A Forest of Flowers: Reading Questions

Members of English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997

See also the reading questions created by the previous (Spring 1997) class in this course.]

1. 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. "Dukana had wept many tears, the sort no one had seen for a long time. Because Alee was one of the shining lights of the town, one of the very few men who had broken free of the usual constrictions and who had sought the rewarding adventures of the new life" (38).

I find it ironic that Alee is considered a "Big man" for seeking the "new life," while Nedam, who is seeking a new lifestyle within the more traditional village agrarian system, which could ultimately be as beneficial to the village, is persecuted for his odd manner and appearance. How do the Dukana people define "Big men" and progression? Also, one man feared destruction due to the people's potential envy, and in fact, he died due to the death of a man who people had thought to have died due to the first man's envy? [Gerrit Bulman]

3. What is the motive behind Ken Saro-Wiwa's decision to narrate from the perspective of a young woman? How would or could the tone and perceptions differ if he had chosen a male narrator? Why a girl? [Jenni Ellingson]

4. To revisit an old theme, the narration of the stories is curious. In the first section, particularly, while everything takes place in the same town, the narration never seems to stay still. The first narrator is the nameless girl/woman (?), called "educated young miss" by former students in the story. I find it interesting that this "educated" narrator, whose voice is so strong for the first two stories, seems to vanish abruptly. And yet, probably becasue the same man is writing the stories, her voice is not entirely absent, either. THe wit and compassion, and the language are still there. What does it say for the narrator that she returns from school with a loud and observant voice and is rather quickly silenced as such, and in fact also carefully avoided by the later stories? What does it say for the village? For colonized vs. colonizers? For culture vs. political units like Nigeria? [Gregory Gipson]

5. Discuss Saro-Wiwa's interesting choice of the female narrator. What inherent qualities and insights does this choice bring to the stories? What inherent problems (particularly in an authorial context)? Does the author fully explore the possibilities of the choice? Why or why not? Culturally speaking, what can we learn through the stories about the attitude towards an educated, female "been-to"? How does this compare to the role of Beere in Aké? Is it an important distinction that Saro-Wiwa's narrator is single, whereas Beere was married to an equally respected man? [Andrew Greenwald]

6. See the scene of Alee's funeral:

And then the pent-up anger of Dukana unleashed itself. Suddenly, quickly and without evidence of prior planning. The manner of it was simple. One of the young men raised a loud cry above the voices of the ululating women.

"Dukana, do you keep quiet while you die a painful, slow death?" asked the yound man, the pain in his voice obvious.

Whereupon, as one man, the youth of Dukana rose and pounced upon Nedam... (39)

This scene seems to tie into themes running throughout the entire first section of the book and, indirectly, into the second. Nedam was a man who was either progressive, or riddled with the "sin or arrogance" as it is introduced in the first story, depending on which viewpoint one uses -- that of a villager, or that of someone who has had contact with the "modern," Eurocentric world. He is here portrayed as a bearer of Dukana's anger, which is its frustration in its struggle to survive in a "new" and changing world, and to stay true to its traditional community values. He has leaned too far in the direction of the first priority, and when he in this scene expresses his convictions directly -- as well as touching upon a deeply sore point -- he is destroyed for this.

What other scenes in the book revolve around this value conflict? How do different characters in the book find different personal solutions to this? How does the town? How does the town's balance in this conflict look different through its own eyes and though European eyes? This seems to me to be strongly connected with how the cases of Nedam and Alee would look through these two lenses. [Margaret Hander]


Back in his house that afternoon, Ezi had a lot to ruminate over. He recalled his time at University when, for him and most of his classmates, the dream was graduation and the pleasures that would follow: a good job with the accompanying perquisites of a house, a car, money and women. And so it had been for most of them. He had done well for himself, winning a place in the coveted administrative service with a house in the prestigious Ikoyi suburb. Here he was sheltered from the steaming sewers of the growing metropolis and the endless sounds of its loud inhabitants. he indulged himself to the full. For a time, it sufficed. But it could last for ever. The glamour soon wore off and he began to question many of the things he had taken for granted. The inheritance of the colonial set-up with high salaries and perquisites, for instance. The idea that the few, himself among them, had access to what was best in the country while the huge majority wallowed in want. ("The Stars Below," page 102)

Sarowiwa seems to be portraying the intellectual Ezi as a misfit in his society. Has his colonial "inheritance" - his education, ambitions, and perhaps his fastidiousness - become an isolating factor? Are they a source of guilt for him? Will his "great uplifting of the spirit" (106) always be transitory, or can he find a niche in Nigerian society? [Alaka Holla]

8. In the story "The Stars Below," Ezi, the main character, undergoes a transformation in which he goes from fighting for a personal standard of beauty and ideals that stands in direct conflict with Nigerian life and work as he sees it, to embracing a sort of new vision of unity with Nigeria and his fellow people. What triggers this sudden shift?

9. "There was need for action, but what form of action? What did the individual have to do? What did he himself have to do? For a time, he had thought that by establishing certain standards and adhering strictly to them, he might succeed in creating a new order. That had not happened." (p.104) Does Saro-Wiwa suggest any answers to the questions Ezi asks of himself? Does the vision Ezi has at the end of the story move him towards a solution? In what ways? [Adam Stolorow]


His mother was excited, but scared. She knew how things like that bred jealously....She'd have told him to tread carefully because Dukana was full of evil and envy. Someone, somewhere might decide to cut him down in the flower of youth. The world was full of wickedness. One had to be careful, very careful. But she had not been able to warn him well or often enough and before long, the combined hatred of Dukana had finished him. The autopsy conducted in faraway Kano, where Alee worked in the dental section of the Army spoke of diabetes. Dukana spoke of envy, magical spells, poisons, mumbo jumbo and necromancy, all emanating from Dukana, of course. all of them so potent that distance was nothing, and their victim could be struck down in a faraway place.....

..."Dukana, do you keep quiet, while you die a painful, slow death?" asked the young man, the pain in his voice obvious... Whereupon, as one man, the youth of Dukana rose and pounced upon Nedam. [38]

In the face of powerlessness and helplessness, why do the inhabitants blame elements within Dukana? What is Saro-Wiwa saying in having the characters turn their rage inward rather than outward towards the rest of the world? How does this self-distrust be relate to the inhabitants' apparent pride for their town?

11. See also the materials by Giridhar Mallya, Dave Washburn, and Molly Yancovitz about the role of death in Saro-Wiwa's A Forest of Flowers and Emilie Cassou's materials on greed and capitalism .

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV

Last Modified: 19 March, 2002