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Published: 08-11-2019

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Ignorance stems from lack of knowledge.

Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (1991) captures the innocent perspective of a child caught in the turmoil of Nigeria’s independence. Azaro, the young protagonist, grows up in an unnamed rural village in the midst of adjust [presumed to be Nigeria]. An Abiku ‘spirit child’, he commutes amongst the spirit and living worlds, his divided ontological state symbolic of the external conflicts in between standard Nigeria, and the imposing western planet. As an Abiku, a kid ‘predestined to death’, Azaro’s defies his fate in his tenuous survival, tormented by his spirit companions that attempt to take his life and return him to the spirit globe.

The Famished Road is a hybrid genre, mostly primarily based on magical realism that permits for the integration of fantastical experiences in realistic fiction. By means of this, Okri refutes the assumed superiority of western expertise systems. He constructs the spirit globe as a tangible embodiment of conventional understanding, equally true to the far more familiar reality of the living planet. In the disorder of western and Nigerian information systems colliding prior to independence, Okri seeks to reject the assumed superiority of western knowledge ‘Everyone’s reality is superstitions’ (Okri, 2000). In the novel, Azaro’s realization ‘that the ghosts and spirits were in the house because the officer had somehow been accountable for their deaths’ (31), shows how Azaro’s dual point of view ‘neutralizes any possibility of establishing a hierarchy among magic and non-magic representations’ (Whyte, 2013). Via the interaction of the two realms, the novel blurs the lines of reality, easing between phantasmagoric and factual scenes seamlessly. This creates an uncertain reality caught among conflicting contexts, hence information becomes indeterminate.

Inside this, ignorance manifests. While unacknowledged throughout the novel, it grips folks and society amidst the plethora of modify, exactly where the validity of expertise and its relevance is consistently evolving. Fear, chaos, faith and hope are all proliferated by ignorance, and ignorance continually dictates human propensities on an individual, societal and existential scale. Okri divulges ignorance’s function by way of its unfavorable, positive and existential forms, even though also taking into consideration an individual’s awareness of its influence. The Famished Road captures the concept of ignorance as a reflection of its context, contorting western bias of what constitutes information to a wider point of view. For that reason, this essay seeks to expose ignorance by means of the question: ‘How Does Ben Okri Depict Ignorance in The Famished Road?’

Fundamentally, ignorance stems from the lack of information. Information is obtained from contexts, from experiences. Therefore, restricted circumstances lead to the manifestation of ignorance.

Azaro exists inside a restricted context. An impoverished youngster in rural Nigeria, his planet consists of the couple of locations he frequents: his house, Madame Koto’s Bar and the forest. Beyond this, the descriptions turn into distorted and transient where ‘all the paths had fractured’ (78), suggesting his inability to comprehend information existing beyond his contained reality. His personal youth also limits his exposure to expertise, with ‘You’re too young to hear all this’ (305) reflecting how society creates contextual restrictions in order to defend. Inside this, knowledge possessed reflects what is necessary to each and every individual, as Azaro is without having want for superfluous expertise not crucial for survival.

This, nevertheless, is a notion warped by affluence. With poverty, the father’s attempts to gain esoteric expertise by means of buying books cripples his household, as ‘his son starves, his wife is lean’ (419). Contrastingly, ‘We watched her studying to drive the car’ (433) shows Madame Koto’s indulgence in new finding out, a luxury only afforded with wealth. In this, ignorance is reflective of socio-economic signifies.

Ignorance is also reflective of age. As Azaro matures, his immersion in the ‘Living World’ (3) expands, while his interactions with the spiritual globe declines, and his ignorance innately echoes this. ‘As a kid I could read people’s minds. I could foretell their futures.’ (11) Thoughts reading is a ability that fades rapidly, as Azaro’s initial close affiliation with the spirit globe abates. With this, his immersion in the living globe expands, and so does his knowledge: ‘grumbling in an ancient monotone about how difficult life was, I listened intently, for I had begun to realize anything of what she meant’ (177). Azaro’s loss of spiritual knowledge and ability is replaced by practical understanding, as a result reflecting his evolving context. Okri moreover manipulates structure to reflect Azaro’s evolving information, as the spirit world’s illusory, contorted scenes grow increasingly infrequent amidst the far more corporeal experiences of the living world.

Modify is depicted as closely tied to ignorance. Inside the novel, the uncertainty of conflicting contexts creates difficulty in discerning expertise from ignorance. ‘The rain produced everything alien. Its persistence altered my vision. Soon after a although it seemed to me that beyond the screen lay a bazaar of mysteries, a subcontinent of the forbidden.’ (334) Rain, symbolic of the transitions within the novel, blurs reality. Confusion rises as a distinct type of ignorance as ‘The fight became confused. Everyone seemed to be hitting every person else.’ (327). With modify, information fluctuates, and ignorance becomes dominant.

From this, ignorance is depicted as an evolving phenomenon reflective of both physical and social contexts in the novel. From this idea of ignorance as only possessive of irrelevant expertise, Okri depicts ignorance as benign.

Yet ignorance is not an inconsequential force. It can be advantageous, constructing a drive for information. In a surrealistic dream sequence, a community of spirits labor over the construction of a road. They possess ‘an infinity of hope and an eternity of struggles. Nothing at all can destroy them except themselves and they will in no way finish the road that is their soul and they do not know it.’ (379) In this, Okri insinuates that their existence is sustained by their ignorance of the futility of their toil. Ignorance relieves the burden of expertise, manifesting hope. In addition, ignorance alludes to the occurrence of curiosity, implied in ‘could these be the causes why I wanted to be born – these paradoxes of factors, the eternal modifications, the riddle of the living although one particular is alive’ (559). Humanity’s discomfort with the unknown elicits progress. In the title, The Famished Road, the metaphorical road of life is intrinsically linked with our hunger for much more. ‘And because the Road was after a river it was constantly hungry’ illustrates the endless ignorance that we endlessly seek to fill, sustaining us.

The denial of one’s inability is also evident in Azaro’s father political attempts. His futile search for help is quashed as ‘most of them slammed their doors in his face.’ (467) Ignorance, nevertheless, instills unimpeded energy as ‘His passion began to drive us slightly mad’. (469) It is the ignorance of his limitations that empowers him.

But for Azaro’s mother, whose ‘eyes were narrowed as if they have been endlessly trying to exclude most of what they saw’ (265), ignorance is sought not for empowerment, but liberation from reality. Likewise, drunkenness is an escape from the oppressive state of knowing, as ‘A man have to be in a position to hold his drink because drunkenness is at times required in this challenging life.’ (42) This ignorance-searching for mentality also presents itself on a societal level. In Azaro’s community, the Abiku children’s cyclic existence suggests infant mortality as merely the actions of restless spirits, with the community’s belief only sustained via the denial of the finality of death. This is willful ignorance to receive liberty from the onerous truth.

This freedom is explored additional in the spirits. Ignorant of the living world and ‘unwilling to come to terms with life’ (4), their purposeful restriction of context ensures they remain ignorant of sublunary suffering. And with this comes freedom. ‘We played so a lot since we were free’ (three) and ‘freedom in the captivity of freedom’ (559) straight contrasts Azaro’s encounter in the living planet ‘weighed down by the inscrutability of life’ (eight). By means of their ignorance, the spirits ‘knew no boundaries’ (three), with Okri implying that the denial of limitations renders them immaterial. Ignorance, in this context, is shown as liberating, the Spirit planet current in ignorance of suffering: ‘The planet of pure dreams, exactly where all factors are produced of enchantment, where there is no suffering’ (four). The spirits’ ignorance to both suffering and their personal limitations is emancipating.

However, Okri depicts this ignorant, blissful state as a ‘dream’. Imagery, such as ‘sweet-tasting moonlight’ (four) and ‘floated on the aquamarine air of love’ (four) constructs an idea that their context is illusory. The ignorance of reality is shown as liberating, but the denial of reality creates worlds that are not entirely substantial or actual, rather dreamlike. This can be thought to mirror a child’s reality, where the lines among genuine and imagined are blurred from ignorance of the boundaries of reality. Ignorance is blissful, but the pleasure is an illusion.

In Azaro’s village, ignorance typically possesses a bleaker portrayal, the inhabitants inundated in wonderful change. The ambiguous figure of Madame Koto and her swiftly progressing bar stand symbolic of the transformations. All through the novel, electrical energy replace candles, politicians replace spirit customers, and the increasing fatness of Madame Koto herself reflects her swiftly mounting wealth. It is this advancing context that introduces incongruous expertise to Azaro’s village. ‘Illiterate crowds gathered in front of the bar… They saw cables, the wires, the pylons in the distance, but they did not see the famed electrical energy.’ (427) To the village inhabitants, electrical energy is totally foreign. In relative terms, it did not exist to them prior to its investiture in Madame Koto’s Bar. Ahead of, their ignorance of electricity was meaningless. With altering contexts, their ignorance requires on a new significance. ‘The inhabitants of the region, who had no hope of being invited to the celebration, put on their greatest clothes and hung around the tent, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wild celebrations, hoping nonetheless far more for a change encounter, a ticket from the outer darkness exactly where we all watched.’ (517) Expertise previously inconsequential suddenly creates a stark divide, the knowledgeable shunning the uniformed. In this, ignorance is reflective of necessity, however necessity reflects the continually changing context.

Yet the necessity of specific expertise can be misconstrued. In reality, details is usually dismissed that is vital or soon becomes so. In the novel, in the height the political turmoil, the inhabitants of Azaro’s village revolt against the two parties. Azaro remarks that it was ‘a evening without memory. It was a evening replaying its corrosive recurrence on the road of our lives’. (211) Regardless of its significance, ignorance quickly consumes it as ‘People had forgotten, and these that hadn’t merely shrugged and said that it was all such a extended time ago, and things have been also complicated for such memories’. (443) The revolt is disregarded as irrelevant. Yet Okri insinuates that the dismissal of history as trivial is what dictates the ‘corrosive recurrence on the road of our lives’. (211) It is ignorance of past blunders that induces its inevitable reappearance. This constructs the general depiction of ignorance as harmful when the information absent is critical.

This extends the concept of harm derived from the loss of expertise that grows relevant, by means of the spatial, temporal or cultural contextual shift.

Nevertheless, ignorance is not merely passive. Typically, the attainment of details needs prior information. Illiteracy, the inability to read or write, is incapacitating in the father as he ‘began to spend a lot of the cash he had won in purchasing books. He couldn’t study but he purchased them.’ (468) He seeks to minimize his ignorance by accessing info in books, but his ignorance of literacy limits him. His prolific boxing and reliance on physical strength ultimately cripples his mind with vivid hallucinations, however his illiteracy traps him, his political attempts futile. His ignorance thwarts his attempts to obtain understanding. Ignorance is each self-perpetuating and incapacitating.

Vulnerable populations are an inevitable repercussion of ignorance. Through the desperate demand of understanding, coupled with illiteracy inside the context, distorted conceptions frequently eventuate. With Madame Koto’s sudden wealth, spurious rumors of ‘They mentioned she had been drinking human blood to lengthen her life and that she was much more than one hundred years old’ (428), are readily accepted by the village inhabitants. Their deluded theories are mainly due to their innate desperation to comprehend. However it also is due to their prior contextual understandings. In the context of Nigeria, witchcraft is a legitimate explanation of her sudden accomplishment. Early in the novel, the imagery surrounding Madame Koto, ‘cauldron of pepper soup’ (120) and ‘the white beads which she had dug into the ground at night’ (120), authenticates the claims of Madame Koto’s witchcraft in the context of classic Nigeria. Nonetheless, in the Western context Madame Koto ascends to, magic is not knowledge. In spite of this, the community’s illiteracy in the new context causes the acceptance of the rumors as fact: ‘The stories distorted our perception of her reality for ever. Gradually, they took her life over, created themselves true, and created her opaque in our eyes.’ (429) Their need to have for understanding frames falsities as reality, exacerbating ignorance.

The continuous concomitant of ignorance is fear. ‘I arrived at a place I had in no way seen in my life before. All the houses were gigantic, the trees were modest, the sky low, the air golden. I attempted to get out of this location.’ (78) The wealthy, western houses stand symbolic of the new context, an unknown context that incites worry. When faced with a record player Azaro ‘fled for a second time, fled from the inhuman issue, and fell backwards, tripping’ (314). In this, ignorance is both the lead to of worry, and the outcome. His initial inability to comprehend the device provokes his worry, and his fear repels him away from it, restricting his capability to learn. This as well defines the spirits’ traits, with worry of ‘the heartlessness of human beings’ (3), and ‘the rigors of existence’ (3), keeping them trapped in their refusal to reside. Ignorance in this sense is self-perpetuating.

However what have to be considered is the function of circumstance in defining the portrayal of ignorance. Childishness, a trait derived from the presence of ignorance that evolves from handful of experiences, is attributed closely to childhood. This makes the ignorance unique, and therefore, when observed in an adult, the winsome trait grows abhorrent. In the father, a childlike persona emerges after his fight with the Green Leopard [A mystical boxing Legend], as he succumbs to an illness of lunacy and confusion. Throughout his illness, he is decreased to basic mental capacities ‘as if he had been the most significant newborn infant in the world’. (410) He was ‘tragic in his grotesque condition of an adult trapped in the consciousness of a child.’ (411) His ignorance is of his most quick context, his body. Even so, knowledge is expected to come with exposure to new contexts, so the father’s fundamental ignorance goes against convention, and is consequently bizarre. The father’s illness and behavior, in particular, reflects Nigeria’s position in the new planet, as an ancient nation suddenly lowered to infancy due to their ignorance of global affairs. In the novel, ignorance removed from its accepted location is perplexing and uncomfortable, depicting ignorance as acceptable solely in its distinct context.

Within Okri’s depiction of ignorance is the divide among acceptance and rejection of ignorance. For Azaro’s mother, her ignorance is consciously acknowledged. She says to Azaro, ‘you need to like school. If your father had gone to school we wouldn’t be suffering so significantly. Learn all you can find out. This is a new age. Independence is coming.’ (109) She recognizes her past disregard for knowledge, prepared Azaro to find out what she could not. In this, Okri acknowledges the presence of a new concept of knowledge self-awareness. To concede the existence of ignorance allows for its exploitation as a constructive state.

In contrast, obliviousness towards ignorance can be detrimental. The mother’s antithesis lies in Azaro’s father. ‘Dad began to devote a lot of the money he had won in purchasing books. He couldn’t study but he purchased them.’ (468) He seeks contextually extrinsic understanding with out the capability to comprehend. He is ignorant of his own ignorance. This obliviousness is noticed in his creation of the Party of the Beggars, exactly where extravagant plans of ‘becoming a politician and bringing freedom and prosperity to the world’ (467) drives him to create the Party of the Beggars, as ‘a new idealism had eaten into his brain’ (468). He becomes so infatuated by his personal aspirations he grows ignorant of his correct surrounds. ‘He seemed to appear at individuals as if they had been transparent, insubstantial’ (403) shows his inattentiveness of his reality. His ignorance of self creates inferiority.

The father’s illiteracy and lack of comprehension of the western context is evident, specifically in his attempts to decipher foreign notions. However, in this instance, he seems to concede his personal faults: ‘It didn’t take long for dad to realize he didn’t know what he was speaking about’ (469). Even so, despite his acknowledgement, he ignores this, insisting on assuming an authoritative function, seeking to offer data: ‘People took to bringing their problems to him, when they asked him for income, for advice on almost everything from how to get their children admitted to hospital to how to get books for their youngsters’ (470). With inaccuracies passed on as fact, particularly in the absence of rational understanding of the new context, false suggestions are rapidly spread. His lack of awareness allows the infectious and virtually insidious nature of ignorance to evolve.

The lack of awareness is also observed as defensive, specifically in the obliviousness to the introduction of information with the new context. Azaro states that ‘The world was altering and I went on wandering as if almost everything would constantly be the identical.’ Their attempts to preserve normality leads to the inability to recognize modify, as ‘they lamented the way youngsters no longer respected their elders and blamed it all on the white man’s way of life which was spoiling the values of Africa.’ They actively reject western expertise, oblivious to its increasing significance. Thus, the awareness of ignorance is not static, due to the constant evolution of knowledge.

The Famished Road constructs ignorance as an inexorable state of becoming. Through this, Okri seeks to get rid of the concept of blame or inferiority as ignorance impacts all in unfamiliar contexts with out discrimination. Ignorance is inevitable, and its acceptance is imperative. Firstly, ignorance is not exclusive to the traditional inhabitants. Even though not as widely explored, the unfamiliarity of the villagers to the intruding West is mirrored in the inexperienced white males upon their arrival in Nigeria. The inability to comprehend unfamiliar contexts is universal.

Even though the novel focuses on the trials of Azaro’s village, ignorance is not special to them. With the intrusion of the ‘white men’ into rural Nigeria, ignorance eventuates. When immersed in an unfamiliar environment, all are rendered unaware. Azaro’s repeated wanderings see him stumble upon a construction site, serving as a modest representation of the momentous alter gripping Nigeria. The western laborers are at the mercy of Nigerian traditions, expertise and understandings embedded in the context, and are as a result ignorant of nearby understanding and dogma. When a building worker ‘stamped on the lizards head’, the environment retaliates ‘flies pestered him/red ants formed an army’. (320) Okri utilizes personification to represent the white mens’ ignorance to the significance of the land, their isolation in an unfamiliar context rendering them victims. ‘Suddenly the path turned into a ditch. The earth moved … The white man shouted, his binoculars flew into the air, and I saw him slide away from view.’ (331) The white man, equipped with binoculars and eyeglasses, implements frequently connected with attainment of info, are unable to comprehend their surroundings, producing powerless people. In this, no knowledge system is superior to one more all are illiterate in foreign contexts. Ignorance final results from the existence of a number of systems of expertise.

Additionally, Okri removes the assumed superiority of western culture. Prior to independence, rural Nigeria possessed an isolated expertise technique. From the inhabitants’ perspective, the western world did not exist. It was ‘a fairyland that no a single could see’ (242), as a result the western expertise can be regarded non-existent. Within the traditional Nigerian context, the inhabitants were knowledgeable: ‘In the olden days they use to come and find out from us. My father utilized to inform me that we taught them how to count. We taught them about the stars. We gave them some of our gods. We shared our expertise with them.’ (325) It is only with the intrusion of the western globe, and the subsequent dispute over the validity of conventional Nigerian expertise, that ignorance manifests. ‘Our lives are changing. Our gods are silent. Our ancestors are silent’ (571). Whilst the standard expertise method remains extant, it is increasing obsolete by means of adjust. In this, ignorance is an inevitable outcome of change, as by means of time, all understanding is at some point superseded.

Nevertheless, the understanding still exists in every single respective context, which alludes to Okri’s largest interpretation of information. ‘Who can Live IN THE FUTURE and Reside IN THE PRESENT and not GO MAD? Who can Reside Amongst SPIRITS AND amongst Males Without DYING? WHO can Consume AND SLEEP WITH HIS Own DESTINY AND nonetheless KNOW THE HAPPINESS OF A Beautiful Point?’ (437) This tirade of an intoxicated herbalist deliberates over the overwhelming excess of info, saying its extent defies comprehension. Through searching for greater-order understanding, the appreciation of simply pleasures is lost. In this, ignorance is depicted as inevitable. The herbalist later cries: ‘human beings are gods hidden from themselves’ (517), suggesting humans generate our own ignorance out of necessity. The idea of ‘god’ can be assumed to be all realizing to repress this suggests ignorance is needed for survival. In addition, ‘All that they hadn’t understood, and for all that they had barely begun to understand ahead of they had been drawn back to the land of origins.’ (3) Our restricted lifespans themselves restrict us from acquiring all information in existence.

The inevitability of ignorance is taken further. ‘Only gods know the truth. Only all of the gods united into a single God can know all of the truths.’ (382) In this, expertise is overwhelming and exists in all belief systems. Okri values all knowledge as equal, and only through the acceptance of all can accurate understanding be obtained. But the novel concerns even this. ‘No true road is ever comprehensive, that no way is ever definitive, no truth ever final, and that there are never truly any beginnings or endings?’ (559) The road, a continuous motif symbolic of information, shows that knowledge can not be defined as it is completely rooted in point of view. The novel additionally suggests expertise exists outdoors of life, as ‘There are many riddles among us that neither the living nor the dead that answer.’ (559) Therefore, ignorance is ineluctable, an existential constant due to the overwhelming however elusive nature of knowledge. From this, ignorance is each crucial and eternal.

General, ignorance is depicted, in an indirect, teleological sense, as far more than merely the absence of information. Okri suggests all through the novel that the actions of characters and the events that unfold in the turmoil around them are predominantly defined by what they do not know, rather than what they do. Ignorance is portrayed as a continuous, universal state, a outcome of the inability to define correct knowledge as it is infinite and consistently changing. Alone, ignorance is inconsequential. It is the contextual circumstances in which ignorance is contorted into a advantageous or detrimental state. On an quick level, ignorance is depicted as incapacitating and limiting halting progress, ostracizing communities and restricting access to information. From a broader viewpoint, even so, ignorance is depicted as inciting hope and a drive for knowledge. General, through delivering goal, Okri suggests ignorance is vital for our existence. Via the turmoil and adjust of Azaro’s life, ignorance is depicted as a multifarious, but inevitable, state of being. The last line substantiates this: ‘A dream can be a highest point of a life’. In this, the information of the complete novel is rendered irrelevant. All that persists is ignorance.
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