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Analysis of the Play: 'The Trials of Brother Jero' by Wole Sonyika

'The Trials of Brother Jero' is a satirical-comedic play through which the playwright depicts the devious nature of some religious leaders who forego sound doctrine to accomplish their selfish desires, and the materialistic nature of many worshippers who attend church services solely for material blessings.

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Chapters Analysis

Scene I

The play starts with the presence of a heavily-built man with neatly-kept beards, and long-thick hair, standing on a completely dark stage save for a spotlight bathing his appearance. Addressing the audience, the man, Jeroboam, asserts that he's is a prophet, both by birth and inclination.

In recent years, he says, the profession is no longer profitable - many of the faithful have halted their attendance at churches. The faithful would rather immerse themselves in the pleasures of life than go to church.

Furthermore, the occupation has been dirtied (ridiculed) in the sight of people (and, the faithful) by prophets fighting over each other to own a piece of land. The Town Council had to intervene to settle the dispute. Jeroboam assisted his Old Master to gain a piece of land. However, he turned against his master by driving him off his land, telling the old man that he'd outlived his years on earth. The old man, enraged, cursed Jeroboam, who had been his students. Jeroboam had feared the curse that was pronounced by the Old Prophet over him would come to fruition, but later downplayed the curses as cheap - would have no effect on him.

Scene II

It's early in the morning. A man carrying his wife on a bicycle applies instant breaks in front of a hut, in a fishing village. This doesn't go well with his wife who was sitting on the crossbar. She chides him for being inconsiderate of her by not bringing the bicycle to a gentle stop. Chume defends himself by stating she didn't give him enough notice to stop in front of the hut.

After alighting from the bicycle, and limping, as a result of the bicycle being brought into an emergence stop, ssks for her things including a stool, a mat and some prepared food in two saucepans. She sets the stool near the door of the hut.

A few minutes after Chume has left, Brother Jero (short of Jeroboam) opens a window, breathes in the fresh air, and then meditates. He notices the back of a woman as he's about to go back in the hut. He leans out to get a good view but it proves impossible. Curious, he opens the hut's door slightly to ascertain who she is. Realising who she is, he shuts the door quickly.

With a canvas pouch and a divine rod, he attempts to exit the hut through the hut's window. Amope who is consulting her notebook containing the sales she'd made and the debts owed her, asks Jero where he's going without turning her head to look at him. Learning his escape was noticed by her, he goes round the door, and opens it. He greets her. Amope makes it clear to him that she won't let him go anywhere till he pays the money he owes her. Defeated what to do, he enters his hut, and shuts its door.

A woman carrying a calabash bowl on her head passes by. Amope calls her but the woman doesn't respond. She calls her again. The trader hesitates before asking for her help to lower it after making it clear to Amope that she doesn't always stop on the way. Amope asks her if it's not the money she's going after in the market because that's what she intends to give her for buying the smoked fish sold by her. The trader tells her that she better not start her on a bad note on such an early morning. Amope asks whether the smoked fish aren't from last week. This elicits an angry exchange of words between the two women.

When she leaps up from her stool to confront the trader, she sees Jero escaping through the window. She screams, asking for help to catch the thief.

A moment later, an urchin appears from the side opposite the door. He's carrying a drum on each shoulder. He walks towards her, drumming. Amope scolds the boy, asking him whether her money is for the likes of him.

Scene III

After evading from being made a prisoner in his own house for not wanting to pay the velvet cap he'd bought from her, he arrives at his church earlier than the worshippers.

Chume arrives to find Jero on his knees, praying. Jero asks him why he's not at work. Chume replies he's reported he is sick. He asks Brother Jero to let him beat his wife. Only once. He claims the woman has been abusing him. Jero rebukes him for entertaining such thoughts of wanting to beat his wife.

The worshippers have arrived at the church. The service has already begun. During the service, the boy carrying the drum is seeing running from one side of the open church to the other side. Behind him is a woman chasing him. Jero stops him to ask him why he's being pursued by the woman. The boy replies he's done nothing wrong. He's only drumming (as a means of begging for alms) but the woman told him he's doing that to abuse (insult) her father.

He bawls at the woman who happens to be her neighbour but she doesn't pay attention to him. He hands his rod to Chume, and exits the church. Not knowing what to do, Chume leads the worshippers in prayers.

A few minutes later, the woman is seeing carrying the drums while the boy is in tow, begging her to return his drums. Brother Jero arrives at the church, his clothes torn, and his face bleeding.

The worshippers are told to return in the evening. After the worshippers have left, Jero gives Chume permission to beat his wife.

Scene IV

Chume finds his wife still at the place he left her. He orders her to pack her things so they can go home. She is adamant she won't go with him; she can find her own way home.

A crowd has gathered. They're watching the confrontation that's ensued between Amope and Chume. Amope repeatedly bangs on Jero's door while screaming to her husband to kill him if that's what he wants. She won't get on that bicycle unless he kills her. She insists she won't budge from that place.

Jero who is among the crowd, watches in mock-horror as Chume raises his big fist; ready to beat his wife. He covers his eyes with both hands, then departs from the scene.

She continues banging on the door, asking the occupant of the hut to open the door so that she can get in to escape the madness that has engulfed her husband.

She implores the Prophet to curse her husband to hell. If he does so, she'll permit him keep the velvet cap. She'll also forgive him for all the debts he owes her if only she curses her husband.

Chume tells her if she doesn't answer his question, he'll beat her. He asks her whether she had said the Prophet who stays in that hut owes her money. Unable to get the intended answer from his wife, he pushes her away in disgust and turns to the crowd; asking them whether Brother Jeroboam...He doesn't finish his sentence as the man nearest to him hastily says he's not the Prophet. Chume retorts whether he'd said the man was the Prophet. He asks whether the Prophet loves there to which the man replies, "Yes. Over there. That house."

Chume tells her wife to stay there, he'll back. And he better find her there as he mounts on his bicycle and leaves; to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Scene V

It is at nightfall in the beach. A man who is a member of the Federal House - aiming a ministerial post - is seen standing right, downstage, practising a speech. He didn't prepare, afraid of doing it by himself.

Jero, from a distance, studies him for some time, then approaches him with the intention of turning him into one of his followers. At first, the man doesn't give in. He tells Jero, "Go and practice your fraudulences on another person of greater gullibility." However, the man comes to the conclusion Jero is a true Prophet when Jero tells him that he's shown a vision by the Lord concerning him. In the vision, he's shown the politician sitting in an office, and on the office's door was written 'Minister of War.'

While Jero is praying for the man who has knelt down (and his eyes closed), Chume appears on the stage. He is furious at the Prophet, stating that he's going to finish him. His anger is further exercebated at the thought there must be something between him and his wife. Aren't they lovers? Seeing that Chume is determined to carry out his threat, Jero flees the scene, followed by Chume who's pursuing him.

The man, not hearing any more words from the Prophet, opens his eyes. He turns his head in all directions but doesn't see the Prophet. He tells himself he'll wait for the Prophet. He must have vanished into thin air.

Jero returns to his church. He had sent for the police to apprehend Chume. He's expecting them to notify him about the arrest. He wants Chume to be sent to a lunatic asylum for a year so that he doesn't cause any havoc.

At the church, the man had fallen asleep. Jero picks up a pebble and throws it at him. When the man sees him, he falls flat on his face, whispering in rapt awe, "Master!"

Jero knows the man will spread the miraculous feat of his disappearance and reappearance which will attract other people to flock into his church

Themes

1. Corruption

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines corruption as "dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers)." Another definition from the same dictionary is " a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct."

Prophet Jero exemplifies religious leaders who hide behind their religious titles to engage in activities meant to benefit themselves. His dishonesty dealings is manifested when he deceives people he has been shown by the Almighty that they'll receive a miracle, especially his well-known predictive sensation, promotion to a higher official position. What the people don't know is that Jero isn't a prophet. He uses the title of the prophet to enlarge his territory so that he doesn't lack material gains.

Jero has deviated (departed) from what is expected of a prophet-cum-preacher. He treats his occupation as a trade, and his church members as customers.

2. Hypocrisy

Jero exemplifies religious leaders who don't act according to the scriptural teachings. They preach against what they themselves do, and prohibit their congregation from doing what they themselves are doing. They are people who can't be trusted with the Word of God.

Chume, on several occasions, sought Jero's permission to beat his wife. Jero refused for the simple reason he didn't want Chume to leave. By having Chume in his fold, he would be benefiting from the man. At last, Jero allowed Chume to beat his wife because he wanted Chume to get rid of his creditor (Amope).

He fooled many people into believing the Almighty One had shown him miraculous things that would occur to an individual e.g. being promoted, or in the case of a female member in his church, becoming pregnant. His prophecies were safe predictions.

Prophet Jero's acts went contrary against his role as a religious leader e.g. refusing, or evading, paying Amope for the things he bought from her on debt.

3. Domestic Violence

Not only do religious leaders preach and teach what the Word of the Almighty One says, but also offer counseling to couples when faced with internal conflicts.

Prophet Jero knows it's not biblically right for a man to beat his wife. It doesn't translate to love and respect. However, he allows Chume to beat his wife so that his selfish desires would be fulfilled (getting rid of his creditor). It shows how religious leaders might contribute to gender violence or abuse.

Also, the playwright highlights the lack of love and respect that permeates in many homes. Men resort to beating their wives to bring them under their submission. They regard themselves as above their women which brings out another misconception idea that women are a weaker sex. This is evident in the play where Chume asks Jeroboam to allow to beat his wife who has been on his neck for a long time.

4. Materialism

Jeroboam's address to the audience, and the unfolding events in the play, paint a gleam of light on the materialistic nature of religious leaders and worshippers. Religious leaders have turned church into a business as depicted by Jeroboam who regards the worshippers as his customers, and himself as their shopkeeper. The worshippers attend church to solely receive a materialistic blessing.

While it isn't wrong to ask the Almighty One to give a person what they desire, it beats the Biblical logic whether that's the only reason of attending a church. This is the reason why Prophet Jero refers to his profession as a trade. He tricks them into believing they'll be enriched by the the Almighty One, promoted to a higher official position, or receive a miracle they're in need of.

Finally, the worshippers are halting their attendance in church to be immersed in the extravagance of life. They no longer want to follow the way of the Almighty One. Jero reveals to us, the audience, that he makes the people dissatisfied so that they can come back to his church. He was against allowing Chume to beat his wife. He knew if he allowed Chume to do so, Chume would cease attending his church. Those who their needs were met no longer found going to church an important thing to do. They regards it as a waste of their time there.

Stylistic Devices

1. Euphemism

Your Dictionary defines an euphemism as "a polite expression used in place of words or phrases that might otherwise be considered harsh or unpleasant."

In the play, Chume told his wife that if she didn't answer his question, he'd 'touch' her (pg. 27). The playwright used the word 'touch' in the place of 'beat' to lessen the severity of the word.

2. Irony

Merriam-Webster defines irony as "the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning."

There are three types of irony: verbal, situational and dramatic.

a) Dramatic irony refers to a situation whereby the audience knows something that will befall a character of which the character in question doesn't know. In the play, we see Jero studying a politician who is practicing his speech. He notes that the politician is afraid to prepare his speeches thereby enlisting the help of another person. Also, the politician is eyeing a ministerial seat. Jero tells us, the audience, "Now he...he is already a member of my flock. He does not know it of course, but he is a follower. All I need to do is claim him. Call him and say to him, My dear Member of the House, your place awaits you...Or do you doubt it? Watch me go to work on him." We, the audience, know the politician will be 'foooled' and converted to a 'blind' follower of Jero. Jero will net him in his fold with his safe prediction about him gaining the ministerial seat.

b) Situational irony refers to an occurrence that we didn't expect will happen - it happened contrary to what we'd anticipated. In the play, Jero attempted to escape through the window of his hut so as to avoid paying Amope what he owed her. We expected his attempt to escape would suceed. Contrary to our expectation, Amope caught him trying to escape through the window of his hut. Nonetheless, our expectation paid off as he succeeded in his attempt. On the other hand, even if we anticipated Jero might succeed, we would be baffled, in the first place, why, as a man of God, he would evade from paying Amope the things he bought from her on debt.

3. Repetition

Repetition is used to emphasize or arouse the attention of someone pertaining to a particular subject or thing.

Amope knew her husband wouldn't Shu away from beating her if she refused to heed his order to get on the bicycle so they can go home. However, she's adamant she won't go with him. If he wanted her to get on the bicycle, he would have to kill her. She repeatedly told him to kill her. Here repetition is employed to show her determination that even if her husband threatens her he would beat her, she won't be cowed by his threat. Furthermore, even if he beat her, it wouldn't deter her from accomplishing her mission.

It might also be surmised that Amope, having a victim personality, knew her husband wouldn't beat her when she utters repeatedly what he intended to do against her; particularly in front of people. She may have learned of her husband's weakness in carrying through her threats. The victim personality exhibited by Amope can be noted in pg. 26 where she tells him to go on and kill her, and then tells the crowd that had gathered, "Everybody come and bear witness. He's going to kill me so come and bear witness..."

The worshippers, in the church where Jeroboam presided, repeated the word 'Amen' to affirm (emphasize) their agreement on the blessings being pronounced on them by Chume.

Lastly, Amope screamed, "Thief! Thief!" to arouse the attention of neighbours and/or passers-by to help her catch the thief (Jero) who had escaped through the window of his hut.

4. Humour

Sometimes, irony is accompanied with humour. For instance, Jero escaping through the window. It's humourous seeing such a religious leader escaping through the window to evade paying Amope for the velvet cape he bought from her on debt.

The play has numerous instances of humourous events meant to lighten the mood, or criticize (in a lighter mood) the folly of religious leaders, and people, in general.

Another instance of comedy was when Chume asked the onlookers whether they knew the Prophet. This is after unsuccessfully not getting the intended answer from Amope. Chume asked the onlookers, "Is Brother Jeroboam...?" The nearest onlooker to Chume opened his mouth immediately, not giving Chume time to finish what he's asking. The onlooker cried, "No, no. I'm not Brother Jero. It's not me." Chume retorted, "Who said you were?"

5. Satire

Satire involves the use of humour, irony or ridicule to expose the folly or vices in humans, society, or even the government.

Through satire, we learn the hypocritical and corrupt nature of Brother Jero. While he preached water, he drank wine signifying he didn't adhere to Biblical teachings he made use of in his church. We learn that he regarded his church as an enterprise. His being a Prophet (and a preacher) was more as an avenue to fulfil his selfish desires - material gain - than treating it as a calling. He ensnared people into believing he was a true prophet by claiming he saw a vision, or dreamnt, of a person being promoted to a higher official position, or receiving a miracle they sought after.

6. Symbolism

Symbolism refers to the use of an image, object or idea to represent something else. In Scene I, Jero is seen on the stage holding a divine rod on one hand, and a canvas pouch on the other hand. During the ancient Biblical era, a person carrying a rod represented a man who was chosen by God to lead people.

In reference to the rod, the Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, in an article titled, 'Interesting Holy Bible Facts', they state, "From the Prophet Moses, who held the rod to perform miracles, to the High Priest Aaron, whose rod performing miracles without being held, the rod symbolized our Lord's Holy Hand. Throughout the Old Testament and into the events of the New Testament, the rod held great significance of our Lord's presence, keeping His people in unison and guiding/guarding those who chose to do His Holy Will."

7. Imagery

It involves a writer's choice of words to ignite the imagination of a reader by involving his five senses, namely: hearing, touch, smell, taste and sight. This enables a reader to create a mental picture pertaining to the description or event narrated or expounded by a writer. The primary function of imagery, as stated by Info Bloom, "is to bring a lifelike quality to scenery, people, or circumstances...Writers use imagery to give life to their words in a way that is both realistic and authentic; it enables them to evoke certain feelings and images in the reader’s mind that give the illusion of having originated from the reader him or herself."

In the play, imagery occurs frequently in the descriptions given by the playwright before a dialogue, or in the midst of a dialogue.

Examples are:

a) The stage is completely dark. A spotlight reveals the Prophet, a heavily but nearly bearded man; his hair is thick and high, but well-combed, unlike that of most prophets. Suave is the word for him. He carries a canvas pouch and a divine rod. (pg. 1)

b) During a service, Brother Jero hands two empty bottles to Chume who goes to fill them with water from the sea. Chume has hardly gone out when the drummer boy enters from upstage, running. He is rather weighed down by two gangan drums, and darts fearful glances back in mortal terror of whatever it is that is chasing him. This turns out, some ten or so yards later, to be a woman, sash tightened around her waist, wrapper pulled so high up that half the length of her thigh is exposed. Her sleeves are rolled above the shoulder and she is striding after the drummer in no unmistakable manner. Jeroboam, who has followed the woman's exposed limbs with quiet distressed concentration, comes suddenly to himself and kneels sharply, muttering. (pg. 17)

8. Diction

Literary Devices define diction as a "style of speaking or writing, determined by the choice of words by a speaker or writer."

In the play, we come across Chume who uses a variation of English language known as Pidgin English. Pidgin is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages." Consequently, Pidgin English can be defined as a combination of other languages and English. Pidgin English contains a variation in the normal spoken or written use of the English language.

An example is Chume saying, 'Na,' instead of 'No.'

Examples of Pidgin English in the play are:

a) Chume: In' go beat 'am too hard. Jus' once small small.

b) Chume: Jus' this one time. I no' go ask again. Jus' do me one favour, make me a beat 'am today.

c) Chume: Na you do 'am, brother. Na you.

d) Chume: Adulterer! Woman-thief! Na today a go finish you!

Character Analysis

a) Jeroboam

In the first scene, Jeroboam asserts that he was born a prophet. In fact, he states that he's born with long-thick hair which served as a sign to his parents that he was meant to be a prophet. However, the events that unfolds in the later scenes paint a different picture about Jeroboam. He isn't a prophet as he claims. His foretelling are based on his assessment of a situation an individual is in, or what an individual is wishing for. His prophecies are safe predictions implying he's careful in predicting an event which has a high likelihood of occuring.

Through craftiness, he manages to increase the capacity of his church. He can't afford to lose Chume, his faithful follower. The only thing that keeps Chume from not attending his church anymore is because Jeroboam is against him beating his wife. In the last scene, Jeroboam is successful in deceiving a politician of having been shown a vision of the man being promoted to a ministerial position.

The land where his church is situated belonged to his Old Master. The Old Tutor hadn't left it in the hands of his student, Jeroboam, because of old age. Instead, Jeroboam drove him off his piece of land, claiming the Old Master had lived beyond the years planned for him by the Almighty.

Other than being hypocritical, and a traitor to his Old Master, Jero is also battling with lust for women. For instance, when he woke up one morning and found himself sleeping with a 'Daughter of Eve.' In addition, he's a religious leader who employed an evil means of ensuring his Old Master got a land for his church (before grabbing it from him). In Scene I, he recounts when campaigning for his Old Master to get a piece of land, he enlisted six dancing French young women camouflaged as Christians.

b) Chume

A married man, Chume works as a Chief Messenger in the Local Government Office. He's termed as his wife as lacking in ambition in pursuing better-paid jobs. He might be content working in that job.

He has been meaning to beat his wife, but has being held off countless times by Jeroboam from executing it. He claims to Jeroboam that his wife has been abusing him. It appears, based on his wife's character, that he sought through beating to align her mind to who she was in the marriage, and the respect she needed to accord him as the head of the house.

He doesn't drink, and is a faithful person. Jeroboam didn't want to lose him due to his loyalty to him as his assistant, but when Chume wanted to lay his hands on him, Jeroboam had to seek the police to arrest him. He anticipates once he deceives the politician, the politician will assist him in confining Chume in a mental institution for one year.

It'd expected that Chume would know the right course of action to take to deal with her wife's psychological abuse on him. Of course, beating would be out of question. If he's unable to know what he should do, he should seek Jeroboam for counsel; not to ask him to allow him to beat her. It appears Chume is emotionally dependent on other, or specifically on Jeroboam, to make a decision.

c) Amope

She is the wife of Chume, and a trader. Chume has had enough of his wife's never-ending nagging, and constant scolding. He seeks Jeroboam's permission to beat her so that he can she can learn her place in the marriage, and to stop disrespecting him. He tells Jeroboam that she's abusing him referring to verbal abuse. He further tells Jeroboam who is against him beating his wife that she'll kill him. It signifies that her psychological abuse might affect his mental health, or lead him to commit suicide.

She is also an arrogant woman. She told the boy who was carrying drums on both his shoulders that he should get out of her face; calling him a dirty beggar. She asks whether her thinks her money is for the likes of her.

Amope has also been portrayed as a woman suffering from a victim mentality state. According to the Health Psychology Consultancy, people with the victim personality: "tend to manipulate or abuse others verbally or physically, but then blame the other person (i.e. the real victim) for provoking the abuse; influence or control other people's sympathy to gain compassion or support: and tend to avoid taking responsibility for their life, instead blaming others for their mistreatment or unfortunate circumstances." An instance is found whereby Amope complains to Chume for her sudden limping as a result of her husband applying emergency brakes instead of bringing the bicycle into a gentle stop. Pleading to Jeroboam to let him beat his wife, he states, among other reasons for wanting to do so, is because her ungratefulness.

© 2020 Alianess Benny Njuguna

Comments

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on September 29, 2020:

2. Materialism

Biblical logic? The Bible condones violence by the Divine and by Man repeatedly. Where is the logic in that? Isn't God supposed to be better than Man? I beleive in a Good, Loving, Forgiving God who would never authorize violence. All stories in the Bible which describe God as Violent, Jealous, Vengeful, or Wrathful are Blasphamy.

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