Traditional Greed or Imported Capitalism in A Forest of Flowers

Emilie Cassou (English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997)

See also other reading questions created by members of this class. GPL]

Whereas Aké is composed of a weaving of stories and narratives, A Forest of Flowers is designed so that each chapter begins a new story, with little or no correlation between the consecutive chapters. This form of story telling is similar to how I imagine a story of Dukana would be recalled verbally. How else does the structure of story telling enhance the novel? Why would Saro-Wiwa and Soyinka choose to tell stories in such different forms? Is there any significance to Saro-Wiwa's "ne'er-do-well" character, Bom? "It was inconceivable that he could do anything beyond telling a good story..."(41). Storytelling is depicted as a positive trait, however Dukana's most prominent storyteller is a "penniless sluggard". Why is the storyteller an eye-sore? The financial status of a storyteller is also mentioned: "a good story will only feed the storyteller when the audience is large" (41). Could these also be the sentiments of Saro-Wiwa himself? [Corey Binns]

2. The short stories of Part I, which depict the author's village rather lyrically, subtly include the effects of colonialism on the community, and these arguably draw their power from their very understatement, in contrast to the shout-outs to the glory of Dukana.

One main difference between the two parts of the book is the greater lexical presence of subjectivity in the descriptions of Part II, as these are laden with words of pejorative denotation. In the first part, the pejorative aspects of colonial importations are only connoted through the manipulation of tone and through the counter-intuitive absence of commentary or judgment. For example, throughout the first part we encounter the shady aspects of infiltrating either old-fashioned greed or modern Western caplitalism into a traditional village such as Dukana. It struck me that excessive greed permeates the people of Dukana's interactions and values. The population is not especially obsessed with profit, as it is unsanctionning of the use of money as an indicator of value in all areas of social interaction, even in those domains where Westerners usually rule marketable value out as inappropriate -- as though there lacked an indigenous ethic to accompany this foreign mode of assigning values.

New influences were seeping into the lives of the villagers. The village lads paraded the roads at night, booming transistor radios hung around their proud necks. Before these signs of prosperity (21). . .

For a man did not make the wealth which was Dabo's by just working hard. You had to have sold your sold your soul to the devil to earn that much money. [28; emphasis added: Superstition is spoken of in capitalistic terms.]

Among us, death has been divided into three categories. The death of an ordinary man or woman who lives in a house, owns one or two pieces of land, a canoe, one or two pieces of cloth and not much besides, causes a ripple, hardly a stir. (34) [The sentimental reaction to the death of an individual depends on the economic worth of the deceased.]

For that was the ultimate aim of a Dukana woman. To be the only wife of a poor man. Or one of the many wives of a rich man. A rich man being he who owned many pieces of farmland, a few more goats than usual . . . and maybe a tidy, neat little sum of money in coins and paper tied in a rag and hidden beneath his bed . . . So every mother had told her daughter. So all daughters believed. (50)

[A good marriage is determined in capitalistic terms; these terms are linked to the people's value system, as added emphasis points out.] People could not determine whom or what she [Duson the woman trader] was mourning -- Adda or the money which she alleged he owed her. (54)

Yet perhaps there is no bitterness or reproach buried in the author's narration, for she ceaselessly points out the general optimistic world view that carries the populous easily throughout the seasons.

If she [the river] did not respond charitably one year, the next would be better. (3)

Time does not matter in Dukana. (5) [In the Western world, the saying goes, "Time is money," and time certainly does matter.]

[In the scene where Daniel Dekor learns from the Bishop that he is not bound to receive the salary he earned and needs any time soon, he only momentarily is disheartened:]

"Papa, are you crying?" he [his son] asked.

"No, son," he [Daniel] said through his tears. For at that moment, the Holy Spirit had descended on him. (26)

In this light, is capitalism not simply a convenient tool for assigning values with market equivalencies, that Dukana has adopted superficially, and not a non-adapted Western capitalism, which provides a paradigm for the actual creation of values? In other words, only in the colonizing world would capitalism be the actual foundation of values; in Dukana, it would be a practical way of expressing values as they are actually dictated by tradition.

Dukana was a great town. Nobody could accuse its noble citizens of hoarding money. They held the commodity in healthy disdain; and the commodity itself, finding no comfortable home among them, naturally fled. (16)

Birabee and his assistants fed him [the Inspector] with the good things of life and gave him a good, fat envelope containing you know what... [17; In this scene, aren't Dukanans clearly above capitalism, as they pay to the Inspector whatever it takes to be "returned to [Dukana's] accustomed peace, somnolence, tranquility, dirt and happiness," none of which attributes have marketable value?]

Can we discuss what kind of commentary (on colonial influences in general) the author intended and achieved in this part of the book?

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