In The Shadow of War by Ben Okri
In the shorty story In The Shadow of War by Ben Okri we have the theme of conflict, trust, connection, innocence and fear. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator it becomes clear to the reader from the beginning of the story that Okri may be exploring the theme of conflict. The war that is occurring in Omovo’s village is the Nigerian Civil War and the people of the village, particularly Omovo’s father are tiring of what is happening. It is disturbing not only his work day but his life too. What is also interesting from Omovo’s engagement with the soldiers is the fact that Omovo lies to them twice. This may be significant as it suggests that Omovo does not trust them nor does he wish for the soldiers to be in the village. It is also interesting that Omovo refuses the soldier’s money as this would further suggest that Omovo wants no part in the war.
The ravages of war can be seen throughout the village and how afraid the villagers actually are is noticeable by the lack of villagers in the village. There may be children running around but there are no villagers in the bar nor does there appear to be any in the surrounding area. Apart from the men and women hiding in the cave, and who are against the soldiers’ presence, there does not seem to be anybody else about. Omovo has also had to grow up quickly, running the bar for his father. It is possible that Okri is suggesting that with war comes difficulties for those not directly involved in the war. If anything Omovo may have lost his innocence. He has had to grow up fast.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The pending eclipse serves to act as foreshadowing. Just as the world is going to turn dark so too do dark things happen with the killing of the woman who wore black. Okri possibly using the woman’s veil to further highlight that something dark is going to happen. The radio may symbolically act as a form of connection during the war. Omovo’s father using the radio to get updates about life and it would appear that despite the difficulties Omovo’s father is enduring he tries to act as normal as possible. The fact that Omovo’s father goes to work also suggests that he is trying to live his life as normal as possible. The unfinished estates that Omovo travels through when he is following the soldiers and the woman can be seen to represent the fact that progress has stopped because of the war. The workers’ shed which is deserted also highlights the lack of progress. The war has taken over the village.
The end of the story is interesting as Omovo’s father appears to be apologetic to the soldiers for what Omovo has seen (the killing of the woman). This is interesting, if not expected, as it is clear to the reader that Omovo’s father is afraid of the soldiers and what they might do to Omovo. If they can kill the woman they can easily kill Omovo. It is also interesting that Omovo does not understand why his father might be drinking with the soldiers. It doesn’t dawn on him that his father is trying to sooth the minds of the soldiers so that they do not kill Omovo. All Omovo can see is his father being friendly with the soldiers. Something that disturbs Omovo. Which is understandable considering that Omovo has witnessed the woman being killed. However the father through his apology does manage to save Omovo from a certain death even if Omovo does not really understand what his father is doing.