Blessed are the Poor? Theme in Works by Achebe, Saro-Wiwa, Ayoda, and Emecheta

G. Elissa Popoff, '99.5, Brown University English 27

The theme of money and its divisive social effects runs through Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Ken Saro-Wiwa's "Robert and the Dog," Awuor Ayoda's "Workday," and Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl. In these four works, members of the privileged elite often clash with the poor majority, leading to sudden yet carefully choreographed realignments in perspective catalyzed by descriptive and narrative techniques. These moments of epiphany experienced by the characters can also alter the reader's perspective.

Money appears in many guises; its presence decides the nature of one's work, education, lifestyle, social status and physical wellbeing. In Anthills of the Savannah, the only of these narratives presented from the viewpoint of a member of an elite group, money's presence for the central characters is assured and assumed, whereas in "Workday" the servant girl Mary toils for three hundred shillings a month, all of which she sends home to feed her numerous younger siblings-- a tremendous disparity in lifestyles. The material comforts lavished upon a pet by a wealthy doctor and his European wife infuriate their servant Robert, who watches his children "hungrily swallow small balls of eba" in the "filth and quagmire of Ajegunle." Ojebeta, the protagonist of The Slave Girl, comes from a perpetually underfed, illiterate, agricultural village whose inhabitants boast of their wealth in the marketplace, unwilling to admit to their penurity. A portion of agidi offered to Ojebeta that in her home "five people would have shared" amazes her, whereas to affluent, semi-Westernized Ma Palarda, who dines on meat daily and lives in a large house staffed by slaves, it is nothing.

Despite their different cultural contexts, all four works strikingly show the same socioeconomic context: a society split into the haves and the havenots, between which yawns a seemingly insurmountable chasm. The differences between the rich minority and the impoverished majority cause gross misunderstandings: that of Robert's employers regarding the dog, that of Mary and her employer Elizabeth, that of Beatrice and Agatha in Anthills of the Savannah. To Ikem Osodi, their differences are so great as to elicit a comparison to the relationship that once existed between the oppressive colonizers and the colonized oppressed: "The very words the white master had said in his tme about the black race as a whole. Now we say them about the poor" (37). Poverty has replaced race or culture as the divisive factor in society. Economic considerations motivate decision-making; what to do with one's quasi-orphaned younger sister, how to treat the master's dog, how to survive another day of demanding and thankless labor.

Postcolonial Web Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV Anthills OV Emecheta OV Awuor Ayoda OV