Based on the graphological approach, the deviation from the orthographical representation of the word “beautiful” to what Armah designates as “beautyful” has literary and connotative implications, implying that the beautyful ones may possess integrity solely, rather than being beautiful in the aesthetic sense.
Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a work of prose-fiction that explores the pseudo-socialist and highly corrupt democratic regime of the autocratic one-party ruler, Kwame Nkrumah. Armah employs a mechanism that arises from corruption to antagonize the military officers who ultimately plan the coup that topples the Nkrumanists from power.
The narrative centers on an upright man whose friends and relatives are not necessarily ‘beautyful’ but are driven by the luxurious lifestyle of the Nkrumah party members. The protagonist, an unnamed character, commences his journey after his unsatiated wife, Oyo, becomes pregnant. His aspiration of securing a job in a reputable institution after he had imagined returning to the university to obtain his degree is a dream beyond mere somnolence.
The man of high moral character finds himself condemned by his wife, mother-in-law, and by extension, the society. In this society, the norm is to learn how to associate with unsavory characters, but the man is afraid to do so, which ultimately puts him in a difficult situation.
He refuses to engage in bribery at his workplace and the railway station, and when he tells his wife Oyo about it, she resents him for his integrity. The man realizes that corruption is pervasive in every sector under Nkrumah’s rule, causing him to frown upon Nkrumah’s pseudo-socialism.
Even after Nkrumah is overthrown and unionists order workers at the railway station to stage a protest against the change in power, the man refuses to participate, asking if he should endanger the railway’s operation just because of Nkrumah, when there is no need for protection at that point.
After being derided for his display of integrity at work, the man visits his estranged friend, Teacher. He finds his friend reading in the nude and asks if he is not concerned about being seen naked, but the friend says no. Although the naked friend also receives scorn from his family, he gives the man hope that he himself had lost. The naked teacher in a way is a projection of man free from vaingloriousness, wants, and avarice.
Oyo’s mother is also interested solely in wealth and not the process. She berates her daughter’s husband repeatedly for not being rich, for his integrity, and for criticizing Nkrumanists. At one point, Oyo and her mother attempt to seek help from the man’s friend, Koomson, who is a minister under Nkrumah’s government.
Koomson and his wife Estella visit the man’s home for a meeting with him, Oyo, and the grandmother. The meeting is both impressive and somewhat embarrassing, as it involves a wealthy minister in a poor man’s home. The man is unable to provide foreign drinks that the minister and his wife would like to have, offering them only local beer instead, which he feels self-conscious about.
During their conversation, Koomson expresses a need to use the restroom. However, the man informs him that he only has a latrine and not a proper toilet, which causes an embarrassing moment for Oyo and her mother.
Koomson agrees to give them a fishing boat worth twelve thousand pounds that can bring in one thousand pounds annually. Although everyone is disappointed with the amount of money they will be making annually, considering the cost of the boat, Estella reminds them that they will be getting plenty of fish.
After the boat is given to them, a scene occurs that leads to a military coup, and everyone takes to the streets following the arrest without trial of Nkrumah’s beneficiaries. Koomson flees for his life, leaving his wife behind, but later reassures the man that Estella will be fine. With the help of the condemned man, Koomson is smuggled out of Ghana, leaving Estella behind.
It is ironic that the man, a person who detests the rottenness and corruption all around him, is instrumental in the escape of Koomson, a symbol of everything he hates in the system in which his society is structured on. The author deploys this irony to show that no man, no matter how honest or how much of a saint he is, is free from the societal influence and pressure around him.
The hijacking of power by the military men gives the man hope that there will be a turnaround from the rupture caused by Nkrumah’s party members. However, upon returning from Essikado where he bids farewell to Koomson, he encounters a barrier filled with soldiers and policemen at the town boundary.
The man witnesses different levels of corruption and bribery being orchestrated by the supposed law enforcement agencies. A driver who has just paid a bribe to a police officer sees the man watching the scene from a distance and smiles at him.
As the driver’s car drives away, the man notices an inscription on the back of the car, carefully lettered to form an oval shape: “THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN.” This suggests that the expected change in government has not yet arrived.