Thematic Analysis of Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah


SYNOPSIS OF Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

Across the dirt and chaos that is the city of Accra, we see the man, the central character whose name is obscured throughout the novel. The city, as well as its inhabitants, is presented as irredeemably rotten; not to talk of the cursing nature of the motorists, especially the commercial bus conductors and drivers alike. In short, in the city of Accra, everybody is angry. The man is shown as a man with a job at the Traffic Control Office who is unhappily running off to work that he dreads and loathes.

When he gets to work, the normal boring and uneventful jobs he has to do confronts him. His conversation with a messenger at work reveals that for many Ghanaians playing the lottery is a quick way to break out of poverty, even though whosoever becomes lucky to win a large sum of money will eventually not get all the money due to corruption by the official. When the man asks why not complain to the police to get his money back, he replies: “It costs you more money if you go to the police, that’s all.”

Even the narrator describes the entire Ghana situation thus:

So the sea salt and the sweat together and the fan above made this stewy atmosphere in which the suffering sleepers came and worked and went dumbly back afterward to homes they had earlier fled.
Hungry, the man goes to a restaurant to have a meal only to check his pocket and realize he is broke. Disappointed and famished, he goes back to the office. Then a timber contractor offers him a 10 cedis bribe to help him ferry his timbers even though the job is actually supposed to be carried out by another man who has not yet assumed duty. The man, in spite of his hunger and poverty, rejects the offer, though weakly. For in his mind, the other side of him wanting desperately the bribe is seriously scolding him. The man can’t stop thinking right there why he the one who has refused a bribe is feeling like the criminal while the contractor himself is feeling and even acting like the man has just done him the greatest evil. Here is how the narrator has captured the situation succinctly:

The visitor was angry now, in the special way the upright have of being angry with perverse people. He searched around under his folds of kente cloth stuck the wallet in some hidden pocket. Then, saying not a word of farewell to the man at the table, he strode to the door, opened it angrily and disappeared behind it. The man was left alone with thoughts of the easy slide and how everything said there was something miserable, something unspeakably dishonest about a man who refused to take and to give what everyone around was busy taking and giving: something unnatural, something very cruel, something that was criminal, for who but a criminal could ever be left with such a feeling of loneliness? (p. 31-32)
On his way back home, the man chances upon Joseph Koomson, his classmate who is now an honourable “Minister Plenipotentiary, Member of the Presidential Commission” a beneficiary in the current corrupt Ghanaian government with his wife, Estella, as they cruise in their expensive car.

At home, for his individualistic tendency to have the gut to refuse a bribe at work while his household is languishing in abject poverty, Oyo, the man’s wife likens him to a chichidodo, the proverbial bird that eats shit but hates worms. His wife’s constant nagging at home makes him dread and sometimes wants to flee home permanently. But because he lacks the will, he decides instead to visit his friend, Teacher.

At his friend’s place, the man shows his disappointment in himself for his inability to give his family the best life that they desire. He believes that Teacher is free because being single, he has no one urging him to do what he does not wish to do. So he longs for his friend’s kind of freedom. Completely worn-out by his wife and mother-in-law’s condemning his stance against corrupt practices, he voices out thus:

Yes I feel like a criminal. Often these days I find myself thinking of something sudden I could do to redeem myself in their eyes. Then I sit down and ask myself what I have done wrong, and there is really nothing.
Then the Teacher replies: “’You have not done what everybody is doing”, said the naked man, ”and in this world that is one of the crimes.”’ (p. 54)

Soon Joseph Koomsoon visits the man’s household, as planned. It is a case of the wealth versus poverty as the countenance and attitude of Estella, Koomson’s wife, shows discontent with every dish she is served, not minding that a lot of efforts had gone into preparing the meal. Then Koomsoon, the honourable Minister has to use the toilet; the toilet of the poor is a shared one, disgusting and unusable for the likes of the minister, but because shit waits for no one, he has to make do with what’s available otherwise something more embarrassing could happen.

Oyo’s mother is happy that Koomsoon is about to rescue them out of poverty since Oyo’s husband is incapable of doing that. A promise of a boat for fishing is given to the households so they can have a share of the fish, not the boat entirely.

At work, The man hears of a coup but refuses to join others in the demonstration believing that nothing is going to change except the people who will go on another round of corruption spree.

He gets home to find the minster, Koomsoon, coiled in the dark in one corner of their room like a frightened kid. There has been a coup and he too is to pay the price with his life. As the soldiers approach the man’s house in search of Koomsoon, the man helps him escape through the toilet zinc with all the shits and sanitary pads and what you can think of. With shits and piss all over their bodies, Koosomson with the man is able to get to the boatman’s house unnoticed by anyone. With an agreement that the boatman owns half of the boat and a bribe of a few cedis at the gate where the boat will ferry the minister abroad, the boatman is able to make the minister disappear.