Free Ben Okri’s Songs Of Enchantment: Setting AND How Its Influences Extraction Of Themes Argumentative Essay Example
Ben Okri’s Songs of Enchantment (published in 1994) continues the story in the presequel, The Famished Road, which won the 1991Booker Prize. It picks up from where The Famished Road left off. In The Famished Road, Azaro, the protagonist, defied his fellow spirits and refused to die, carrying the torch of his family. Azaro has proved a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit and its ability to succeed amidst largely unfavorable circumstances. However, the fight is not over and is carried over to the next phase in the Songs of Enchantment. The choice of setting in this story, like in its predecessor, plays a key role in the themes that Okri explores.
The interpretation of a literary text is always open to individual views. Besides, it is all conjecture, although it must be an informed conjecture- rather than guess work. However, it has been argued that literature (as all art) is the mouthpiece for society; that society is what inspires it, giving it material to work with. Setting is not just about the immediate context in which the writer lives, but also the one that lives in the writer’s head, which could be geographically distant. The setting can also be in the physical world, but also transcend those boundaries and enter the realm of the spirit. References to “the father of a fellow spirit-child” (Okri 153) and the “Jackal-headed masquerade” (Okri 114) take this story beyond the empirical world. In the end, the choice of setting often determines the themes that the writer can explore and how far he/she can go in that exploration, among others (Jahraus 21-23).
In relation to the physical world, it is hard- if at all possible- to see this setting to be anywhere but Africa. This is so whether the village in which the story has been set had been identified as an African village (as it was) or not. The characters in the story, by name or their behaviors as well as the places in which they live, among others, are tellingly African. Now, having seen this as Africa, it becomes hard to ignore the potentiality of this book- like its predecessor- as being a mouthpiece for Africa. From the late 1980s, Africa, like much of the developing world, was experiencing much economic turmoil the followed the failure of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP), which the United States and its developed counterparts- through the IMF and World Bank- had imposed on them. But this was largely an offshoot of the failure of the institution of democracy in the country. Looking at these issues, the successes and failures in the post-independence era may not have been Okri’s primary goal. Besides, Okri has long been against the notion that art and artists are supposed to serve a bigger purpose than the mere artistic calling of the artist. However, if one were looking for them, the elements of the post-independence Africa, including those associated with the so-called neo-colonialism become evident. For example, the village is besieged by malevolent spirits and corruption. Indeed, corruption has become a redundant vice in the post-independence of governance of Africa. Okri explores these themes consistent with the 1990s Africa- and even Africa to date for that matter- through marked symbology. There is a jackal-headed masquerade that rides a white horse. The masquerade is an allusion to “the masks and statues . . . with big indifferent eyes that stared at our incomprehension in broken silence” (Okri 114). There are also politicians who court the villagers with poisoned food. It is a representation of the difficulty faces in understanding the outcome of events, which makes it even harder to find a solution to the “black rock infested with so many fearful legends [and] heavy and monumental like a compressed planet” (Okri 97). However, the 1990s was also a time of new beginning for Africa, with multiparty democracy starting in a number of countries, including Kenya. Perhaps even more important, the publication of the Songs of Enchantment coincided with the end of Apartheid Rule in South Africa. It did not necessarily mean a better outcome. However, considered against the backdrop of the people’s response to a de jure multiparty democracy- having been merely a matter of fact in many African countries- this time also acted a key metaphor for the underlying resilience of the African masses to keep fighting on for a better future despite all that happened; their refusal to just give up, taking up whatever tail of hope they could cling to. In this respect, it is telling that the book focuses on Azaro and his family working hard to restore their sense of harmony and cohesiveness. This tellingly coincides with the efforts of Nigeria as a people to restore the national community which had been broken by the Biafra war, just it stands out in the way that it speaks for the new hope in Africa and the high expectations that came with South Africa gaining its independence in the same year. The independence of South Africa, most importantly, gave birth to a new sense of possibilities.
The other setting is in the spirit world. Azaro is in a mythic world of spirits where humans live side by side with spirits. This is a dream-world, and there could be an important thematic implication to it. The first implication is the limitlessness of human imagination, that which drives hope. The very existence of Azaro is important. He is the being “in the middle between the living and the dead” (Okri 258). He is both a representative of the downtrodden (African) peasant, but also a link to the future, perhaps a better tomorrow. By way of his ability to exist between both worlds (the physical and the spirit world), he is more like Jesus, but perhaps even more preferable in the sense that he does not carry a god-tag with him. He is quite ordinary, except he has the advantage of ‘seeing’ into the next. Therefore, he suffers the ordinary suffering just like others. Some wars he losses and some he wins, and often, he is caught by surprise even by his triumphs; and therein lies the story of the significance of Azaro as a symbol of hope, giving people the ability to create “realities [with their] thoughts” (Okri 290, 295). However, it could also be that Okri makes a statement against imagination and hope. Azaro is a once-in-a-while child. Whether one believes his like can exists or not is a personal matter. Regardless, for many-and certainly for many readers- he is merely a product of conjecture. Maybe then, all that he stands for is also conjecture.
In the end, whether one chooses to focus on the physical-setting inspiration of the Azaro’s world or the spirit-aspect it, there are themes to extract. The physical setting could be seen as a representation of the real Africa, so that Azaro’s problems are a reflection of the real world of the peasant Africa. However, the spirit-world setting has its own roles, include a pessimistic story. However, it may also be a continuation- perhaps a better one- of the story of hope. Okri, for instance, is quoted saying, “We need poets to show us the falseness of our limitations, the true extent of our kingdom” (Taylor 1).
Jahraus, Oliver. “Text, Context, Culture”, Journal of Literary Theory, 1.1 (2007), 19-44
Okri, Ben. Song of Enchantment. Vintage, 1994. Print.
Taylor, Paul. Book Review/ Dreams of a Boy on Earth: ‘Songs of Enchantment’.
The Independent, March 21. 1993. Web, 22 April 2015