A Forest of Flowers: Reading Questions

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

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

1. How does religion function throughout A Forest of Flowers? There seems to be a recurrent description of multiple churches which seem to be slightly different in superficial ways but all equally as hypocritical, materialistic and greedy. Particularly in "The Overhaul" and "Garga," what message does Saro-Wiwa give about religion? How is this different or similar from Soyinka's satire of religion in The Jero Plays? [Megan Behrent] See also question 8 below.

2. Saro-Wiwa uses irony as a witty device to characterize the people of Dukana and the town itself.

"The plan laid out for avoiding the plague this time was bold, imaginitive and original to Duikana. Some might say that other towns and villages had conceived of, and implemented, similar plands in the past. But that could be attributed to envy, thier refusal to concede to Dukana its place among the inventors of the world (14)."

What is the effect of this use of irony in "the inspector calls" and in other stories? What does the narrator believe about the pride that the Dukana townspeople have? Is this wit benificent or malicious? [Brandon Brown]

3. "In short, power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the 'privilege,' acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic postitions--an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated." --Michele Foucault, "Practices and Knowledge" Professor Landow has mentioned the Foucauldian like power relations evident in past readings. How does Saro-Wiwa's work illustrates multi-level power negotiations in stories such as "Acapulco Motel," "Robert and the Dog," and "The Shopkeeper and the Beggar?" [Kate Cook]

4. What does the division of these stories into the two sections "Home, Sweet Home" and "High Life" suggest about Saro-Wiwa's representation of Nigeria? If the division is between modern life in rural towns and cities, what kind of relationship is being shown between these two aspects of the nation (if nation is the right word), and how does Saro-Wiwa play them off one another? [Erica Dillon]

5. Some of the characters in Saro-Wiwa's stories stray from the traditional Bukana lifestyle successfully. The narrator ("Home, Sweet Home") and Alee ("The Bonfire") left Dukana to be educated in the west, yet retained ties to their homeland and are sources of pride for their families and community. The narrator describes the community's "Pride that I had gone out to the world to acquire the new knowledge, new treasures; and that I had returned to plant some new seeds in the Dukana earth."(6) Dukana perceives Alee as "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...He was about to transform Dukana to greater heights."(38) However, characters such as Sira ("Home, Sweet Home") and Nedam ("The Bonfire") who also diverge from Bukana's traditional way of life are cut off from the community and punished severely.

What does the fate of these characters reveal about the individual vs. community and traditional vs. modern struggles in Bukana? Do some forms of change challege communal wisdom and custom more than others-- and are therefore more threatening? Are Saro-Wiwa's depictions of these characters bringing change to Dukana equally sympathetic-- or unsympathetic? [Lucia Duncan]

6. Does the choice of a narrator of the opposite gender from an author affect the narrative itself, or the reliability of that narrator? We have seen examples of this choice not unfrequently in our readings, often in situations primary to the narration of the story itself - B.B. in Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, John Mokuba in Lannoy's "The Story of Jesus", and "our young miss" in Saro-Wiwa's "Home, Sweet Home". If opposite gender author/narrator relations affect these stories or a reader's impression of a narrator or a narrator's gender, how so? If they do not, why is this choice made by an author? [Jeremy Finer] See also question 16 below.

7. The narrator has been educated and travelled abroad. Her descriptions in each story seem attuned to details marking differences between Dukana living and the kind of life we live. Do tones of superiority creep into her narration? The narrator herself seems largely absent in some ways from the scenes she reports. What effects does this have? [Kate Finin]

8. In the short story, "The Overhaul", Saro-Wiwa questions the value of material things in this world, as a clue into one's status in the celestial world. The bishop tells Daniel, "for what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul" (24)? Ironically the bishop arrives to town in a Mercedes Benz, symbolic of his wealth. The bishop convinces his followers to contribute to the upkeep of the Church which essentially goes to his "upkeep."

This corrupt behavior is indicative of the changes occuring in Nigeria. How does Saro-Wiwa open a new perspective different from that of the other Nigerian authors we have read? How do his stories facilitate the outsider to understand the African culture? [Laura Gelfman]

9. "He was one of the few young men who had gone to school and then ventured out into the world beyond, there to seek his fortune. It was widely held that he was doing well. No one knew exactly what he was doing, but all agreed that he was doing well" (37). What is the effect of Saro-Wiwa's use of subtle humour and occasional sarcasm in A Forest of Flowers? [Phoebe Koch]

10. Saro-Wiwa writes nostalgically about the horrible superstitious practices that occur this place Dakana that is such a stronghold of Nigerian culture. How does he feel about the traditional versus the modern? [Jennifer G. Lee]

11. The title "Home, Sweet Home", the first part of Saro-Wiwa's A Forest of Flowers, is described on the back cover of the book as "ironic". How is this an accurate description and how is this an oversimplification of the narrative in the first half of the book? [Laura Otis]


(b) "For Dukana is home, and as everyone will tell you in these parts, 'home is home'" (2).

"We are poor and we are ignorant, but we know a good thing when we see it, even though it is beyond our reach. You're going to change the life of the women in Dukana. But whatever you do, don't teach them to disobey their husbands. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life judging their cases of wife-beating'" (7).

Where is the irony in these passages? If irony is not present, what literary technique is being used in its place? How does this change the meaning of the message conveyed here? [Laura Otis]

13. In "The Overhaul" the issue of religion is again addressed. What is Saro-Wiwa telling us about religion in the imperial/post-imperial tradition? What do we learn of religion by the Bishop's lack of understanding? (most specifically the interaction between the Bishop and Daniel on pages 24-26)? [Neel Parekh]


"I felt then that excruciating pain which knowledge confers on those who can discern the gulf that divides what is and what could be. And my mind drifted to the men and women of Dukana acting out their lives against a backdrop of great forces they would never understand. I thought at length about them, the men and women whom I knew were awaiting my return, because they were my relatives-- aunts, uncles, cousins, my kin. And I felt for them. I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes, "Progres" had screeched to a stop." [pages 4-5, "Home, Sweet Home" --follow for an additional except from this passage]

Comment on this "gulf" and how it pertains to the narrator(s?) of "Home, Sweet Home" and the other stories as well as to postcolonial intellectuals such as Saro-Wiwa himself. Does this quotation display a paternalistic attitude of superiority on the part of the educated few, similar to that of the colonizers? What exactly stratifies society in the postcolonial period? What about the strange and possibly symbolic transition to the next paragraph with the ironically named bus? [Elissa Popoff]

15. The "educated young miss" of the first story speaks about the "sin of arrogance" as an important concept in her towns customs and ways. The people of Dukana, as a whole, are very proud; does Dukana ever violate its own rule? How does its pride empower the people? How does it misinform them and hurt them? [Elora Lee Raymond]

16. The first three stories can be said to deal roughly with the ways different western institutions relate to and are negotiated by the people of Dukana. Is there anything to be said about the relationship between choice of narrator and choice of subject matter for the chapters? I broke the chapters down, roughly, by subject matter and narrator but found it hard to categorize chapters after 3; they don't fit the question as well, but I tried it anyway. [Elora Lee Raymond]

17. Saro-Wiwa's Dukana is as much a character in his stories as a setting or place. Other authors we have read have used place as characters as well--for example, Soyinka's Aké and Emecheta's Ibuza. How do these authors use the characterization of place in the construction of the meaning of home and homeland in their writing? [Jason Sperber]

18. In "The Inspector Calls", Dukana is physically and symbolically "plagued". Discuss. [Barnali Tahbildar]

19. Is Saro Wiwa's Bishop Okoro ("The Overhaul") an attempt to show the missing link in the metamorphosis of the Nigerian (post)colonial oppressor by effectively mixing elements of Emecheta's white colonial christianity and Achebe's black postcolonial aristocracy? Is Dekor's establishment of the new church symbolic of his severing his ties to his oppressor or of his establishing a new cycle of oppresion? (Uzoma Ukomadu)

20. Although A Forest of Flowers is billed as a collection of short stories, the stories clearly have more in common with one another than their location in the same book. Characters appear in multiple stories, locations remain somewhat stable, and most strikingly, many stories take up an idea from a previous story. For example, story number nine ("The High Life"), ends with one character calling the police. The next story ("Case No. 100") picks up that thread (not a key part of "The High Life") and spins a tale about the police. Many of the stories in A Forest of Flowers are related to their neighbors in this manner. What does this structural device do for the text? [Sage Wilson]

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV

Last Modified: 19 March, 2002