, putting him on the receiving end with Baroka and Sidi. He advocates for change entailing polygamous marriage, bride price payment and traditional dance among other known cultural practices in his society.
Lakunle wants Sidi’s hands in marriage but is not ready to pay her bride price as the societal norm holds it. He dodges Sidi’s primary questions and advice pertaining to saving for dowry just like what other men who want to marry do. He finds fault with old people like Sadiku and Baroka for supporting the tradition, and worse, Lakunle uses uncouth language on them.
Literary, Sidi is described as the jewel; she catches attention of masses, the old and young alike. Being that she is virgin and beautiful, Sidi commands a lot of respect even among her fellow female friends. A photographer from the city confirms her beauty when he brings her pictures and narrates to the villagers of Ilijunle about how people of Lagos like her looks.
Sidi is painted as a conservative woman who respects herself and her tradition. She fails to honour Lakunle’s demand of marrying her without dowry, and more, defends her stand by giving convincing reasons to why she must be married in a traditional way.
Chief Baroka has big titles, the lion, and Bale. He commands respect and recognition from everyone in Ilijunle. This is because of his age, fame and wealth. He is painted as an authoritative figure who uses his position to intimidate and force things towards his direction, example sending his wife Sadiku to carry his message for him to have Sidi’s hand in marriage.
Baroka is portrayed as corrupt, egocentric and a conservative individual. He wants everything for himself, wealth women and fame. Also, he is against collective development, for instance, he failed to approve of the construction of railway line in his village. He is selfish because, he has two wives, Sadiku and Ailatu but still courts Sidi despite having knowledge that Lakunle shares the same interest.
Sadiku is Baroka’s first wife. She defends her traditions and customs. This is demonstrated through her constant plead with Sidi to get married to Baroka, and her urge for Lakunle to obey his tradition even if it means saving for the dowry.
Sadiku is not educated; Lakunle sympathizes with her, asking her to get to school in order to reason well. On her side, she blames Lakunle’s school knowledge for not helping him help and his people. Also, she supports women’s liberation as she rejoices after Baroka reveals his downfall, lost manhood and his inability to take a woman to bed. Sadiku incorporates all men into such downfall including Lakunle himself that their authority is designated to end.
Tradition is the most addressed theme in this play. Tradition as a theme is sub divided into bride payment, polygamous marriage, role and position of women and courtship in marriage among others.
(ii) Polygamous marriage: Marriage based on polygamy pose a great platform for discussion. Baroka and Sadiku support this kind of marriage arrangements, for instance, Sadiku acknowledges that once Baroka marries Sidi, chances are high that she would reap big when Sadiku grows old. Sidi finds no fault in marrying Baroka except for the fear that he is old and may not be able to take her to bed.
(iii) Role and position of women: Women are viewed as tools for pleasure; Baroka believes that his lost manhood will be brought back in case he finds a virgin to restore it for him. He admits to Sadiku that he is certain his affair with Sidi would bring back his lost manhood and at its best, put him right with his ancestors including his late father who gave birth at an old age.
Also, women occupy the lowest rank in a society; Sadiku’s position is to take orders from Baroka without objection. Sidi visits Baroka to make fun of him after Sadiku’s revelation that he has a dead manhood, a sign of relief from the obvious perception that has been for a long time placed women as weak people.
(iv) Courtship: Courtship is a traditional form of marriage arrangement whereby a third party is involved in making marriage plans before the actual marriage is settled. Sadiku, for example, takes Baroka’s marriage proposal to Sidi and defends Baroka on such a decision. Thus, she acts as a go between for the two.
Baroka is painted as a selfish person who is against development of others, Lakunle explains that he once frustrated efforts that would have seen his village achieve railway line and paved way for civilization. On the other hand, Lakunle does not want to pay bride price; he dodges this issue citing unnecessary reasons for his resistance.
Lakunle is in the fore front to redeem his society from rogue societal practices that put bar between the privileged and the less privileged. Example is payment of bride price, which to him denotes buying of a woman. Therefore, he advocates for change by approaching individuals and educating them independently on the dangers associated with such practices. Lakunle introduces western way of life where freedom of choice and expression is guaranteed for both male and female.
THE TRIALS OF BROTHER JERO
BY WOLE SOYINKA
“ The Trials of Brother Jero” follows a day in the life of Jero, a self-named prophet who is eager to present this turn of events to an audience to proudly illustrate his wise and cunning nature. The play opens with Brother Jero offering a monologue on his beginnings: He tells the audience that he was born a prophet and reveals his view of prophet hood as a "trade." Jero was able to acquire his current beach-side realty in the name of his former master, the Old Prophet, by leading a campaign against the other prophets and followings also claiming the land. He then drove the Old Prophet off his own land, however, and midway into his monologue the Old Prophet enters to curse Jero, wishing his downfall via women. Jero presents this day as one in which the Old Prophet's wish is almost fulfilled.
In Scene 2 the audience is introduced to Chume, a messenger in the government, and Amope, his ill-tempered wife. Amope is determined to receive money that Brother Jero owes her for a velvet cape that he purchased from her, unbeknownst to Chume, who is his, most faithful penitent. Amope camps outside his door and after a brief confrontation Jero sneaks out to the beach, where he tells his followers he lives. Chume arrives at the beach and meets Jero.
In Scene 3, eager to list his grievances about his wife, Jero has told Chume that he must not beat his wife, despite repeated requests from Chume. As the rest of the congregation gathers, a fight between a Drummer Boy and a woman temporarily distracts Jero, who leaves to attempt to mitigate the fight while Chume temporarily takes over his sermon, empowered. When Jero returns, exhausted, he discovers that Chume's wife is in fact Amope and grants him permission to beat her, hoping it will take care of his problems as well.
In Scene 4, Chume is emboldened to talk back to Amope. He soon discovers, however, that the man who is her debtor is in fact Brother Jero, and that his prophet hood is built on a web of lies. Instead of beating Amope, he takes off to confront Jero.
In Scene 5 Jero is in the process of converting another penitent, a Member of the House, by playing on his desire to become a Minister, when Chume arrives with the intention of killing Jero. Jero flees, as the Penitent interprets his disappearance as a sign of his divinity. When Jero returns he has arranged for Chume to be taken to an insane asylum, and his newest Penitent is more strongly convinced of his status as a Prophet, dedicating himself to Jero as his "Master."
The play mocks the effects of the quick spread of Christianity across Africa. Soyinka takes issue with a common figure of the time, the phony preacher who proselytizes by deceiving his followers. Many of these preachers did not have churches of their own and so preached in public spaces, as does Brother Jero. The play thus exposes the contradictions in blind faith and following, while also drawing attention through satire to many of the social and political imbalances of Nigeria in the early 1960s.
The characters of The Trials of Brother Jero are bound to their gender roles, with many personality traits explicitly attributed to a character’s sex. Men constantly struggle to steer clear of the temptation of sin posed by women: Brother Jero himself admits that he has “one weakness, women,” the basis of the central conflict between his desired self-image and reality. Chume, too, fights the urge to beat Amope for her constant pestering. Women are described as “fickle,” “the plague," and “daughters of discord."
This characterization by Brother Jero and Chume places blame on women for the burden they place on men and their sinful nature. The women of the play, on the other hand, feel tied to the will of men and therefore similarly limited. Amope complains that “it is a tough life for a woman” as she must depend on Chume and what he provides, which she deems insufficient for her needs. This barrier between men and women causes lapses in understanding and strained relationships. In this way, the theme of gender drives much of the plot in the play.
Soyinka's play is widely considered a satire of proselytizing faith. Brother Jero’s success rests entirely on the blind faith of his followers, whom he is able to win over easily by offering false and fantastic prophesies. Thus the virtue in faith alone is called into question, and Christianity, at least in the form found with characters like Brother Jero, scrutinized. Although Brother Jero loses one follower in Chume at the end of the play, he is able to win over another, the Member of Parliament, just as quickly, speaking to the power of faith in its aim to fulfill personal hope and desire. Soyinka’s play forces the reader to question when belief is and is not justified, and to consider who has the power to claim and impart knowledge.
The influence of social status is also a driving force in the play: Brother Jero's false prophet hood is driven by a desire to elevate himself to a nearly divine status in his community. Yet just as this drives his willing deceit of others, it influences the willingness of others to be deceived. Brother Jero in fact plays on the same desires in others to elevate his own status: Chume relies on Jero's prophecy that he will become a Chief Clerk, while the Member of the House is seduced by the power that will come with Jero's prophecy of his becoming Minister for War. In this way, the quest for increased social status and the privileges it brings influences every character in the play, regardless of their current social standing.
The role of communication in theater, and especially in Soyinka's play, is important, as Soyinka pays special attention to its influence in power dynamics. One of Amope’s most powerful characteristics is her ability to insult even while speaking indirectly around the subject, whereas Jero's lofty and elegant wording is integral to his perception of himself as superior to those he converts. Similarly, Chume expresses his confusion and emotion through a change in his speech, relying on pidgin during moments of tension and excitement. Each character's words are carefully chosen, as words misunderstood or misinterpreted push the play forward.
Soyinka is not only poking fun at religion but also criticizing politics; often, as the play reveals, there is a large overlap between the two. Politics appears at an official level, such as the supposed low salary granted to Chume as the local government's messenger and the Member of the House's desire for a position of more power, between the local village and the central government. But it also exists at a more informal level, between each character attempting to figure out her/his role in a country still negotiating its new independence from Britain. Jero's very rise to power was a result of what he called a successful "campaign" against other prophets and their followings, and as the self-elected leader, or tyrant, of the Brotherhood of Jero, his every action is political, serving to consolidate his own power.
The assignment of value to peoples, professions, and goods is central to The Trials of Brother Jero. While religion ordinarily serves to hold value in itself, Jero uses his Brotherhood as a tool to achieve power. Rather than valuing his followers as people and ends in themselves, Jero assigns value as if they were goods to be traded and swapped. This is demonstrated when, following his loss of Chume's faith, Jero attempts to convert the Member, as if balancing his books. In doing so, Jero commodifies religion, turning toward a system that understands only financial gains. Through his actions, Soyinka seems to be asking his audience how we should properly value each other and our lives, in a world where people focus increasingly on making financial gains.
The ever-present and observant crowd is quite prominent throughout the play, watching scenes of provocation and fighting, such as Amope's fight with Chume. The tension between the needs of the individual and the community is apparent in Amope's firmly held belief that everyone wishes her ill and that she can only rely on herself. Chume is first empowered by his interaction with an eager crowd, stepping in to take over Jero's sermon: Once the crowd believes Chume's words, he believes them as well. But even as the individual finds strength in the support of the community, he or she struggles to find strength in its absence.
Chume seems to become even more incensed as the crowd watching his attack on Amope questions his actions, as he breaks from society's expectations and understanding of what is rational to pursue Jero. The pressure of an always-alert crowd also plagues Jero, who constantly thinks to inform and share secrets with the play's audience, as if asking for their approval.
THE DILEMMA OF A GHOST
BY CHRISTINA AMA ATA AIDOO
The story begins by the two women talking about the arrival of Eskom’s son from overseas and with the hope that Eskom must be a lucky mother. One woman thinks otherwise. Says the son’s presence on the land has not benefited Eskom in a way since her debt piles up by day.
Ato’s relations are gathered to welcome him home. Everyone is seated in his/her respective places in the order of his/her importance. The issue of marriage is raised and Eskom proves that everything is already put in place. That the goat has already been sold in order to add to what she has and pay for Ato’s dowry. Ato is puzzled by this idea and volunteers the information that he is already married. Everybody in the meeting is surprised especially when he goes further to say that his wife has no tribe, and is American daughter of slaves (Negro). Nana refuses to listen further and warns him not to talk with the foolishness of his generation. She falls down and asks herself what she would tell the ancestors about their own marrying a slave. The two women see her and ask themselves questions thinking Nana is already dead. She asks them to go away and save their tears as she nears death.
In the city, Eulalie is becoming used to Africa; she likes the Coca-Cola which she had earlier thought could not be found in Africa. She asks Ato that they start a family, an idea that he fails to heed to.
In the village, six months later, Ato is daydreaming about a boy and a girl in a dilemma. Uncle Petu arrives from the farm and Ato narrates the dream to him. He asks him to see Nana over it and hands over the farm input he brought with him from the farm to Ato. He asks him to greet his wife for him when she wakes up. Eulalie wakes up and is not happy with the idea of being visited by relatives. Eskom and Monka arrive to greet them and give them snails for food. Eulalie throws them immediately the two leave. This immediately brings conflict between Ato and his wife. Monka sees this and tells Eskom about it. Eskom becomes furious with her. Ato is seen defending her saying that she doesn’t know how to eat them.
Monka reveals to us the other side of Ato especially when she visited him in town and he failed to give her food. We learn about how Ato got his education amidst poverty and the mothers struggle against all odds to see him through his education.
Some months later, Ato and his wife come to the village for the ritual of sprinkling the stools to drive away the devil spirits. The two women (neighbours) say Eskom’s roof leaks like never before. They say the son is married to a woman who uses machines to do her work, is a daughter of slaves, smokes cigarettes and is barren. People are gathered and Eulalie leaves them saying that she does not understand their language. The meeting concerns her since the two have got no child; they want to cleanse her womb with concoctions. Ato is against the idea saying they (Ato and Eulalie) have decided not to have kids for some time. For the second time, the meeting ends immaturely since the elders now convinced that Ato has gone mad.
Ato beats Eulalie for taking ill about his people especially after she refuses to attend the thanks giving ceremony of one of their dead relative. Eulalie is angered and disappears. Ato comes home later in the evening and finds her not at home. He goes to his mother’s and finds Eulalie there. Eskom puts all the blames on his son for not teaching Eulalie African ways. They reconcile.
Ato Yawson: He is the main character in the play. He is educated African son since he went to America for his studies. He practices western culture by marrying against the societal wish by marrying Eulalie an American Negro without the knowledge of his people. He takes long without having a child saying he and his wife had planned that they would do when they get ready for it. He later on defends his people and beats Eulalie for saying they are not civilized.
He is somehow irresponsible since in most part of the play, he fails to help his poor mother to settle her debts and mend her leaking roof. He demonstrates his weakness by defending Eulalie several times including when she threw the snails.
He sleeps and dreams at day time when people are out in the farm working. It is ironical in the African setting to sleep at day time and in the village when people are out in the fields working. This is laziness in the highest order He suffers dilemma, whether to live like an American or to African.
Eulalie Rush: She is an Afro-American graduate born in America by the Negro ancestry. She marries Ato and crosses the cultural bridge with hope that love will make her live in Africa. She fails to understand Ato’s people and culture. She doesn’t want Ato’s relatives to visit her. She smokes and drinks in public against Ato’s cultural setting. She throws away snails. She gets into conflict with Ato often for failing to understand his culture including attending stool sprinkling ceremony and respect for the relations. She fails to live as to the societal expectations including doing work and having babies. She lets machines do most of her work.
Esikom: She is Ato’s mother and Eulalie’s mother-in-law. She is portrayed as a hardworking, responsible, wise and determined woman. She does everything to make sure that her children are educated, clothed and well fed. She demonstrates her commitment to her culture by selling the sheep and adds to her savings to pay Ato’s bride price. She cares for her family by bringing them food since she has knowledge on how food is scars (snails)
She is wise because she knows that Ato is to blame for the problems he faces. She blames him for not teaching Eulalie about the custom of his people. She uses her wisdom to bring the two together.
Nana: She is Ato’s grandmother. She is traditionalist/conservative; she confirms this by disagreeing with the idea of Ato marrying against the societal expectations, worse, marrying from the slaves. She is a symbol of unity and commands respect from her people. She is left with the task of warning Ato against reasoning with the foolishness of his generation (when he said that Eulalie has no tribe). Nana is not educated. She doesn’t know of the Negroes nor their history. She can’t even pronounce Eulalies’ name properly. She believes in life after death. She says that it will be a great shame for her when she dies and meets the dead ancestors. She doesn’t know how she would defend herself when they learn of their own marrying a slave.
Monka: She is Ato’s sister. She is much talkative and has severally failed to live with men as husband and wife. The two women tell us how she is a disgrace to her mother. She is nosy; she is much into the affairs in Ato’s life than her own.
Petu: He is Ato’s uncle. He stands against Ato’s idea of marrying outside his tribe. He visits Ato and is surprised on what the world has come to. He can’t understand how Ato finds it easy to sleep and dream at day time while people are in the fields working.
Akyere,Akroma among other Relations of Ato’s: They are supportive, they gather at a place to see that Ato lives a life worthy of living and guided by the social standards. Including marrying from their own and having kids, they attend every meeting that is called and contributes positively to the expectations
1st and 2nd Woman: they are Esikom’s neighbours, they question the need of having children. They say it doesn’t profit anybody in a case where the children fail to show up in favour of their poor parents. They keenly monitor the events surrounding Eskom’s life and draw a conclusion.
Conflict is seen in this play appearing in a variety of ways including:
Cultural conflict; Ato’s marriage to Eulalie, an Afro- American is not welcomed in Ato’s African society.
Ato and Eulalie: two get into conflict severally for reasons such as throwing of snails and failing to attend a community ceremony where Ato finally beats her.
Eulalie and Ato’s people; Eulalie says that Ato’s people are not civilized.
Betrayal; Ato betrays the trust of his people by marrying from outside their tribe. He betrays his mother for not building her a house and paying her debts. He goes further betraying his mother and sister when he defended Eulalie in presence of his furious mother.
Eulalie betrays Ato by acting against the agreement she had made to him while still in America that his people will be hers. She changes immediately she sets foot in Africa.
Ato betrays Eulalie by forcing her to attend a ceremony and eventually beating her.
Dilemma: is a situation whereby someone finds it difficult to make a choice between almost two similar options. Both Ato and Eulalie are victims at the same time. Ato doesn’t understand whether to live like an African or as an American. Eulalie also cannot tell whether to accept Ato;s culture and move on or carry on with the American culture
Tradition; this theme is subdivided into several aspects including; tribal marriage, bride price payment and sprinkling of the stool.
Tribal marriage/tribalism; The society does not wholly approve someone to marry outside their tribe. They enquire from which tribe is Eulalie only to learn that she doesn’t come from their own. Esikom on her part had gone for some girl to ask her to marry Ato
Bride price Payment; Esikom had already sold the only sheep she had in order to pay the would be Ato’s in-laws bride price as to the social norms
Sprinkling of the stool; is a tradition practiced by Ato’s people. It is meant to do away with the evils in the society. It goes together with the womb cleansing for barren women.
Protest: Ato’s people protest against Eulalie’s people especially Eulalie for smoking and drinking, using so much money on the drinks and machines for doing her work. Eulalie also protest against Ato’s people for being much concerned about the affairs that less concerns them.
Ignorance; Akyere confirms that she does not know the ways of Americans. Nana as well is ignorant about slaves and how they ended up being in America