Okwiri Oduor, the author of My Father's Head, was born in Nairobi Kenya. She has won a number of prizes among them the 2014 prize. She has also written a novella, The Dream Chasers, which highly commended in the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. Speaking about herself Okwiri Oduor says, "l am an African writer and so what next? I am interested in fullness of the human experience like creating characters that are dynamic, that are real people, which have strengths.
My Father's Head was published during post-colonial Kenya. During this period, Kenya, like any other African continent, is struggling with post-colonial evils ranging from poor governance to corruption to poverty. Themes of violence, religion, death, memory and heritage have prevailed in this prizewinning short story. The mention of the 1998 bomb blast on the Kenyan embassy is a proof of violence against human race in post-colonial Africa. This short story presents a recollection of painful and repressed memory. The members of the said society are relinquishing in abject poverty and the old have no willing family members to take care of. They live in a home for the old people.
This story starts interestingly as a simple story but later proceeds in complexity as the narrator tries to recall her father. Seemingly, the narrator cannot remember the head of her father. The narrator (Simbi), works in old peoples' home. She starts to think about her father when the one Father Ignatius visits the home. His coming reminds her so much of her father, but never the head. The figure of the priest acts as a trigger that prompts the narrator's journey to search for her.
Due to loneliness, Simbi, the narrator, has distorted images of the people she has encountered. She has been away from home for a long time and silently mourns the death of her father. It is for this reason therefore that the people she relates with are presented a faceless and to an extent nameless. As readers, it is only by description that we get to know them. Thus vivid description, as a literary technique comes in handy. It is therefore no surprise to the reader that no matter how hard she tries, the narrator cannot remember the shape of her father's head. It is after meeting the priest from Kitgum that she eventually gains enough courage to summon the image of her father from where it has been buried deep in her memory. She tries to draw her father on a piece of paper.
However, "his head refused to appear within the borders of the paper " The picture of her father therefore remains unfinished for a long time because it has no head, only a face. After trying in vain, the narrator recreates a head for her father and still acknowledges that, "in the end, he was a marionette and my memories of him were only scenes of a theatrical display " In the end, she summons her father back so she can remember but then he does not leave and she is forced to face all the memories she has of him and her childhood.
My Father's Head is set in Nairobi, Kenya. The narrator is working in a home for the old people in the outskirts of the Kenya's capital. It is in this home that the narrator draws all her childhood memories of her father.
The visit by Father Ignatius triggers her desire to draw her father's head. Through flashback, we get to know the prevailing situation in the country including poverty. It is in the home for the old people that we meet Bwibo, a friend to narrator through whom we learn that the narrator's father was a good man.
Religious practices or so demonstrations of religious inclination prevail throughout the story. The old people receive an important religious visitor from Immaculate Conception in Kitgum; Father Ignatius. The father says, "The Lord be with you, and they responded, "And also with you " These expressions can only be found II in religious circles. They show believe in a certain deity. The old people also prayed and sang praise songs to God. Father Ignatius I preached about love during his maiden sermon: Love for self and I love for one's neighbours.
Death always brings such painful and traumatising experience to I human beings. Throughout the story, the narrator is secretly mourning the death of her father. Actually, the narrator mourned at the I thought of her father's death. She says, "it was the first time I imagined his death, the first time I mourned " When the narrator mentions the death of the mail carrier, Pius Obote, who had died four years ago, her father, is adversely affected. She says, "my father I pushed his cup away and said, 'if you do not want me here drinking your tea, just say so instead of killing-killing people with your mouth '"
The narrator's father also mourns the death of the one Sospeter, the son of Milkah, who taught agriculture in Mirere secondary.
Traditions and superstition
Theme of tradition, peoples cultural believes and practices, is also developed. For instance, the narrator says, "I had wondered if my father really had come from a long line of Obawami, if his people 3 would bury him seated in his grave with a string of royal cowries round his neck " When a visitor comes home, he/she is treated well, to an extent, the family slaughters a sprightly cockerel for the visit.
All these are practises that distinct this community of people
TECHNIQUES AND LANGUAGE USE
The author has used first person narrative. The narration of written works explicitly refers to themselves using "l". This is critical as it allows the reader or the audience to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts and feelings) only of the narrator and not of other characters. The story starts, "l had meant to summon my father only long enough to see what his head looked like " The reader has to believe exactly that because the narrator has said so.
Vivid description appeals to our senses of sight, smell, feel and touch. The author describes events, characters and situation to engage the reader emotionally. For instance, those who delivered the news of the accident the narrator's father's life was vividly described "They described the rest of his body with a measured delicacy: how his legs were strewn across the road, sticky and shiny with fresh tar " The people in the old peoples' home are also vividly described "The old women wore their Sunday frocks and the old men plucked garlands of bougainvillea from the fence and stuck them in their breasts pockets "
The author uses humour to ease the rather sad mood prevailing in the story. She uses humorous expression as though saying, this is so funny but take it with a lot of seriousness. For instance:
"the old people sat down and practised their smiles "
"the old people gave him the smiles they had been practising "
It is extremely humorous that people can actually practise how to smile while smiling is a reflex action.
Another example is how this man is described: .the man whose one-roomed house was a kindergarten in the daytime and a brothel in the evening "
Similies and Metaphors
The author has used a number of metaphors and similes to aesthetic and fantastical descriptions, Among them, include:
"Smiles that melted like ghee"
"Smiles oozed through the corners of their lips"
"Exploded in the flaring tongues of fire lapping through chinks in stained gloss"
"They smelt slightly fetid, like sour cream"
"He was the cold yellow stare of an owl"
Simbi is the narrator of this story. She is giving us all her child hood experiences with her father, as she welcomes him to her house. Her naivety and easy going disposition increases the entertainment and aesthetic value of this masterpiece.
Generous/welcoming: she welcomes her father to her house and you have offered me makes her some tea. Her father says, tea "
Nostalgic: she misses all the moments she shared with her father during her childhood and tries to bring them back. However, she has lost all the memories and even when she tries to draw her father on paper she can only remember his clothes and not his head. She says, "His head refuses to appear on the paper "
Naive: She thinks her father has shapes- circles, triangles and squares on his eyes. She does not realise that those are reflections. She actually says, "l had wondered how those shape had got inside my father's eye*'
Mournful: Throughout the short story, Simbi mourns the death of father and spends time trying to recall what his head looked like.
Friendly: Of all the workers around the old peoples' home, the narrator formed an easy camaraderie with her.
Convincing: She convinces Simbi that she cannot remember her father's head because he was a good man and according to her, "good men never show you their heads; they show you their faces "
Sympathetic: She feels for the narrator because she cannot remember her father. She tries to console her for the lost memories of her father by telling her that it was all because her father was a good man.
Pessimistic: she does not believe that the narrator will receive a warm welcome when he goes back to her home. She tells her to anticipate a negative welcome from her people when she visits.
The narrator's father
He is a loving and a caring man. He loved her daughter and both shared beautiful moments. He could make visits to her house once she requested so.
Chauvinistic: He shows dominance of the male gender over the female gender when he tells his daughter to untie his shoelaces.
Selfless: He would live his duties unattended to help a fixed neighbour. Sometimes could hear a neighbour saying, "Johnson, there is no time to put on clothes; iust come the way you are "
The narrative gains its momentum through him. He is the vehicle of communication and the mirror that reflects the world of reality as depicted by Okwiri Oduor. The narrations aesthetic beauty is seen through his bildungsroman and his daughters too.
- What kind of a person do you think the narrator's father. Discuss.
- The narrator says love is not for the old. Do you agree with his, point of view about love? Explain
- Discuss the following themes as brought out in this short story;
- Moral decadence
- Memory and Heritage
- In note form, highlight the challenges people face when they, return home.
- Write notes on the character traits of:
- The Narrator
- Father Ignatius
- Identify the cases of hyperbole and explain them and thei effect to the masterpiece.