Reading and Textual Analysis of African Prose – The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi

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In today’s class, we will be talking about the blinkards by Kobina Sekyi. Enjoy the class!

The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi | classnotes.ng

The author’s biographical sketch

Kobina Sekyi, as William Essuman – Gwira Sekyi, was a Ghanaian nationalist.  He was born in Cape Coast in 1892 and died in 1956, the year before Ghana’s independence.  His writing was voluminous.  The Blinkards demonstrates one of his major concerns.  He always warned Danquah and JYkrumah and the new political class of the dangers of copying foreign political institution and ideas.  The Blinkards was written in 1915 and helped establish its author as the Bernard Shaw of West Africa.  Its wit and amusement are as effective now as they were then.  The comedy satires the nouveaux riches of the western-oriented Fant is of Cape Coast who accepted European standards uncritically.

The background of the text

The background of the book is the colonial era when the blacks in Ghana were under the British (white) rule.  And the system adopted was an indirect rule which saw to the introduction of warrant chief at the expense of the traditional royalty that existed in the ancient cosmic surroundings of Cape Coast (Ghana).  In these times, there were conscious efforts to transmogrify the blacks into artificial whites as every policies, teachings and instruction given were to debase and relegate everything black-oriented on the grounds of civilization.  This was the period the author existed, and it provoked this work, The Blinkards.

The plot

The story begins with Nyam sweeping the house of his master (Mr Borofo) and he’s seen complaining over how many times he would need to sweep to avoid any dirt.  On the process, he discovers dried leaves in a book owned by his master.  Immediately, he is accosted by Mrs Borofo who just entered the room, and was insulted by her for taking the leaves away from the book. She goes further to tell Nyam that cigar ashes are good for carpets as she has learnt in England.

Mrs Borofo is left alone with her husband that just came in, by Nyam, but are interrupted by Nyam when he came to deliver a message from their cook and met (them) Mrs Borofo and Mr.Borofo kissing.  Later Mr Tsiba with his daughter (Miss.Tsiba) was at the Borofo’s.  Mr Tsiba brought his daughter to Mrs Borofo to be taught the English way of life for her to be refined.  Mr Tsiba has been captivated by the displays from Mrs Borofo even in public places since she returned from England, and believes that her display is a product of civilization.

On the other hand, we find Mr Ony (a young barrister) who has also been to England, displaying the riches of his native home (Fanti) in the kind of attire he is putting on.  He is being attended to by his servant, Half Crown, before Mr Ok. bashed into his house.  Mr Ok came to pick up a job as a clerk in Mr Ony’s chamber even with no pay, so that, he could also be taught English to enable him to woo Miss. Tsiba to himself as his wife, who has been sent to Mrs Borofo to learn English.  This is because Mr Tsiba could only be convinced to accept him as an in-law if he also has obtained the English education.

It continued that his plan worked for him, and he made acquaintance with Miss. Tsiba who gullibly accepted him for a husband on a garden-party at Victoria Park where there is a display of European clothes.  Mr Ok and Miss. Tsiba became engaged.  The news of their engagement and further marriage is announced to Mr Tsiba by Mrs Borofo proudly. And Mr.Tsiba, though shocked, went helpless when he was told by Mrs Borofo that that is how it is done in England (i.e), the Christian way.  When Mr Tsiba went on to list what will be required according to custom and tradition for the marriage to take place after grudgingly accepting Mr Ok as a son-in-law, he was told by Mrs Borofo that in England it was the father-in-law that provides all he has listed for the son-in-law.  Mr Tsiba sheepishly welcomes the idea.

After Mrs Borofo and Mr Ok had taken their leave, Mr Tsiba announces the news to his wife, Na Som, who bluntly kicked against it and went wild and whirl.  Na Som on several times goes to Mr Ony’s house to look for Mr Ok to no avail.  But on her last visit to Mr Ony’s, she saw Mr Ok who was about leaving the premises.  On seeing her, Mr Ok ran back into the house to hide from the rage of Na Som.  Na Som forces her way into the house and asks Mr Ony for Mr Ok she just saw, but is told that Mr Ok is not in his house.  In the process, as she was shouting, she slumped and died before Dr Onw was invited.

In his hospital, Dr Onw gets a letter from Mr Wompem through a man, accusing him of having an affair with his wife. A few minutes after, Mr Seehon sends a girl he had an affair with to Dr Onw to seduce him.  And lastly, Tsiba (Mr) came with his daughter who he thinks is just having malaria, unknown to him that she is pregnant as the test later discovered.  He pleads with Dr Onw to abort the pregnancy because she is going to the altar, but Dr Onw refuses him even in the face of the tempting amount he promises to offer.  All these are meted out to Dr Onw because he is a black doctor and the people do not have respect and faith for his judgment and competence.  But he promised to be professional in the practice of his profession, not to let any other ears know that Miss. Tsiba took in before her marriage ceremony.

The cosmopolitan club in a meeting planned on how to make the marriage ceremony of their member, Mr Ok, a high profile.  On the D-day at Hamilton house where the wedding reception takes place, all hands were busy and it was going in a grand style, until Nana Kat, Mr Tsiba’s mother-in-law, arrived the scene and brought the excitement to an end as she took away Miss Tsiba, her granddaughter.

Nana Kat took Miss. Tsiba and she got married to another man following the steps as tradition demands, but Mr Ok was aggrieved and decided to invite the police and the law to regain his wife.

But in the law court, Mr Ok lost out in the case as Mr Ony helped Miss. Tsiba and her family to win the case.  This provoked the Parson (Priest) who wedded them, and this incident became an eye-opening for both Mr and Mrs Borofo that not everything Christendom or European that is absolutely correct.  And immediately, their style of dressing and mannerism changed to the amazement of other citizens of Fantis who knew the Borofos.

The setting

The general or contextual setting of the book is Fanti, Cape Coast (Ghana).  But the immediate or textual setting in the book is Mr Borofo’s house, Mr Ony’s office and house, Mr Tsiba’s house,

Dr Onw’s hospital, Victoria Park, Cosmopolitan club, Hamilton house and a street outside Nana Kat’s house.  These places identified are the venues where the action of the story took place or unfolded.  The setting portrays the looks of what Ghanaian society was then.

Evaluation

  1. Give a detailed plot analysis of the play, The Blinkards.
  2.  What is the significance of the background and setting to the plot of the play?

The themes

  • Social segregation and degradation:

This as a theme in the book exposes the concept or practice that you are allowed to mingle depending on how much of the English education you possess.  Even among blacks from the same community, there is discrimination by some Eurocentric individuals over the Afrocentric individuals who have decided to uphold their tradition and custom by flaunting their home-made traditional attire and observing all cultural norms for each event.  And these individuals who callously segregate and degrade their fellow blacks because of their affinity with England are typically represented by Mrs Borofo and her admirers. Mrs Borofo’s display of disgust whenever one speaks Fanti or dresses in native attire support this theme. This is seen in her visit to Mr.

Ony and the manner she corrects her husband, and also, the conscious effort by Mr Tsiba in his house to replace his native cloth with pyjamas on the arrival of Mrs Borofo to his house, was done in order not to offend or disgust Mrs Borofo.  Also, the belief of Mr.Tsiba, irrespective of his status as a wealthy businessman, to be incomplete without the English education was a great sign that segregation and degradation based on this was prevalent.  The character displayed by Mr Ok to learn at all cost just to get Miss. Tsiba is another sad indication of social segregation and degradation in society.

  • The importance of culture and tradition:

As a necessity, the playwright through his work deemed it fit to philosophically inculcate into the minds of his readers the inevitability of one’s culture and tradition in one’s existence.  And this point is evidently brought to bear by the victory won by Mr Ony in court over Miss. Tsiba’s case against the standard of the western practice (Christian way of marriage) and to the surprise of the eurocentric, who relegated the importance or significance of culture and tradition in modern existence.

Other themes
  • Defects of ‘copy-cat’ syndrome.
  • The vices of imperialism.
  • The dangers of uncritical perception.
  • The need for absolute independence.

The character and characterization

  • Mrs Borofosem (A leader of fashion):

She is the wife of Mr Borofosem who has been to England and has adopted the lifestyle there. She is extremely Eurocentric in all she does.  She is domineering and obsessing even to her husband at home.  She disregards everything African especially if there are alternative ways they are being done in England.  She is a major character and antagonistic to Nyamekye, Mr Onyimdze and others who don’t share in her perception and conception of western mannerism as the ultimate.

Mrs Borofosem stands as an agent of imperialism and neo-colonialism in the book when her flaunting and intimidating display provoked Mr Tsiba to bring his daughter, Miss. Tsiba, to Mrs Borofo, which finally result in the death of Na Sompa (Miss. Tsiba’s mother).  She is seen to be proud as she takes pleasure in recording her experiences in England to the Ladies at the party, irrespective of how many times she has said that.  She is a ‘copy-cat’ who tries to imitate, though artificially, everything English.  She is seen to be a round character when she reneges from her eurocentric ground to the Afrocentric ground.

  • Onyimdze (A young barrister):

He is a young Barrister who has also been to England to study but has not allowed himself to be consumed by western life.  He understands the importance of his custom and tradition in his existence, and he’s able to understand the dichotomy between his person as an educated man and as an African.  He sees it abysmal:  the orientation induced into his people for the craze for western sensibility at the expense of their Fanti cosmic and traditional belief, by Mrs Borofosem.  His dress-code stands to speak his position about the influence of western mannerism on him.  His grievance over how his customs and traditions have been degraded by some western stooges or faithful made him defend Miss Tsiba in court against Mr Okadu and other forces behind him.

His court victory becomes an eye-opening to both Mr and Mrs Borofosem that not all things European or English should be seen as absolute correctness.  He stands to be the hero and protagonist in the play.  He is seen as a flat character as he stood his grounds throughout the play.

  • Mr Tsiba (A cocoa magnate):

He is the husband of Na Sompa and father of Miss. Tsiba.  He is a wealthy man who deals on Cocoa but is also an illiterate in western education.  He lacks confidence in his judgment and feels inferior because of his inability to act English.  So, he sends his daughter to Mrs Borofosem to be pruned in the English way.  And this singular act by Mr Tsiba brought calamity to his house.

His wife died and his daughter got pregnant before engaging herself in a lawless and illegitimate marriage that was rescued by his mother-in-law, and finally defended in court by Mr Onyimdze.

He is not stable as he runs to replace his native cloth with western cloth in order not to displease Mrs Borofosem, who has just visited.  He is also not principled and disciplined.  This is evident in the play in Dr Onwieyie’s consultation room, where he tries to lobby the doctor with a tempting amount of money for him to carry-out abortion on his (Mr Tsiba) daughter who is discovered to have been pregnant for three months.  He is not man enough as he does not know how to handle situations which led to the death of his wife.

  • Okadu:

He is a young man who worked in Chutney’s store owned by a white man.  He later went to Mr Onyimdze to pick up a clerk job even without pay because he wanted to learn and understand English.  His reason for English as he confessed to Mr Onyimdze, is to enable him to woo Miss Tsiba over to himself as his wife.  He further said that Mr Tsiba would only listen to him if he discovers that he (Mr Okadu) has been trained with English education.  He is an opportunist who wants to take advantage of the stupidity of Mr Tsiba to cheaply get his daughter.  But unfortunately, he becomes the victim of the ‘copy-cat’ syndrome that is prevalent in their society.

His action or decision to engage Miss. Tsiba without properly adhering to traditions brought about the death of Na Sompa and calamitous disgrace that befell Miss. Tsiba.  He is a member of the cosmopolitan club.

  • Onwieyie (A physician and surgeon):

Dr Onwieyie is a black medical practitioner and owns a hospital.  He is first introduced in the play when Na Sompa, wife to Mr Tsiba and mother to Miss. Tsiba slumped and died in Mr Onyimdze’s house before his arrived.  He is a professional who adheres strictly to the ethics of his profession as a medical doctor.  That is why he refuses to oblige Mr Tsiba with his request for an abortion to be carried out on his daughter in the face of a seductive sum of money.  He is accused by Mr Wompem, of having an affair with his wife, and later is faced with a girl from Mr Seehon to seduce him.  He is a doctor that knows his worth and stood his grounds in a society where anything or product black is adjudged sub-standard.  He is very principled and disciplined.

  • Miss Tsiba (Daughter of Mr Tsiba):

She is the daughter of Mr Tsiba and Na Sompa.  She is a typical Fanti in her character display, so she’s sent by her father to Mrs Borofosem (a model of a civilized person) to be pruned of her archaic traits and be transformed into a polished Fanti breed with English education.  She is a gullible young lady who is easily deceived by Mr Okadu and gets engaged without going through the proper traditional process of telling her father first.  She is also a victim of the ‘copy-cat’ syndrome as her mother died, she became pregnant before marriage, her marriage becomes distorted by her grandmother, and finally re-married to another man.  She does not have a mind of her own as she conforms uncritically to the lines of the English novel she reads and accepts Mr Okadu at first sight.

  • Na Sompa (Wife to Mr Tsiba and mother to Miss Tsiba):

She is the mother of Miss. Tsiba and wife of Mr Tsiba.  She is a minor character as her presence in the play is brief.  She is seen to be sidelined by her husband, who takes decisions without seeking her consent, which resulted in her death by slumping in Mr Onyimdze’s house over Mr Okadu, who engaged her daughter in the British way.  She is seen to be rash in her character and decisions as this led to her early death.  She upholds completely traditional values which invariably becomes the reason for her death.  She accuses Mr Onyimdze of encouraging Mr Okadu for his action towards her family before her death.

  • Nana Katawerwa (Mother of Na Sompa):

She is the mother of Na Sompa, grandmother of Miss. Tsiba, but the mother-in-law of Mr Tsiba.

She is first seen in the play at the marriage reception ceremony of her grand-daughter at Hamilton house which she abruptly stopped to the amazement of all present: including Mr Tsiba, Mrs.

Borofosem and members of Cosmopolitan club.  She left with Miss. Tsiba to her house forcefully from her ‘would have been’ husband (Mr Okadu).  She got Miss. Tsiba married to another man and went with her to the court where Mr Onyimdze helped her to defeat Mr Okadu over who takes possession of Miss. Tsiba.

  • Borofosem (a merchant):

He is a merchant who sent his wife, Mrs Borofosem, to England and became helpless to her western civilization.  He is forced by his wife to copy everything England as she teaches him what to wear, what to call her and how to kiss her.  The imperfection of western civilization as exposed by Mr Onyimdze in court brought an about a great change in his conception and perception of African traditional belief and values, and it becomes evident in his dress-code, foods or appetite and behavioural patterns.

The language and style

One outstanding style of Kobina Sekyi in The Blinkards is his language variation.  There is a lot of code-switching as Kobina Sekyi subtly switches from his vernacular to the English Language among his characters in the course of events.  His use of language variations, such as pidgin, vernacular and English, among his characters help to define the various social strata or classes identifiable in the play.  These are evident in the pidgin spoken by Half crown and Mr Tsiba, the vernacular spoken by Nana, Miss. Tsiba and English is spoken by Mrs Borofo and members of the Cosmopolitan Club, among others.

This language management peculiarity by Sekyi gives the play a taste of originality, and the identity it deserves.

General evaluation
  1. Discuss the dramatic techniques of the play, The Blinkards.
  2. Write short notes on the following: Mr Onyimdze, Mr Tsiba, Mr Okadu, Mrs Borofosem, Half Crown and Dr Onwieyie.

Weekend assignment

  1. “My dear gentleman of the highway, have mercy on me” illustrates the use of _____ (a)  euphemism    (b)  simile    (c)  hyperbole     (d)  oxymoron    (e)  paradox
  1. When an author narrates a story in form of a letter, it is known as a/an _______ work. (a)  epistolary    (b)  modern    (c)  tradition    (d)  paradoxical      (e)  Shakespearean
  1. The absence of punctuation mark at the end of each line of a poem exemplifies the use of __________ (a)  caesura    (b)  end-stopped line      (c)  enjambment    (d)  rhyme    (e)  rhythm
  1. One of the main aims of a didactic piece of literary work is to __________ (a)  arouse the interest of the audience   (b)  entertain the audience    (c)  force the spectators into believing      (d)  ridicule the society    (e)  teach a moral lesson
  1. The technique used to arouse anxiety in a work of art is called _______ (a)  innuendo     (b)  setting      (c)  story      (d)  suspense     (e)   theme

Theory

  1. Discuss two major themes of the book, The Blinkards.
  2. Discuss the role of Mrs Borofosem in the play, The Blinkards.

Reading assignment

Exam Reflection Literature-in-English (Drama & Prose) by Sunday Olateju Faniyi, pgs 32-62.

 

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