Sugar Baby by Chinua Achebe
In Sugar Baby by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of addiction, friendship, control, frustration and anger. Taken from his Girls at War collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Mike and after reading the story the reader realises that Achebe is exploring the theme of addiction. Cletus is addicted to sugar. In fact he is so addicted that he has mood swings when he is deprived of sugar. This is noticeable when he pours the hot water over Mercy’s hand when she tries to take some of the sugar Mike has got for him. Mike is probably more important in the story compared to Cletus. It is through Mike’s dialogue that we realise he is a friend to Cletus. He is prepared to literally do anything in order for Cletus to have some sugar. He is more open to the idea of getting Cletus sugar than any other character in the story. In fact he is the only one who has an understanding of Cletus’ problems with sugar.
Father Doherty is an interesting character as he is one of the people who considers Cletus’ addiction to be a luxury. He can’t understand why Cletus needs sugar so much when so many people are short of even milk. In fact so angry is Father Doherty that he chases Cletus and Mike out of his house when he learns that Cletus is looking for sugar. Cletus’ addiction does not only affect him. As mentioned it affects his relationship with Mercy as well as his relationship with Mike. Mike finds it hard to tell a good humored story about Cletus’ dependency on sugar. In fact they come to logger heads later on in the story because Cletus is unhappy with Mike not telling a true story about Cletus’ addiction.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Sugar may symbolise control and the fact that Cletus’ life is unmanageable when it comes to sugar. He will try anything that might contain sugar in order to feed his addiction. The fact that Mike finds it hard to tell a story about Cletus’ addiction might also be symbolic of the fact that Mike does not believe others will understand just how far Cletus will go in order to obtain sugar. He is being forced to tell a humorous story about a serious problem. Something that does not register with Cletus. Such is his dependency on sugar. If anything sugar consumption totally controls Cletus. He is constantly preoccupied with obtaining sugar. Regardless of how detrimental his search may be. Even during the war in Biafra he cared more about sugar than his own life. Similarly he cares more about sugar than he does about Mercy. Though some critics might suggest that Cletus deserves no sympathy; one must look at how frustrated he gets and how negative he reacts when he gets frustrated. It is not a laughing matter to Cletus at all. Something that Mike is also fully aware of too.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mike knows that Cletus is angry with him and as such needs to make a light-hearted joke about Cletus’ sugar consumption. It is by telling the joke that Mike is managing to remain friends with Cletus. He knows how Cletus will react to a negative story about his sugar consumption. They will no longer be friends. If there is anybody in the story who cares about their friendship with Cletus it is Mike. He knows his friend has a serious problem and that other people will simply not understand Cletus’ necessity for sugar. Sugar is a commodity for most people who may drink tea or coffee. They may add it to their drink if they like it or not. Whereas it is a necessity to Cletus. He is wholly dependent on sugar in order to function properly. It may actually be a case that Cletus is more affected by his dependency on sugar than he is from the war he has fought with Mike in Biafra and again his friendship with Mike is important because Mike understands Cletus’ addiction. Though it is clear he never challenges Cletus about it. Which may leave some readers to question as to whether Mike is really Cletus’ friend or is he just enabling Cletus.