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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 depicting the devious nature of some religious leaders who forego sound doctrine to accomplish their selfish desires, and the materialistic nature of many Christian worshippers who attend church 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 situated 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.

Limping, after alighting from the bicycle, 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 in the fresh air, and 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 is unable to establish the identity of the woman. 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 sale's notebook asks Jero where he's going without turning her head to look at him. Embarrassed, 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 she owes him. Defeated, he gets back in his hut, and shuts the 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. She asks her what she's carrying. The trader asks her whether she's buying for trade or for herself. Amope tells her it'd help if she told her what she's selling. The trader asks 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 comments the fish are a bit rotten. Aren't they from last week, she asks the trader. This remark elicits an angry exchange of words between the two women.

When she leaps up from her stool to confront the trader, she notices 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. The boy flees, turns suddenly and beats a parting abuse on the drums.

Scene III

Ater 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, and the service begins. Jero hands Chume two empty bottles to fill them with water from the sea.

During the service, Jero sees a young boy carrying a drum running from one side of the open church to the other side. Behind him is a woman chasing him. Jero stops the boy 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 his neighbour but she doesn't pay attention to him. He hands his rod to Chume, who has already returned, and exits the church. Chume is baffled how to conduct the service. He fiddles around with the rod and eventually uses it to conduct the singing.

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.

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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 insists she won't budge from that place.

Jero who is among the crowd, watches in mock-horror as Chume raises his big fist 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 to keep the velvet cap. She'll also forgive him for all the debts he owes her if only she curses her husband.

Chume asks her whether she mentioned the name of Prophet Jeroboam. Amope, in a loud voice, tells the crowd to witness her husband killing her. 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. He asks 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 he was the Prophet. He asks whether the Prophet lives 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 it as he's 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. 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 further 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 a prophet to enlarge his territory purely for material gain.

He treats his occupation as a trade, and his church members as customers, which goes against the true calling of a prophet.

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 superior to their women which brings out another misconception idea that women are a weaker sex. From the play, Chume asks Jeroboam to allow him to beat his wife who has been troublesome to him.

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 solely for materialistic blessings.

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, when a worshipper's need is met, they stop attending church. Others halt their attendance and become immersed in the luxury afforded by the world. 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 felt the need to attend church regarding the exercise as a waste of their time.

Stylistic Devices

The following are literary devices the playwright has employed in narrating the events in the play.

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 has replaced the word 'beat' with 'touch' 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. In the play, we see instances of dramatic and situational irony.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.