The Madman by Chinua Achebe
In The Madman by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of struggle, determination, identity, conflict, appearance and perception. Taken from his Girls at War and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Achebe may be exploring the theme of struggle. Though the madman can go to the local market he prefers to travel to Eke because he knows that it is a bigger market. Despite it being a struggle and a two day journey to Eke the madman is dedicated when it comes to traveling to the market. He overcomes the obstacles of the lorry drivers on the road who frown upon him walking in the middle of the road. Also the young children who shout at the madman as he makes his way to the market. The madman ignores them and remains determined to reach the market. If anything Achebe may be suggesting that the madman is not only prepared to incur difficulty in order to reach the market but he remains determined regardless of what may happen. Though ironically at the end of the story what happens the madman on the way to the market is life changing in a manner that he does not expect.
Achebe also appears to be exploring the theme of appearance. Nwibe longs to be a member of the honoured hierarchy in the village and there is a sense that by becoming a member of the village hierarchy Nwibe will be more respected by others. Nwibe believes that the fact that he is wealthy and successful will help him achieve his goal of having a higher standing in the community. This may be important as it suggests that appearance is important to Nwibe. He cares about how he is viewed upon by those who live in the village. Despite the conflict that exists between two of his wives (Udenkwo and Mgboye) Nwibe is determined to advance within the community. To be as respected as those who are already part of the local hierarchy. Though again as the story progresses there is a further sense of irony when it becomes clear to the reader that rather than being respected by the local hierarchy Nwibe is ignored by them.
The conflict that exists between Nwibe’s wives may in many ways be mirrored by the internal conflict that Nwibe may feel after he is taken home from the market. No one seems to believe his story that his clothes have been robbed by a madman and instead each character in the story views Nwibe as the one who is mad. If anything everybody’s perception of Nwibe changes dramatically. No longer is he viewed upon as being a successful businessman rather he is treated as if he is insane. Even though the reality is very much different. It is as if Nwibe’s identity itself has been changed due to the perception of others. How affected Nwibe might be is noticeable by the fact that he no longer acts the same. He becomes quiet, withdrawn and begins to avoid engaging with those in the village. It is as though he has allowed other people’s newly developed perception of him dictate who he is. Which may be very natural considering that he has fallen from quite a height. Having once been respected in the village this is no longer the case. It is also possible that Achebe is suggesting that regardless of the individual should the majority of people disbelieve a person or go against them. They too like Nwibe will find it difficult to live their lives as they have previously done.
The end of the story is also interesting. Despite being cured by a doctor the ozo men do not wish to associate themselves with Nwibe. Any plans he had to join the ranks of the local hierarchy have been lost. All due to a misunderstanding. Even though it is clear to the reader that Nwibe is not mad those in authority do not consider Nwibe to be worthy of membership within their ranks. Not only has Nwibe lost the ability to advance further within the community but any position that he did hold in the community may also have been lost. However what is really noticeable at the end of the story is that Nwibe regardless of the perception of others still attempts to be initiated by the local hierarchy. This may be important as it suggests that the determination that Nwibe showed at the beginning of the story (by travelling to the market) has returned. Even if it is inevitable due to the perception of the ozo men that Nwibe’s application to join their ranks will be rejected. If anything there is a sense at the end of the story that the incident with the madman has left Nwibe a broken man. Not only is Nwibe weighed down by what has happened him but he also has to contend with the negative perception that others in the village have of him. Nwibe is to continue his life struggling to get back to the position or place he once held or knew. While at the same time having to accept that those in authority in the village may never change their perception of him.