14 Oct The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Summary
“The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” is a story by Ayi Kwei Armah – A Ghanaian Novelist. Here is a summary of the story.
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Summary
“The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, published in 1968, is the debut novel of Ayi Kwei Armah, a Ghanaian novelist and essayist. The events in the story happen between 1965-1966 on the eve of the coup toppling the first Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah.
The story begins with an unnamed character referred to as the ‘man’ who is also the novel’s protagonist. It sheds light on the rotten nature of post-colonial independent Ghanaian, using the Man, who lives a sheer life throughout the story to the dismay of his wife, Oyo.
The Man is depicted in the novel as a man who works at the railroad station and upholds a pure principle of non-involvement in corrupt practice, which at that time, was widespread in Ghana. Not that he’s at peace with himself for being poor or has a liking for work that deprives him of joy and pits him against his wife, but he has to remain working to be able to cater to his family’s necessities.
On one occasion, the Man goes into a restaurant to get food, and while inside, he searches his pocket and finds no penny. So he realizes he’s now destitute. Later, he rejects a bribe offer from a timber merchant whose intention was to convey his load past him unperturbed. He rejects the bribe, overcoming the urge to yield, and orders the timber man to come back the next day and speak with his senior in the office. The timber man sees the Man as the evil person here and makes him feel like a criminal for refusing to accept his bribe. Corruption was so rife that everyone saw it as an easy way to get whatever they desired.
When the Man is bored at work, he moves to beat it by having a conversation with someone nearby – Messenger. He learns from Messenger that many Ghanaians turn to play the lottery in the hope to win and get out of poverty. Messenger also asserts that anyone fortunate to win a huge amount of money will be denied part of the money due to how corruption has eaten deep into every corner of Ghana.
While the Man falters home after an exhausting day, he bumps into his long-time friend, Joseph Koomson. Koomson is now a minister in the Nkrumah’s corrupt government and a beneficiary of the corrupt system. He now surpasses his friend, the Man in wealth, and owns several estates and luxurious cars.
The Man reveals to his wife, Oyo, about his encounter with Koomson immediately after he gets home and how he rejected a bribe offer from the timber man. Oyo then wishes to live a life like that of Koomson’s wife, Estelle, and is enraged by the man’s continuous upholding of his pure principle of rejecting bribes while his family is destitute. Oyo, out of anger, compares her husband to one proverbial bird, Chichidodo, that eats excreta but hates worms from it.
Oyo and her mother, the Man’s mother-in-law, have been critical of his sheer life and his inability to change the family’s poor condition. Oyo’s frequent nagging makes him depressed, but he can’t help himself, so he avoids home. Sometimes, he considers leaving home forever but fails to come to terms with that idea. Instead, he decides to visit his friend, Teacher—who also has given up his hope in Ghana—to escape Oyo’s endless nagging. The Man opens up to the Teacher about his inability to provide the necessities for his family; and how his wife has made his home unlivable as consequence.
The Man envies the Teacher’s unmarried life and claims no one pressurizes the Teacher like him. The Teacher, in turn, reveals to him about his friend, Kofi Billy, who decided to end his life after believing that Ghana’s condition is beyond redeemable.
Koomson agreed to visit the Man’s home. The Man had to break the bank to buy expensive wine and other stuff to meet Koomson’s luxurious expectations. Although the Man hasn’t bought such expensive drinks for his family, he’s proud of himself for being able to get them now, especially as other people in the store fix their eyes on him.
While the Man and Oyo clean the house and prepare for Koomson’s coming, he takes his children to his mother-in-law’s house. His mother-in-law laments harshly about the man’s failure to live up to his expectations. She said that his children live hungrily and always walk around barefooted.
Koomson and his wife, Estelle, visit the Man as he anticipated. He exhaustingly tries to satisfy his wealthy guests’ high taste. Estelle kept on rejecting every dish served to them. Koomson also refused to drink the beer without minding how the Man has broken the bank to satisfy himself and his wife to save himself from embarrassment. He couldn’t escape having an embarrassing moment. In the end, Koomson requested to use the toilet. Koomson is utterly disappointed that the Man has no private toilet, but shares the available toilet with other flatmates. He initially refuses to use the toilet, but as he became uneasy with himself, he had to bury his pride and manage it that way.
Oyo is exhilarated that Koomson is about to elevate them out of poverty, although she feels sad about the Man after seeing the difference between Koomson’s and her family. Oyo’s mother has brought an idea she thinks could change the Man’s fate for the better. He would share a fishing boat with the Koomsons. Although the Man wasn’t interested, he had to sign the boat document in the absence of his mother-in-law.
Eventually, the Man learns that the boat business poses no risk to his family. They got tons of fish from it, but it doesn’t elevate them from poverty as expected.
While at work, the Man learns of the coup that ousts the corrupt civilian government of Nkrumah. Although he feels relieved to some extent, he shows no interest in joining others to demonstrate support for the coup. Instead, he claims another set of corrupt people is to take over the government from the previous corrupt government.
On getting home, he meets Koomson in the darkest part of his room, seeking protection against the military men who are locking up those involved in the previous corrupt government. While the military searched for him, the Man helped Koomson escape through the toilet – the same he had previously refused to use. They ran through tracks to the boatman’s house. The boatman agrees to help Koomson escape for a bounty share in the boat. After bribing the officials at the gateway to the sea, the boatman took Koomson out of Ghana. As they move, Koomson waves goodbye to the Man, who sees the act as puerile and jumps into the bay without feeling pity for the corrupt Koomson.
He swam to the shore, where he fell asleep. Thereafter he woke up and walked exhaustedly home. On his way, he spots a bus adorned with- “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.” This bus with adorable flowers moving steadily on the roadsides resurrected his hope of a better Ghana.
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The novel has its setting in Post-colonial Ghana and on the eve of the coup that dethrones Kwame Nkrumah from the presidential seat.
How did “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” End?
The protagonist, whose name is masked by the author throughout the novel, although referred to as “the Man,” is loathed by his wife for refusing to be corrupt, which she believes will make them rich, like other working people in Ghana. The Man’s long-time friend, who became wealthy through corruption, promised to elevate the Man from poverty through a fishing boat deal. When the corrupt government collapsed through a coup, the military men began to lock up the corrupt leaders. Koomson sought refuge in the Man’s house, and the Man helped him escape the military arrest through the rusty zinc of his toilet. The boatman helped Koomson leave Ghana to go abroad. On the Man’s way home, he saw a bus with the inscription – “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.” The inscription gave him hope for a better future for the newly independent Ghana.