James Ene Henshaw’s “A Man of Character”
It is indisputable that any society that experiences the leap of progress or development which ensures the flourishing condition of both its members and its structure has succeeded in nipping in the bud the major factors that hinder the growth of human virtues (in inter-personal relationship) and social values.
Not only this, it has enhanced a thorough ransacking of the “thorny and rebellious acts” inherent within the different sectors of such society, that confers roles, duty, status and, subsequently, ideals of expectation on these sectors.
In the light of this, James Ene Henshaw’s drama, “A Man of Character,” sets to portray the optimistic reality that the prevailing social problems of Africa are not endemic as there is still a spill of hope that “things can fall together”, as long as everyone in the polity (government, lawyers, police, politicians, citizens and others) desire a virtuous life, a life of character.
In this article, you will have a brief explanation of the characters and also a critical perspective of the book ; James Ene Henshaw’s “A Man of Character”
A Brief Survey of “A Man of Character”
The drama begins with the conversation between Ayodele and Serinya, two sisters, who exchange pleasantries after a long period of time, following Serinya’s trip to the States. Serinya, in a short time afterwards, stimulates Ayodele’s thought about the poor condition Kobina (Ayodele’s husband) has earned for their family due to high-handedness, principles, morals, laxity and contentment with a sincere lifestyle.
Critical Perspectives on “A Man of Character”
Before examining the significance of the play, it is expedient to hint that there are certain predominant features exhibited in the drama. First, there are different African states (most obvious, is the West African states) represented by the characters. Ayodele, of course is a symbol of the Nigerian nation, Kobina, of the Ghanaian nation while Seboh, Mbedu, Diyego, Kopechi and others are seemingly representatives of other African states.
The aim of the author here is indeed an intentional one, to imply that the problems that beset the African nation as a whole is a peculiar one that crosses borders between and within African states. These problems do not differ by the boundaries that demarcate one state from another in Africa. It becomes necessary then that the play be perceived as a mirror of the pervasive problems that stare the African nation as a whole in the face.
The second feature noticeable is the dominant number of men in the drama. This is employed to portray that African society is highly patriarchal, a male-dominated society. Men are seen as leaders, as well the custodians of norms and values in the society. Least of all is the manner of lingual expression in the play.
This expression connotes that there is literal and metaphorical meaning to words and statements in Africa. This is glaring in the various attribution to “being a gentleman” in the play.
At this juncture, it becomes necessary that we understand the symbolic representation of each character in the drama. Let us begin by examining the character of Anosse. Anosse, Serinya’s husband, is an emblem of corruption within the society. He is a symbol of those that could be the “cut-throats” of the society, who parade themselves in disguise as businessmen and politicians.
They claim to know the psychology that drives and motivates the society, thus they are people who hold strictly to the principle “the end justifies the means”. Anosse’s character depicts the bribery and “shinning of cues” that take place in the African society. He belongs to the kind of people who drain the members of the society of their “suiting merit” by currying favour, giving and taking bribes. This is reflected in Anosse’s conversation with Kobina:
Anosse: Listen to this carefully … I have recommended a man for employment in your office. I have taken something from him as a sort of security – you know, for my trouble.
Kobina: I do not understand … Don’t you know he must have borrowed that money, perhaps at exorbitant interest?
Anosse: But people are used to it. (p. 65)
Ayodele’s character is an exhibition of a contented African woman, one who “bathes and basks” in culture for the respect or regard for men within African traditional society; though she was not in all things materialistic but also desires the wants and needs of a woman in the society.
This attitude of hers is reflected from the beginning of the play till the time Serinya, her sister, who came to complain about her living conditions, and her return to Kobina, her husband. Some of her utterances in the play attest to this:
Ayodele: I am a woman, Kobina. I need a house of my own. I need clothes … (p. 66) Ayodele: Ibitam, do not speak to your father like that. (p. 67)
Ayodele (on her return to Kobina): … And I said, “Here is a gentleman, a man of character, I must return to him”. Do you think I was so ambitious as to expect you to do such a thing? (p. 82)
Ayodele (to Serinya): Please do not talk like that. I am happy here. (p. 91)
Diyego, in the drama, is a symbol of justice, law and unyielding compromise. He is a man who believes in the order of “whatever a man sows, he shall reap”; the law of Karma that operates with no room for sympathy, manipulation or exemption. His character is a display of ideal attitude that should be imitated by the African man.
His intervention in the case of the stolen money was from a duty-point of view, an objective and unprejudiced state of mind. For instance, in responding to the stranger’s cajole that they reach a compromise, Diyego warns Serinya: “…but madam we have no right to keep our parts of this bargain” (p. 87)
Ibitam, the daughter of Kobina and Ayodele, is a sheer case of the extent of moral decadence among youths in Africa. She serves a reminder to the upcoming generation that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. More so, her role is also to show the extent of deviant behaviour or attitude in the culture and tradition of respect for elders and parents. Is this not glaring in the uncultured manner that Ibitam spoke to her father?
Ibitam: I heard it all. I want to tell you that my mother and I have endured enough. (p. 67)
Kobina is the protagonist in the play, the major character whom the plot of the story revolves around. Kobina is a replica of the genuine African man, who is connected to the tunes and demands of culture, frowns at corruption in the society and loathes the misappropriation of values. For instance, he condemns the manipulative acts of Anosse.
Though it should be noted that Kobina is a fatalist as he lives a life of resignation to good deeds, honesty, sincerity and contentment, Kobina does not believe the problems that stare Africa in the face are endemic. Herein lays the optimistic reality of the play through the character of Kobina. In an instance in the drama, Kobina suggests practical ways of overcoming the pervasive problem of corruption in African society. Speaking to Anosse, he says:
Kobina: You can refuse such gifts. And anyone who receives them should be reported to the police. (p. 65)
By the virtue of this, Kobina passes the muster as a “gentleman, a man of character” in every sense of the word. Kobina’s character is a portrayal of people/individuals who live by the standards or ideals of moral principles but gain, in return, victimization from the society. The isolation of his family from him and the stolen money speak volume on this.
The character of Kobina is symbolic to intimate the average rational person to live a life of contentment guided by virtues that are dutiful, sincere and honest. Even when all these virtues do not work out, one should live a life of resignation to good and upright deeds (fatalism) because it pays in the long run.
Kobina: when you realise that you have fought for this, and struggled for that and have won at the end by honest means, you are satisfied. That is one of the victories of life. (p.68)
Magistrate Kopechi seems to be on the right side of the law together with Diyego; he is a symbol of acting in accord to the imperative of duty and avoiding compromise. Committing himself to the task, he says (when the stranger was arrested):
Kopechi: I have succeeded in several occasions in showing people like him that crime does not pay, and I shall continue to do so with all the powers at my disposal. (p. 91)
The police sergeant, Mbedu, is a representative of the Law Enforcement Agency. His character in the play reminds us of those law enforcement agents who appear to be zealous to uphold the law, but are sometimes lured to compromise their position due to their selfish interests. This is reflective in Mbedu’s gullible manner of nearly giving in to the compromise of the stranger.
In terms of this, Serinya too does not exhibit a different attitude. They are thus a symbol of the “fallen apart” structure of the society that needs a tutorial of value orientation. In quick response to the Stranger, Mbedu, the Police sergeant, says: “Yes, we promise, but …” (p.87)
The character of Seboh, the servant, is not lesser to the dubious act of his brother, the Stranger. Seboh’s character reflects set of people who feign love and concern for the society but who go around “selling” information to aid the looting of both public and private treasury. They are the “secretary’s ear” among us.
They are simply the “hypocrites and thorns” to the social development of Africa. It is quite unfortunate that they are at the lowest cadre of the society, mostly the peasants (as portrayed in the role of Seboh, a servant). These are people who often blame the despicable state of the nation on their leaders.