The Sacrificial Egg by Chinua Achebe
B.1. The Igbo tribe.
B.2. The epidemic of Smallpox or Kitikpa has spread in the place.
B.3. The women bought many-coloured cloths, smoked fish, iron pots and plates.
B.4. They believed that Kitikpa was an evil deity.
B.5. In the place called Umuru.
B.6. Mammy-wota or water goddesses are beautiful, young, unreal women one finds squeezing through the crowds.
B.7. Ma forbade Julius from seeing Janet because she wanted him to wait until the dreadful epidemic of Kitikpa or smallpox is over by the power of Jehovah.
B.8. He fears that he has taken the sufferer’s ill-luck on himself. His fears come true as Ma and Janet are carried away by the power of Kitikpa.
B.9. The yellow-palm at the doorway indicated that somebody in the house was suffering from the epidemic of smallpox or Kitikpa.
B.10. He is caught between tradition and westernization. He cannot choose between the ‘superstitions’ of his people and the ‘beliefs’ of the West.
C.1., C.5.The Igbo market had been held on one of the four days of the week. The deity that presided over the market cast her spell on it on the original Nkwo day. She drew to the market men and women from distant clans. They brought the produce of their lands like palm oil, cassava, mats, baskets and pots. And they took home many coloured clothes, smoked fish, iron pots and plates. Others came by the river bringing yams and fish.
C.2. Julius Obi works as a clerk in a palm oil company in Umuru market. He is not a native of Umuru. He came from a bush village twenty miles away. In 1920, he came to Umuru to work as a clerk in the offices of the Niger company. In his first two or three weeks Julius had to learn to work against the background of the noise coming from the market.
C.3. Julius Obi, Janet and Ma have learned to accept westernisation though they still believe in the superstitions of the natives. Julius Obi, as his name suggests, is a product of European and African culture—he is a Western educated Igbo. (See the essay)
C.4. Yes, the market represents the hollowness in the heart of Julius Obi. It was almost a week since he had seen Janet, the girl he was going to marry. Moreover, the epidemic of smallpox or kitikpa has emptied the market. All these produce a strange sense of hollowness in the mind of Julius. Moreover, the fact that he is a western educated African makes his condition all the more worse. He cannot choose between the faiths of the West and the superstitions of his native country. Caught between two cultures, and living in a land ravaged by smallpox, it is quite normal that he feels a kind of emptiness in his heart.
C.6. As Julius Obi rushes home to escape from the night spirit, he accidentally steps on something which explodes under his feet. He recognises it as a ‘sacrificial egg’. Someone oppressed by misfortune placed it there. As he steps on it, Julius has taken the sufferer’s ill-luck on himself. He dismisses it as nonsense and goes home. But it is too late; he fails to escape the night spirit. He runs to a nearby farm and falls on his belly. However, he loses Ma and Janet to the epidemic of smallpox.
In the story “The Sacrificial Egg”, Chinua Achebe presents the conflict between African and Western civilisations. The story takes us back to the days when smallpox was one of the most dreaded epidemics. Julius Obi, the protagonist fails to choose between the ‘faiths’ of the West and the ‘superstitions’ of his native country. Being Western educated, Julius believes that smallpox is a kind of disease, and not an evil deity named kitikpa. His girl friend Janet’s mother warns him to stay at home as long as possible, because kitikpa is the street. But he still meets Janet.
Later, Julius is forced to believe in the superstition associated with the sacrificial egg as his experience proves that it resulted in his misfortune. Achebe does not offer any explanation for the happenings in the story. Julius’s strange experience with the night spirit may be a hallucination induced by the subconscious belief in spirits which he has inherited. Julius embodies the conflict between two totally different systems of belief – the African and the Western. This cannot be easily resolved.
Julius Obi is caught between two worlds. On the one hand he is an educated Nigerian who cannot subscribe to old world values. He is lost to it. But it haunts him when he is confronted with smallpox. He suffers the loss of the girl he was going to marry, and her mother. The old ways of life in Nigeria have been replaced by the commercialism of the colonial masters, the Whites. The natives believe that this violation of traditional values is the cause for the outbreak of smallpox.
Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, SGC Aruvithura
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