Uncle Ben’s Choice by Chinua Achebe
In Uncle Ben’s Choice by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of fear, superstition, anxiety, alienation, control, change and acceptance. Taken from his Girls at War and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Ben and it becomes clear to the reader after reading the story that Achebe may be exploring the theme of fear and superstition. Ben believes that he has been visited by Mami Wota and his mind begins to race to levels that frighten him. However the reality may be somewhat clearer and Ben having drunk a full bottle of White Horse is in fact drunk. It is for this reason that the reader is also left suspecting that Ben may not necessarily be a reliable narrator. He personalises events as he sees them effecting him. When again it is most likely that Ben has had a bad dream due to being intoxicated. Regardless of this there is no disputing that the anxiety that Ben feels is very real. Real enough for him to run to Matthew’s home in a panic and make a pledge with Matthew. It is as though by making the pledge that Ben is able to ward off Mami Wota. Though again all incidents that occur in Ben’s home are in fact in Ben’s imagination. He doesn’t accept that he is drunk.
It is also noticeable that Ben has prospered in life and is able to afford to have several wives. This may be significant as it is possible that Ben on seeing Mami Wota changed the direction of his life and sought female company. Whereas previously he stayed away from women. Believing perhaps that they might use a love potion on him and trap him. Something that he fears Margaret will do with him. Though she appears to be a genuinely decent person who has no malice in her mind. Which may leave the reader to suspect that Ben keeps his guard up too often. When the reality is there is no need to. By keeping his guard up Ben only manages to alienate himself from others. Though Ben tells the reader that he is happy as a bachelor the reality could be very different. Something that is noticeable when Ben thinks Mami Wota is Margaret and he seeks comfort in her arms. If anything Ben appears to be afraid to admit that he is lonely.
As by doing so he knows that he will have to commit himself and his wealth to another human being. Something that Ben may not necessarily have been prepared to do at the time that he saw Mami Wota. Ben would prefer to live a bachelor’s life in which he is in complete control and answerable to nobody. Something that may be the desire of many young men prior to them falling in love or taking a wife. Which may be the reason as to why the story is so believable. Ben is an everyday man just like any other man. He is no different so the reader would not be suspicious of his tale. If Ben had not drunk a full bottle of White Horse he may well have been believed by the reader. Who might have had sympathy for him but again the reality is different. Ben may in fact be boarding on the strange when it comes to Mami Wota because he is not in his full senses. For Ben everything he sees is real and believable and he is persuasive when it comes to telling his story.
The end of the story is also interesting as it is clear to the reader that Ben has found happiness with his many wives. Something that he may not have considered possible when he saw Mami Wota. It is as though Ben’s life has turned one hundred and eighty degrees and he is a different man to what he was. If anything Ben has changed when it comes to his outlook on life. No longer does he think as single man may think and is content to have the love of his wives. He is not suspicious of them as he was of Margaret which highlights just have far Ben has progressed. Where once he stayed clear of women he now appears to embrace their company. Which may be the point that Achebe is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that people might only change their lives when they receive a shock. Just as Ben has when it comes to seeing Mami Wota. If it was not for Mami Wota Ben might still be drinking at the club alone and avoiding women because he distrusts them. If anything the sight of Mami Wota has been a blessing in disguise for Ben. He is far happier as a married man than had he remained single.