Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The City Drags Like a Ball and Chain Attached to One Leg

In Albert Wendt's Black Rainbow, one passage describes Aeto as a hostage in a chef couple's home. After breaking the spell of their food and care, Aeto decides to wander the streets in the middle of the night, aware that the man and woman won't notice his absence. "Because they slept from midnight till six he felt safe during that time, so he started leaving the house and walking for exercise. He often walked all night, relearning the city. He never thought of not returning. Why? He would never be able to fathom that one." (175). Throughout this eerie story, the reader senses that this couple represents a ruthless, capitalistic power forced upon Aeto without warning. Tempted by the marvelous food, Aeto never exercises his freedom or will to choose. He has forfeited his place in the city, able only to relearn it, as he describes. He is no longer able to live in it, even though he walks through the streets and observes his surroundings.

Obi, in Chinua Achebe's novel No Longer at Ease, experiences a similar situation to Aeto when he returns to his home city from London. Influenced by British ideals and "bettered" by a proper education, Obi can no longer relate to his people when he arrives. The city in which he grew up is no longer the city to which he arrives when he is sent to London as a promise for the better future of society, an educated man. His fellow citizens actually harmed and alienated him by sending him to pursue what they thought was a better opportunity.

Neither character is good enough, in the eyes of the two societal groups, split according to economic class and dominating power. Both characters have characteristics that allow them access to the members of both classes, but neither is fully able to identify with any particular group. Obi makes grammar mistakes, even with an elite education. Aeto can't abandon the chef couple, even though he knows they are hurting him. In both novels, the issue of language also plays an important role; in Achebe's novel, Obi thinks that nothing gives him greater pleasure than to find another Ibo-speaking student in a London bus, and in Wendt's novel, Aeto and his companions can talk secretly in the back of the narrator's car, "street pidgin, their coinage." (123). Both characters are suddenly caught between two societies within the same city, no longer belonging to the city, lacking connection with any particular group.