First published in America
in 1970 and later published in England in 1974, Armah’s novel, Fragments
eventually found its way to print in Africa. There are thirteen chapters in the
novel and each chapter has a subtitle of its own. What is amusing about the
novel is that it never becomes fragmented at all. Armah deserves accolades for
the technical variations that he has employed in the novel. The narration is
episodic and the reader comes across cinematic techniques of spotlight and
flashback. Coupled with these techniques is a tone of the mythical past which introduces
with great skill. Armah gives a new dimension to the tempo of narration by introducing
the tone of the mythical past in the narrative. The picture which the novelist
presents of the novel is never lacking in unity. Even a critic of the stature
of Robert Fraser is goaded to The theme and the structure
of Fragments show a complexity which is worth analyzing. Critic Rand
Bishop in his evaluation of the first five novels of Armah notes with
disapproval how his first reading of Fragments disappointed him. But he
was candid enough to admit that his later reading of the novel made But a perceptive reader will find that Fragments is
more than the first novel both in its theme and structure. Gerald Moore is not
swept off his feet when he regards Fragments to be more superior to The
Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. From the standpoints of its originality
and quality, to quote Moore, “will eventually establish itself as superior to The
Beautiful Ones in quality, profoundity and originality.” (The Journal of
Commonwealth Literature, Vol.IX, No.11 (August 1974), p.69).

The protagonist of the novel is Baako but it is his blind grandmother Naana
who holds the center stage of attraction in the novel. Naana stands for the
hoary wisdom of the past ages and her mythical experience underscores both the
introductory and the closing chapter of the novel. As Armah delves into the
thought processes of Naana in the ultimate chapter, the significance of the
structural patterns and the title of the novel are made limpidly clear to us. Some critics have
interpreted the novel as a religious allegory. The most notable of these
critics is Robert Fraser. He goes to the extent of saying that ‘the thirty
pieces’ of ‘a thousand and thirty useless pieces’ is an emblematic
representation of betrayal of Jesus by Juda. Fraser’s interpretation of the novel from the religious
standpoint is not tenable in this context. It is not the religious implications
which impart to the novel a wholeness of effect. Armah draws the reader’s
attention through the concerns of the individuals. The individuals are brought
face to face with the family that is demanding and a society that is
fragmented. Armah shows a group of individuals that wishes to restore order and
a sense of justice because they see the social order and moral vision shattered
before them. Such a shattering results in conflicts from within and without. On
the one hand there are individuals who make concerted efforts to lead a
meaningful existence; on the other hand there are members of a family who have
an inimical attitude towards the efforts of the individuals. This is amply
demonstrated in the novel through the character of Baako, the protagonist. His
grandmother Naana and his girlfriend, Juana, the psychiatrist girl from
Puertorico.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

The fragmentation which Armah portrays in the novel can be seen both at
the internal level and external level. Since there is no proper social order and
proper ideology the society is fragmented. There is one redeeming feature in
the novel. Just as the unnamed protagonist. preserve his moral values
in the tide of corruption similarly Naana and her spiritual companion Baako carry
on their relentless struggle to uphold their moral values against the tide of
moral corruption. Small wonder, Naana and Baako see the conflicting tendencies in
their psychological thought processes. We see occasional fits of nervous
breakdown in Baako and Naana’s occasional desires of her wish for death. In the
last chapter of the novel we come across a totally shattered Naana and this
psychological shattering is the outcome of violence in many forms and she
justly feels that these violent forms could have been avoided. She thinks that her
death could give her the final relief from this base situation. It is through Naana’s wide vision that the narrative of Fragments
is woven into the novel. Her vision of life is made whole by her blindness. We
hear the incantatory tone of Naana in the first chapter of the novel. This
incantation serves as a prologue and close on the heels of the prologue we see
the point of view of Juana. Naana’s thought provoking comments on life and its
future portents can be likened to the epilogue in the last chapter of the
novel. But before the epilogue, the novelist presents the pragmatic vision of
Juana. The feminine principle is advanced by both Naana and Juana and both give
structural and thematic coherence to the novel. The theme of the novel is set
in the opening passage itself. The protagonist of Fragments, Baako is a
young man of twenty six. He has already put in five years in New York where he
won his spurs in creative writing. He is expected to return home after his five
year course in New York. His arrival in Ghana is unexpected as he has cut short
his sojourn in Paris. Prior to his return, he had dreamt of a sinecure job in
the media industry and had contemplated of a cozy future both for himself and
his family. His grandmother Naana also imagined the same for Baako. But after
his return to Ghana he declines to fulfill the role of a ‘been – to’. A ‘been –
to’ is defined as a person who is expected to bring great fortunes to the
family. Since the fortunes of a ‘been – to’ elevates his position in the social
circle he is treated as a demi-god and he is given special treatment by the
members of the society. In order to clarify his ideas of a ‘been – to’ the
novelist sketches the character of Brempong who is contrasted with Baako. Since
Brempong is a ‘been – to’ both the members of his family and the members of the
society celebrate his return to Ghana with much fanfare.

The members of the family of Baako look upon him as an Osagyefo. In the
Ghanaian language Osagyefo is a retriever of the fortunes of his family. When
Baako sets his foot on the Ghanaian soil his mother Efua greets him with high and
lofty expectations. Enquiringly she asks Baako about the car which she thinks
might be in transit. In a flashback Baako recollects how his near and dear ones
had assembled to celebrate the occasion of his home-coming. He also recalls the
‘fripperies’ that were arranged by the members of his family on the occasion of
his arrival. He remembers the naïve crudity with which he told them that there
is nothing exceptional in his arrival to celebrate. On that occasion he
remembers that his mother was sanguine that he would complete the unfinished
house. She had always undertaken this because she kept in view the status of a
‘been – to’. The mother sees her illusion shattered and she speaks in a vain of
irony.from this, his profession will enable him to reach out to
the ignorant people. Baako was full of high hopes about the Ghanavision and its
way of functioning. Shockingly he realizes that the Ghanavision has become the
mouthpiece of the Head of State who indulges in corrupt practices. The senior
officers of Ghanavision show their slavish sycophancy to cover up their
inability to articulate ideas that were noble and constructive. Small wonder the
senior officers of Ghanavision who toe in line with the corrupt Head of State reject
his scripts and throw his constructive ideas to the winds.

Left with no alternative Baako resigns his job and throw
all his scripts to the flames. The members of his family and society look down
at him as an utter misfit. As a creative writer he starts writing on men and
the contemporary situation in Ghana. It is his family that is responsible for
aggravating his depression. He keeps on protesting against the establishment
that has let him down miserably. He is kept in an asylum, and this ascerbates
the process of the total shattering of his nerves.

Naana becomes a witness to the violence that is perpetuated about her in
various forms. She makes a commentary in the last chapter of the novel which is
in the manner of an epilogue. In this epilogue, we understand that her
individual position of loneliness has not undergone any change but the
situation about her has certainly changed. We saw her waiting hopefully and
thinking wishfully in the first chapter have not gone unrewarded. But something
unexpected has taken place later. The novelist shows all that has happened by
sketching her mental.In
the passage quoted above the ‘traveler’ is none other than Baako. The material aspirations
of the family crush him psychologically. The aspirations of the family are
‘filled with the mass of things here and of this time’ only. The passage above
also refers to ‘another spirit’. This ‘another spirit’ is a reference to the
child of Araba that is new-born. The members of the family have forgotten that
the child can be likened to a fruit              ‘a seed
hidden in the earth and tended and waited for and allowed to grow.’  The members of the family are greedy and are
hell-bent on collecting gifts. The members of the family look upon the child as
‘a gathered gift of the instant’. So, the members of the family are not
bothered about the past and the future of the child but are only concerned with
the immediate present.

 In the novel we looked upon the
story of the child vis–a–vis the story of Baako. What holds the meanings of the
novel together is the child image. The child image haunts the conscientiousness
of the principal charcters in the novel. Thereby, the child image acts as a
nucleus that holds the meanings of the novel together. The child image also
serves as an extended metaphor; this metaphor indicates the plight of Baako.
Naana identifies herself with the child. Addressing Naana, the mythical past and
the world of the ancestors particularly ‘those who have gone before’she states:
‘A new child coming back to you’ (Fragments 286) She is at her wits end
and cannot divine the reasons for the perpetuation of violence.The human drama enacted in the novel is one of greed and spiritual
mutation. The silver lining to this grim drama is provided by none other than
Juana. It is her positive vision which brings a whiff of fresh air to the
novel. The positive attitude which Juana exhales in the novel is similar to the
positive vision of Baako. The Ghanaian society is full of the ‘heavy dreams of
things’. But in the sordid society, Juana craves for the soothing touch which
is so tenderly human. To quote Armah, the hunger in Juana is ‘the hunger for
which continued in her inspite of everything’ (Fragments 19) Both Baako and Juana show their sustained search for
a meaning in their surroundings. It is this search which ultimately unites
Baako and Juana. As a sequel to the tyrannical despotism at Ghanavision Baako
is shattered both physically and psychologically. The psychiatrist Juana tries to
cure Baako of his psychological and physical wounds. When Juana is not around he
feels as though he were forlorn, lost and miserable. Just as Naana waited for
the safe return of Baako from America in the opening pages of the novel,
similarly Juana waits sanguinely for Baako’s recovery. The opening and the
concluding passages revolve on the same idea of going and returning. In the
first page, Baako’s going to America and returning from America are hinted in
the novel whereas, in the concluding passage Baako’s going to a state of
psychological depression and his return from the state of dejection are hinted
in the novel: All that goes returns. He
will return. (Fragments 1) Baako
and Juana become the interpreters of the encompassing vision of Naana. It is
Naana who initially paves the way for the return of Baako. It is surprising that
the same Naana bemoans that all hopes have been humbled to the dust. All the
other characters in the novel have eyes but their visions are limited. Though
gifted with the ability of speaking yet she speaks only when the occasion
demands. Perhaps, she believes in the strength of the adage that silence is
more eloquent than actual speech: “If I see things unseen by those who have eyes,
why should my wisest speech not be silence?” (Fragments 3) Her spiritual companion is Baako and she remains alive
to see the return of Baako and the birth of a moon child in the family. She
begins to contemplate her death when she clearly sees her breakdown both
mentally and physically.

The return of Baako raises the signs of hope and expectancy in her
heart. In order to ascertain the success of Baako’s travel, Naana invokes the
wisdom of those persons who went abroad before Baako. She remembers the day of
Baako’s departure and is able to prognosticate his quick return. Her prayers
indicate that she is able to forge a psychological union with a past that is
purely mythical