The Confluence of Religion and Economic Class

Laura Pilar Gelfman '00 (English 27, 1997)

The ruling class plays by a different set of rules than those which they preach. Using religion and money as tools to maintain their power, they enslave the masses to their culture. Daniel in "The Overhaul," from A Forest of Flowers, becomes a pawn in the Nigerian power struggle. As a result of the change from colonialism to independence and the changes caused by a meeting of two cultures, Nigerians assimilate to a form of the English culture. The relationship between religion and economic class exemplifies this confluence of culture and replication of English practice (George P. Landow, "Religion and Class among the Colonized," Postcolonial Web). As a storyteller, Ken Saro-Wiwa voices his criticisms of the distribution of Nigerian power with storytelling devices such as irony, characterization, style, ethos, and setting.

Ken Saro-Wiwa uses his short story "The Overhaul" to depict the influence of Christianity and economic power as it relates to a larger context. Representing church authority, Bishop Okoro enforces the belief that the amount one gives to the Church indicates how much one believes. He also spreads the idea that power and wealth come from religion. The Bishop's interest in Christianity ironically lies in its benefit as an economic system rather than a belief system. Daniel Dekor faces the dilemma of maintaining his traditional Church or succumbing to the Bishop's practice. If he keeps his traditional church, he will not receive a salary and therefore be unable to support his family. If he starts a new church based on the Bishop's ideology, he is perpetuating the oppressor's domination. Daniel recognizes that the Bishop, who drives a Mercedes-Benz, preaches a hypocrisy when he asks, "for what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul" (Saro-Wiwa 24)? At first Daniel cannot accept that the Bishop is encouraging him to use the church offerings as his salary. The Bishop tells him: "the church is in a bad way" financially; obviously this results from its priesthood using the offerings (Saro-Wiwa 26). Because the church traps him under economic pressure, Daniel succumbs to its power and the oppressor, Christianity, triumphs. Ken Saro-Wiwa uses this satire to critique the social oppression in Nigeria. With stories, Saro-Wiwa spreads his message, just as Achebe and Emecheta did.

As shown by Saro-Wiwa, traditional storytelling threatens the people and ideas in power. In a fictional setting, Ikem shows how the Nigerian government handles such opposition; he was fired from his editorial position for commanding his people to do: "Go home and think" (Achebe 145)! In present day Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed for bringing Ikem's proclamation to reality. The government silences Ikem and Saro-Wiwa for spreading the idea: "that we may accept a limitation on our actions but never, under no circumstances, must we accept restriction on our thinking" (Achebe 207). Both of these leaders use speeches and the written word to spread their message. As Saro-Wiwa tells his story, he sends a message which forces the reader to ask questions. Ironically, he tells his message in the English language, the language of his colonizers, which most Nigerians cannot understand; he appropriates his Postcolonial thought to the English language. Saro-Wiwa applies the traditional method of storytelling to untraditional stories about colonial oppression. By using technique to enforce theme, he guides the reader through the shift from the elite to the poor. Not only does this bring the reader deeper into the novel, it also shows the effects of Postcolonialism on the Nigerian culture.

Postcolonial Web Africa

OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa