Updated date:

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 portrays the fallacy of religious leaders, the materialistic nature of worshippers, and the willingness of religious leaders to forego sound doctrine to fulfill their selfish desires.

Books

Books

Chapters Analysis

Scene I

The play starts with Prophet Jeroboam, 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 Prophet claims he's born a Prophet (and thinks his parents knew that because it's said his mother gave birth to a baby having long and thick hair). As he grew up, he loved the trade (prophesying).

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, and for the wealthy, sit at the front of the television rather than going to church.

Furthermore, the occupation has been dirtied (ridiculed) in the sights 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 'Prophets' territorial war once and for all.' Jero (short form of Jeroboam) campaigned for his Old Master to gain a piece of land. Nonetheless, Jero had his own reasons for helping his Old Tutor.

He recalls when the Old Prophet cursed him because he had driven him from the land, telling the old man he had outlived his years on earth. He had feared the manifestation of the curse, but downplayed the curses on him as cheap as he addresses the audience, saying, "the Lord saves his own."

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.

She asks 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 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 door to know who she is. He opens it slightly, about a foot, before shutting it quickly.

With a canvas pouch and a divine rod, he attempts to exit the hut through the window. Consulting her notebook containing the sales she'd made and the debts owed her, she asks Jero where he's going without turning her head to look at him. Realizing his escape was noticed by Amope, Chume's wife, 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. Jero shuts the door defeated what to do.

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. 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. What follows is an exchange of words between the two women.

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

A boy 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. After the boy has left, she says, "I don't know what the world is coming to. A thief of a Prophet, a swindler of a fish-seller and now that thing with lice on his head comes begging for money. He and the Prophet ought to get together with the fish-seller their mother."

Scene III

Jero has arrived at his church in the local beach, after evading being made a prisoner in his house for not wanting to pay velvet cap he bought from her, earlier than the worshippers.

Chume arrives to find Jero praying on his knees. Jero asks him why he's not at work. He 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. He tells him, "...The Lord says that you may not beat the good woman whom he has chosen to be your wife, to be your cross in your period of trial, and will you disobey him?"

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 for prayers. 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 tells her to pack her things. She is adamant she won't go with him; she can find her own way home.

A crowd has gathered; watching from a distance as spectators. Amope repeatedly bangs on the door, screaming if Chume wants to kill her then he should go on. Nonetheless, she won't budge from that place.

Jero watches in mock-horror as Chume raises his big fist, aimed at his wife. He covers his eyes with both hands, then departs from the scene.

She bangs 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. He can keep the velvet cap if he curses Chume. Again, she says, she's has forgiven Jero the debt. All she wants is for the Prophet to curse her husband.

Chume tells her if she doesn't answer his question, he'll touch her. He asks her whether she had said the Prophet owes her money. He asks the crowd whether that Prophet lives there after unsuccessfully trying to get an answer from Amope who is howling, "Kill me," while knocking on the door with her fists.

Chume tells her 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 make the speech as he's scared of preparing speeches.

Jero studies him for some time, then approaches him with the intention of turning him into one of his 'blind' 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 he tells him that he's shown a vision (or dream) by the Lord concerning him. He's shown the politician sitting in an office, and on the office's door was written 'Minister of War.' The man doesn't realize that Jero has netted him in his fold.

Kneeling at his feet, Jero prays for him. 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 who had closed his eyes, not aware of what's going on 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 (and portray him in 'bad light' in the eyes of people).

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 disappearing and reappearing like a ghost, which will lead to many people flocking to 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 be promoted to a higher official position, or receive a miracle. What the people don't know is that Jero isn't a prophet. He uses the title of the prophet for his own selfish desires.

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

2. Hypocrisy

It would be expected of Jero that he would stand by the Scripture. He wouldn't tolerate certain behaviours as written in the Bible. However, Jero comes out as a hypocrite - a man who doesn't believe what he preaches, and does what he preaches against.

Chume sought Jero's permission on countless time 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). Later, Chume learnt the hypocritical nature of Brother Jero.

He fools many people into believing the Almighty One has shown him things that will occur to an individual e.g. being promoted, or in the case of a female member in his church, becoming pregnant.

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 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.

4. Religion Rivalry

Addressing the audience, Prophet Jero narrates a depressing event among the prophets that turned the profession into a ridicule. He says, "...And I grew to love the trade. It used to be a very respectable one in those days and competition was dignified. But in the last few years, the beach has become fashionable, and the struggle for land has turned the profession into a thing of ridicule...

Yes, it did come to the point where it became necessary for the Town Council to come to the beach and settle the Prophet's territorial warfare once and for all."

The playwright paints a picture of how the preachers fought over each other's throat to attain a large piece of land in the beach to accomodate many worshippers. This depicts the hatred the prophets have for each other, or the rivalry, in having as many followers (converts) as possible. This questions their authenticity as true prophets (or preachers).

5. Materialism

The majority of worshippers attend church to gain riches or wealth, or be promoted to an desirable position in a private or government office.

When Chume is left in the church (after Jero briefly exits the church), he prays the Almighty one to bless those who ride on bicycle to drive cars, those who are clerks to be Chief Clerks, and those who are walking to have bicycles to ride on.

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 main purpose of going to 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 Almighty or promoted to a higher official position.

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 would cease attending his church. Those who their needs were met no longer found going to church as important - to waste 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."

Some words or phrases are uncomfortable when used in a conversation. Instead of using words or phrases that appear harsh (or unsettling) in a listener's ears, people have resorted to using polite words in replacement of them. For instance, instead of saying, "Jane died yesterday" you would say, "Jane passed away yesterday."

In the play, Chume tells his wife that if she doesn't answer her question, he'll touch her. (pg. 27) Chume used the word 'touch' instead of 'beat' to lessen the harshness of uttering the word (beat).

2. Repetition

Repetitions are used to emphasize something or arouse attention.

Amope keeps repeating the word, 'Kill me...Kill me...' when her husband orders her to get on the bicycle. Chume had told if she doesn't stop shouting he'll...He doesn't finish his sentence as he raises a huge fist. He orders her again to get on the bicycle. She knows her husband will beat her mercilessly if she refuses his order. The repetition of 'kill me...kill me...' conveys her determination not to heed her husband's order. Even if he beats her, she won't budge out of that place. On another note, it might be a play of words she employs so that her husband can leave her alone. Amope is known as a woman who feels as if everybody is against her, or treating her badly. In fact, seeing the crowd which had come to witness the confrontation between the couple warms her blood (energizes, encourages or strengthens) her not to give in to her husband's order to go home.

The worshippers repeat the word 'Amen' to affirm their agreement with what is being pronounced by a person leading them in prayer. In short, it means, "Let it be so." The repetition of 'Amen' emphasizes their agreement with whoever is leading the prayers.

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

3. 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.

Dramatic irony refers to a situation whereby the audience know 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 the speeches. He lets another person do it for him. 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 follower of Jero. Jero will net him in his fold with his false prophecy.

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 attempts to escape through the window of his hut so as to avoid paying Amope what he owes her. Finally, he succeeds in his attempt. This is ironical as we wouldn't expect a preacher to evade paying debt. He is acting contrary to his preachings.

4. Humour

Sometimes, irony is accompanied with humour. For instance, Jero escaping through the window. It's humourous seeing the preacher or religious leader escaping through the window to evade paying Amope for the velvet cape he bought from her (promising to pay the money at a later date).

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 is when Chume asks the onlookers whether they know the Prophet. This is after unsuccessfully not getting the intended answer from Amope who is only uttering the words, "Kill me....Kill me..." Chume asks the onlookers, "Is Brother Jeroboam...?" The nearest onlooker to Chume opened his mouth immediately, not giving Chume time to finish what he's asking (thinking Chume was asking whether he's the Prophet). The onlooker says, "No, no. I'm not Brother Jero. It's not me." Chume replies, "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 preaches water, he drinks wine signifying that he doesn't adhere to Biblical teachings he makes use of in his church. We learn that he regards his church as a business enterprise. His being a Prophet (and a preacher) is more as an avenue to fulfil his selfish desires than treating it as a calling. He ensnares people into believing he is a true prophet by claiming he saw a vision or dream of that person being promoted to a higher official position.

Furthermore, he calls his worshippers customers. It's evident he benefits from having a large base of worshippers in his church. It's expected he benefits from the money given by the worshippers through tithes and offerings. In fact, he says that the prophets are fighting (competing fiercely) to enlarge their bases.

6. Symbolism

Symbolism refers to the use of an image, object or idea to represent something else. In Scene I, Jero is seeing on the stage holding a divine rod on one hand, and a canvas pouch on the other hand. Throughout centuries, in Biblical times, a person carrying a rod represented a man who was chosen by God to lead the 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 told by the writer.

In the play, imagery occurs frequently in the descriptions given by the playwright before a dialogue, or in the midst of a dialogue. In other instances, it is a combination of the descriptions and the dialogue.

Examples are:

  1. 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)
  2. Brother Jero, as the singing starts (in his church), hands two empty bottles to Chime 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. It can be defined lamely as the usage of words or phrases that deviate from the normal English language use, that is, how the words are uttered (pronounced). They don't follow grammatical rules either in pronunciation, or how they're used.

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

Generally, Pidgin is "a language that has developed from a mixture of two languages. It is used as a way of communicating by people who do not speak each other's language," states Cambridge Dictionary. Therefore, Pidgin English is a mixture of English with another language.

Examples of Pidgin English in the play are:

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

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

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

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

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.