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Journeys that Open Doors: A Critical Analysis of Ben Okri’s Stars of the New Curfew

Journeys that Open Doors: A Critical Analysis of Ben Okri’s Stars of the New Curfew

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Published by Joshua Allen
My critical thesis on the short story collection of Ben Okri, Stars of the New Curfew.
My critical thesis on the short story collection of Ben Okri, Stars of the New Curfew.

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Published by: Joshua Allen on Jul 01, 2009
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05/11/2014

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Journeys that Open Doors:
A Critical Analysis of Ben Okri’s
 Stars of the New Curfew 
By Joshua Allen
“Dreams are a part of reality. The best fiction has the effect on you that dreamsdo. The best fiction can become dreams which can influence reality.”-Ben Okri
 
Introduction:
Threshold of the Journey
Full of blatant paradoxes, the stories in
Stars of the New Curfew
(
SNC 
), though written inEnglish, ask much of the standard English-reading individual. The settings are not ones wenormally think of as English-speaking places. The images are not entirely those of English-speaking culture. The narrators could help out their readers by reflecting, or having thecharacters reflect, on the meaning of what they experience, but they do not do this. This internaltension between what the characters perceive and their evaluation, or lack of evaluation, of those perceptions leaves gaps in these stories that make them both interesting and puzzling. It could bethat there is an easy way to explain these gaps by categorizing this book as “postcolonial.” Doingso tends to, for many critics,
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say that answers to such questions lie necessarily in the realm of the socio-political atmosphere of a formerly colonized country. However, this “easy” explanation becomes insufficient as we closely examine these texts.The failure of these characters to examine their situations and make connections hasconsequences for the reader. We feel the same dissociation from the text as we assume thenarrator of “Worlds that Flourish (Worlds)” feels when he sees handwriting on people’s faces andhands. We feel further dissociation because we do not know what the narrator, for example, feelsabout the handwriting and we do not know (because he refuses to reflect) why the narrator isunconcerned with such a shocking phenomena. The narrators and the characters do not think through the events for the benefit of the reader. Because of this refusal, the narrators have aninteresting complexity. In this way, the third person narrators of these stories are as much acharacter as the first-person, active-character ones; even when the narrator, at first glance, seemssubdued. The language and situation of the characters and the narrators set up a space between us
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See, for example, Andrew Armtrong’s “Speaking Through the Wound: Irruption and Memory in the Writing of BenOkri and Festus Iyayi” and Jacquiline Bardolph’s “Azaro, Saleem and Askar: Brothers in Allegory.
 
and them, making associations difficult even relative to objects or thoughts within a paragraph.Yet the nature of this separation draws us in—to question the separation, and, in turn, to questionthe characters and their motives and conclusions. In some cases we, like the narrators of “Worlds,” “Stars of the New Curfew (Stars),” and “What the Tapster Saw (Tapster)” (with their images of the fantastic and nightmarish) are in worlds we have no chance of fully understanding.We can only learn the rules, as the tapster does, and hope we will not suffer brutal conks on thehead when we make presumptions.The method each story has of drawing the reader into the world of these characters,despite the surface objectivity, is the ancient motif of the quest. This motif is common inliterature, especially in myths, and is familiar to most readers. The traditional journey involvesfour major components: crossing the threshold into the underworld (heaven, hell, jungle, NewYork City, the subconscious, etc.), selecting or meeting the guide to the underworld, a series of tests or experiences, and return to normal life where the protagonist integrates the experiences of the underworld back into his (all of the protagonists in Stars are male) life or world-view(Campbell 245-6).
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 The last component, the integration, usually contains explanation of thesignificance of the journey and its implications both to the protagonist and to the reader, but thisobservation is missing or unfulfilling in the stories of 
SNC 
. One way to think of a quest is a journey with a purpose, a goal, a Holy Grail—if you will. In this type of journey, the tests of the protagonist often involve side-quests for objects that assist the protagonist in reaching the finalGrail, or challenges to the character’s values—chastity, honor, intellect, etcEach of the characters in the stories of 
SNC 
is on a quest. None of them realizes it because they each, in their own way, suffer from blindness of their own motivations. We see eachof them undergo a moment of real blindness, which symbolizes the blindness they have sufferedthroughout. When they regain sight, tradition tells us that they should have a new perception
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This version of the simplification of Campbell’s ideas about mythic adventures is due in no small part to DonnaBauerly’s illustration in her “Course Packet” for English 596: Writers for the 21st Century.

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