There are basically three characters in John Pepper Clark’s The Wives’ Revolt. They are Okoro, Koko, and Idama.
While Okoro and Idama are archetypes of domineering men in Erhuwaren, Koko typifies a class of cheated, repressed women advocating for gender equality.
Okoro is the town crier of Erhuwaren. His primary duty as a town crier is to disseminate information, proclamations, and decisions made by the leadership of the community to the generality of Erhuwaren people.
He is the one who announces at the beginning of the play the ban placed on the possession and ownership of goats in the community because of the witchcraft attached to these domestic animals. As we shall find out later in the play, this law empowers the men to confiscate any goat they lay their hands on. Okoro is one of the many beneficiaries of this law.
Okoro is also a husband and a father. He is the husband of Koko. Apart from his social duty, Okoro is also a cloth-seller by trade.
Okoro is a male chauvinist. He is so much in support of any law that keeps or will keep a close rein on the women. The announcement he is empowered to make at the beginning of the play echoes his own position about women.
He further reinforces his male chauvinistic views in his discussions and perhaps headless arguments with his wife. He holds that a woman should totally submit to her husband.
To him, his wife and others in her league are lacking in this respect. They do not come an inch close to their mothers in submissiveness to their husbands and cutlery skills.
Okoro continually finds fault in the cooking style of the new generation of women, particularly his wife, even when the cooking itself is a reflection of the meagre resources men provide their wives with.
Okoro is a headstrong man who has a lot of ego. When his wife left him, he is reduced to the domestic roles of cooking and babysitting. He is so preoccupied with these duties that he is unable to ply his trade as a cloth-seller. Despite all these inconveniences, he still downplays the role of women in the house. He, in fact, insists that the women should not be placated and brought back. He calls the men who came up with the idea of placating the women cowards.
Okoro however knows when to draw the line between his sentiment and his duty. This is shown when he makes the announcement at the end of the play that, among other things, the goat ban has been revoked and the oil money has been converted into the fund for the education of their children.
Above all, Okoro is a dominant sweet talker, an eloquent speaker who however is a combative listener.
Koko is the wife of Okoro and the mother of his children. She is portrayed as a resilient woman and a staunch advocate of gender equality.
She combines politics with her domestic responsibilities without allowing one to affect the other.
While she advocates for the equal sharing of the oil money as appropriate outside her home, she does not fail to perform her domestic duties which of course include cooking for her husband.
It is ironic that while the women have been accused of abandoning their “civic responsibilities and duties,” Koko, one of the vocal women advocates, still cooks for her husband at home.
Koko is patient. She demonstrates her patience many times her husband wants to taunt and provoke her. Her husband’s comment on her cooking for example is enough in other circumstances to provoke her to anger but she is only amused rather than being angry.
She and the other wives in the community walk out on their husbands in protest against their unjust treatment and calculated suppression by their husbands.
The playwright uses the actions of Koko and the other wives to illustrate the position that the world will never change if no one questions it.
In discussing with her husband, Koko questions the reasoning behind the sharing formula for the oil money. Like other women, she prefers the money is shared into two, rather than three. She questions why there is a law that bans goats but leaves the pigs who in actual fact uproot the women’s cassava and litter the ground with faeces. She attributes the sparing of the pigs to the fact that they belong to men.
That she is able to strike a balance between her domestic responsibilities and societal demands projects her as a prototypical African woman whose only wrong is questioning the system that gives men undue favours over her kind.
Idama is an Erhuwaren man who collectively with other men in the community keep a close rein on women with laws that favour the men and grant them undue advantages.
Idama is Okoro’s friend. He echoes some of Okoro’s sentiments.
Unlike Okoro, Idama is not as egoistic and unreasonably headstrong. He knows when to give in and reason with the women’s demands. He is also a patient listener, even though he may not have a glib tongue as Okoro. He is nonetheless as persuasive.
When his wife, Titi, left with others, he finds himself doing the chores which before now have been arbitrarily designated for wives. His mother blatantly refuses to help him with anything in the absence of his wife.
In any altercation between Okoro and Koko, he usually sides with Okoro perhaps on the basis of gender affinity.
His conversations with both or either of the two other characters tend to be purposeful in that they share information about the true position and current situation of things in the play. It is he who intimates Okoro about the disappearance of their wives and gives status report about the trajectory of their migration. He also disabuses Okoro’s mind of the presupposition that the disease contracted by their wives is as a result of the women’s infidelities to their husbands through extramarital affairs.
The play, The Wives’ Revolt, makes use of minimal characters in the most effective way. The playwright uses the characters of Okoro and Koko to present the gender struggle between men and women; husbands and wives in Erhuwaren community.
Their interactions and gestures highlight the conflict of the play and its eventual resolution.
It would not be a misnomer therefore to admit that Koko is the protagonist of the play, and Okoro, her husband, is the antagonist. This position is taken, taking into cognizance the antithetical roles of these two characters in respect to their conflicting interests and the power dynamics in the play.