Potter’s Wheel Summary

Potter’s Wheel is a novel by a Nigerian novelist, Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike. Published in 1973, the novel marks Ike’s comeback into the Nigerian literary scene after being caught up in the 30-month Nigerian Civil War. The story is set in a colonial Igbo village around 1940. It is about a woman yearning for a male child. After years of giving birth to female children, fortunately, her last child was a boy.

Potter's Wheel Summary

Potter’s Wheel Summary

The novel opens in Umuchukwu, a village in Eastern Nigeria, where local culture is held in high esteem. The villagers, mostly children, gather together for ‘ilu’ (proverb) contest. Those who are inherently blessed with wisdom outshine their peers in the game of wit, making them earn respect from their peers.

The events in the story unfold during the Second World War— from 1939-1945. The readers’ attention is drawn consistently to the ongoing war due to Nigerians’ involvement in the war on the British side. Some Nigerians get listed in the British army to fight against the Axis.

The novel focuses on Obu, an eight-year-old boy who is the sixth child of seven children by his parents. All his older siblings— sisters— are older than him except one that follows him.

In his family, Obu is the only male child. For this reason, he is overly loved by his mother, who pampers him into bedwetting. His mother’s reason for pampering him is that his birth gave her a stand and mouth to talk in the family. All of his mother’s first five children are female, making her vulnerable to attacks from her husband’s family. They threaten to throw her out of the family if she fails to give birth to a male child. 

In Igbo tradition or African tradition at large, a male child is valued as he is seen as the successor of the family. Hence, a family without a male child is not well-regarded, no matter how wealthy the family is.

The degree of Obu’s parents’ yearning for a male child is noticeable through the names they gave to their first five daughters. The first daughter is named ‘Uzoamaka’ – meaning “this way is beautiful”. The second is Nkiru – meaning greater days ahead. The third is Njideka – meaning hold onto what you have. The fourth is Nkechi – meaning God’s gift, and the fifth daughter is Ogechukwu, which means God’s time.

After Obu comes to another daughter named Amuche, meaning – No one knows God’s heart. 

After the long wait and threat, Obu is finally born, restoring happiness to the cross-ridden household. Obu then becomes his mother’s focal point, and this could be seen through the way she graces him with endearment such as Ezenwa, meaning “a reverend child”, Nwokenagu, meaning “male child is desirable”, and Obiano (a place of comfort). Two years later, after the birth of Obu, another girl is born. She’s named Amuche, meaning no “one knows God’s heart”.

Obu’s mother excessively pampers him and sees no wrong in all his actions. Obu’s father, Mazi Lazarus Maduabuchi, who is a successful businessman, becomes fearful of the excessive pampering of Obu by his wife. He believes that every man has to suffer to be useful to society and weighs up the idea of entrusting Obu to a heartless schoolteacher living nearby his village to keep him from being spoiled by his mother.

Obu’s father discusses the idea of sending Obu to live with the childless and heartless couple— Zaccheus and Deborah Kanu— in Aka village with Obu’s mother, but she strongly opposes the idea of detaching her only son from her. 

When she senses her husband’s seriousness, she surrenders to him and personally takes Obu to the couple in Aka, where he begins a new life.

Madam Zaccheus’s home is a kind of juvenile hall. She harbors a lot of young people in her house whom she was tasked to mold into useful humans through cruelty. This reason is why Obu and others are entrusted to her, although some other children under her care are there over the inability of their parents to pay their debt. For example, Bright was given out to the Teacher to cancel his father’s debt. However, Marry, who’s 19 years old, is put there by her fiance to get prepared for marriage. With others, the Teacher and his wife subject them to slave-like treatment.

The intent of taking Obu to the Teacher’s home is for him to be given a harsh upbringing. So, while in the Teacher’s home, he is ruthlessly beaten. He can only cry but has no one to run to for counseling.

His father will be exhilarated learning Obu is subjected to such harsh treatment. He will even get the rest of his mind knowing that his son will be molded into a useful person. 

On one of the occasions at the school gathering, the headmaster was working on disgracing Obu. The Teacher reported him to the headmaster for stealing a piece of meat last night when everyone was asleep.

Due to the Teacher’s and his wife’s brutality towards the children, they all learnt how to lie since the truth has failed to exonerate them from punishment. At least, being cunny or lying over some things will attract lighter punishment if not save them from it. For example, Silence, who is fourteen years old, learns not to answer the first two calls of either Teacher or Madam, and by ignoring the first two calls, they’re likely to call another person. He answers it if the call comes for the third time.

Another character that wreaked vergence on Madam is Ada. She pours a bowl containing kitchen waste on her and doesn’t apologize to her after the incident. While Madam tries to throw punches at her as usual, expecting Ada to fold her hands crying, while she punishes her, Ada defends herself against her punches. Even though the Teacher intervenes in the fight and punishes Ada to wash the school latrine, Ada did not feel bad since she has had the chance to deal with Madam.

After being subjected to cruelty in the Teacher’s home, Obu begins to reminisce about his pleasurable days on the warm laps of his doting mother at home, hence begins to feel homesick. Out of desperation to go home, he devises a means to trick the Teacher and Madam into permitting him to visit his parents, which is to write a letter impersonating his mother, requesting him Obu visit home and take care of his younger sister, Amuche.

The teacher notices the errors in the letter written in Igbo, something Obu has thought could persuade him to allow him to visit his parents in Umuchukwu. Nonetheless, the Teacher is surprised by Obu’s sense of creativity and shrewdness. He’s appalled by his ability to think about impersonating his mother to gain favor from him. 

After spending a year in Aka with the ruthless couple, Obu’s father demands Obu come home for Christmas.

At home, everyone is stunned at how Obu transformed into a hard-working boy within a year and is no longer bed wet.

Happy being out of the Teacher’s cage, Obu no longer wishes to go back to Aka, hence begging his mother to help him convince his father not to send him back there. His mother is aware of his father’s nature and advises him to talk to his father directly.

After some time of being afraid of how his father will react if he expresses his wish to him, he eventually communicates his feelings about going to Aka to him. As his mother predicted earlier, Obu’s father tries to tell him the need of having to go back to Aka. He begins to tell Obu the comparative stories of Edmund and Caleb, the former is now an honorable figure in the village after living under Teacher for years, despite coming from a well-to-do background. While Caleb was pampered as a child. He lived comfortably, eating chevron, drinking palm wine, and dancing with masquerade, something he continues to do to date. 

He asks Obu to stay with his mother if he desires to end up like Caleb and go back to live with the ruthless Teacher and wife if he wants to travel to Ala bekee and dine with the white people.

After this talk with Obu, Obu returns to living with the Teacher of his volition.


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