The Green Leaves by Grace Ogot
In The Green Leaves by Grace Ogot we have the theme of violence, tradition, modernity, colonialism, gender roles, power, greed and conflict. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Ogot may be exploring the theme of violence. Though the three thieves are guilty of stealing some cattle how they are dealt with is interesting. Those in the village consider it appropriate to kill or at least try to kill the thieves. It is as though the villagers are taking the law into their own hands. However Ogot may also be defining what law and justice is. Those in the village believe in their own traditional way of dealing with thieves. Yet the European police officer believes that the thieves should have been handed over to him in order that they face a trial and then if found guilty be sentenced for their crime. If anything those in the village disagree with the practices of the European police officer which may suggest that Ogot is placing a spot light on colonialism and the difficulties incurred by those who live in the village who have their own values when it comes to matters of the law. It is as though both are in conflict with one another.
The role that women play in the story is also interesting as they appear to be subservient to men. They have a definitive role to play in what can only be described as a male dominated society. If anything women are not at the forefront of village life. Those in authority are all male. Those who chased the thieves are all male and the women in the village are not told of what has happened till the following morning. If anything there is a social hierarchy in place and women are not treated the same as men. Nyagar’s actions also suggest that he is being greedy. Though his inner voice tells him he has no need for the money he still attempts to steal the money from the thief. The consequences being that Nyagar has paid a heavy price for his greed. Should he have remained in his hut as others have done. He would still be alive. Instead he leaves behind a large family who in all likelihood have no way of providing for themselves. As mentioned the role of women in the story is limited with it being possible that their role is to maintain the home and look after their children.
It is also interesting that there is a shift in power when the police arrive at the village. Where previously the men in the village had the power this is no longer the case when the European police officer begins to ask questions. In reality Ogot may be highlighting that the real power in the village rests not with the men of the village but with the white colonizers. The fact that the villagers remain together throughout the story and do not change their story when the European police officer arrives might also be important. There is a sense of unity within the village which could also be considered to be a stance against colonialism. Very little if anything is given away by the villagers. They remain united against the European police officer. It is as though the villagers are rebelling against colonial authority in preference for their own traditional ways. Which may leave some readers to suspect that those in the village consider the European police officer (or colonizers) to be an unwelcome guest. That they have no role to play in the village or in Africa itself.
The end of the story is also interesting as the song sung by Nyamundhe gives the reader an insight into how deeply loved Nyagar was and how he will not be replaced. Nyagar may have made a mistake in attempting to steal the thief’s money but he is not being judged by this by the reader. Instead the reader feels sympathy for both Nyagar and Nyamundhe. Nyamundhe obviously loved Nyagar regardless of what he might have done. She also knows that she will live her life as a widow as too will Nyagar’s other wives. This might be important as it is possible that those in the village will now look upon Nyamundhe as being spoiled. That no man will wish to take on the responsibility of looking after Nyamundhe and her children. Something which may not necessarily be the case outside of the village were a widow may have every opportunity to remarry. In reality one foolish mistake by Nyagar has resulted in his family’s lives changing forever. Driven by greed ironically Nyagar has left his family without the means to support themselves. The reader left aware that life will only get tougher for Nyamundhe and Nyagar’s other wives and children.