A Prayer For the Living by Ben Okri
In A Prayer For the Living by Ben Okri we have the theme of conflict, connection, acceptance and hope. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed man the reader realizes form the beginning of the story that Okri may be exploring the theme of conflict. The story itself is set during the Nigerian Civil War and the narrator is walking among the dead, some of who he discovers are his family and one body at the end of the story belongs to his lover. What is interesting about the sight that beholds the narrator is the fact that he believes the dead to be more fortunate to him. This may be important as it suggests that the narrator is weary of war and knows that there will be no real winner in the conflict. Everybody during a war loses out. The living and the dead. The living are left with memories of their dead while the dead have given their lives to the war.
The theme of acceptance is self-evident in the story. Though the narrator does not necessarily want to fight. He accepts the consequences of the conflict. He knows that there will be dead people and that all he can do is envy them and the happiness they have found in death. Even when the narrator comes across the body of his brother and mother he accepts their deaths as he does the death of the soldiers in the conflict. This too might be important as it is possible that Okri is suggesting that though both brother and mother are innocents. They are part and parcel of the outcome of war. There is no discrimination when it comes to the conflict. In the eyes of many the public along with the opposing soldiers are fair game and as such their deaths are acceptable.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The colours the narrator uses after he finds his family members dead and when he hears the singing coming from the school offer a brightness to another wise sorry situation. The cow can also be seen to represent hope. Drawn by the singing, the cow is as much clinging onto life as the narrator is. For a brief moment the cow and the narrator are one. They have the same purpose in life. To seek out the living. The narrator’s identification with those in the school who have died is important as it shows the human side of the narrator. Even when he discovers his lover’s body. The narrator immediately and selflessly lies by her side. The title of the story is significant as the reader suspects that the narrator wants others, who are still alive, to learn from what has happened and to realize how futile war is.
The end of the story is interesting. The camera crew who are in the school filming the atrocity that has occurred make a connection with the narrator. The narrator does not scorn them during his moment of grief. Rather he carries on regardless and without any sense of discomfort. Again the narrator can identify with the dead for he himself is partially dead having seen so many atrocities during the war. However it is interesting that the narrator suggests that should the camera crew have spoken his language they would have seen that he was saying goodbye to his lover. This is a fitting tribute to someone that someone might love. To overcome one’s own grief and to say goodbye. This may lead many readers to believe that the narrator is again accepting of the position he finds himself in. If anything the narrator is letting go of his family and his lover. Aware that they have become victims of a war that the narrator does not believe in.