Themes in Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance

The theme of unemployment is one of the noticeable themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance. No doubt, things have become bad for Nigeria.

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Themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance
Themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance
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I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is replete with a lot of messages. Some of the themes in Nwaubani’s novel are the negative effect of unemployment, societal expectations and its effects, love and betrayal, and corruption. We are going to discuss these themes in the subsequent paragraphs.

The Negative Effects of Unemployment

The theme of unemployment is one of the noticeable themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance. No doubt, things have become bad for Nigeria and Nigerians, especially since the early eighties. With the economy in a dire strait, a vastly productive section of the populace, especially graduates, became unproductive. Unemployment has become a huge national headache, with abject poverty trailing closely behind. This is the society into which Kingsley is born in I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

Upon graduation from the university with a good degree in Chemical Engineering, he dreams of securing a well-paying job in one of the numerous oil companies operating in Port-Harcourt so as to fend for his slightly above-the-poverty line family, comprising  a sickly father, who has retired as a senior civil servant into penury, a mother whose sewing business has almost gone under due to factors not unconnected with the economy, and three siblings to whom the family still owes the responsibility of quality education.

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I Do Not Come to You by Chance
I Do Not Come to You by Chance front cover.

Kingsley’s dream clashes with the reality of a country where unemployment is not only a nightmare, but has turned into a big business accompanied by assortment of ills, such as corruption and nepotism. Being Opara, the first son of the family, he finds himself battling with favouritism in his quest to secure employment, as many mediocres are given jobs among the army of gainfully unemployed graduates. Putting the issue in a clear perspective, Kingsley writes:

… the way things worked in our society these days, besides paper qualifications and a high intelligent quotient, you usually needed to have ‘long-leg’. You needed to know someone who knew someone, before you could access the most basic things.

(32)

Not surprising, despite repeated attempts at securing a job, he meets a brick wall:

Dear Mr Kingsley O. Ibe,

RE: INTERVIEW FOR THE POSITION OF CHEMICAL ENGINEER (SHP06/06/9904)

We are sorry to inform you that you did not meet the requirements for—
(25-26)

This dream-crushing letter is incomplete, because Kingsley, the recipient, due to past experiences, is not unmindful of the remaining part of the letter; hence, he does not give the reader the benefit of its remaining details. For the umpteenth time, the letter of rejection from a prospective employer makes him forlorn and inconsolable, because his repeated rejections, despite his good grade, contradict his father’s admonition that “finishing school and finishing well was an asset that opened up a thousand more opportunities for people” (20). In Kingsley’s words, “This particular rejection letter was exceedingly painful because he had defied all the odds by getting as far as the last interview” (31-32). Kingsley suddenly realised that in Nigeria, the system in operation thrives on who you know as against what you know; that is, nepotism towers above merit in the scheme of things.

It must be argued here that in a materialistic postmodern society, such as Nigeria, an unemployed graduate has his job cut out for him. He does not command any respect or credibility among the people; the best he can hope for is pity. He is told that good qualifications are not enough; he has to bring ‘something’ to the table. The society asks him rhetorically, “Is it certificate that we shall eat?” (46). Buttressing this reality, Achebe avers that:

Anyone who has given any thought to our society must be concerned by the brazen materialism one sees all around. I have heard people blame it on Europe. This is utter rubbish. In fact, the Nigerian society I know best-the Ibo society-has always been materialistic…All the four titles in my village were taken—not given—and each had its price.

(12)

In essence, Kingsley’s unemployment is tied to the dictates of a libidinal economy operated by capitalists whose feelings, rather than reasoning, dictate the path of global economies. Like their libidos, their investments are determined by feelings, and feelings are not always right, just and sensible. In light of this, Kingsley is a symbol of a victimised institution in a postmodern and globalised economic order.

Societal Expectations and Its Effects

The setting of I Do Not Come to You by Chance is an Ibo society, and in contextualising it, it becomes crystal clear that only those who have something to show or offer in terms of wealth and other material possessions can survive the scrutiny and expectations of such a society. For anyone living in such a society, the acquisition of wealth by all means whatsoever becomes a must and lifelong endeavour. Kingsley is jolted into this reality after his girlfriend, Ola, (a university graduate like him), leaves him to marry an uneducated motor spare-parts merchant.

Upon visiting Ola’s mother in a bid to get her to assist him in getting back the love of his life, the woman mocks him: ‘“My wife, my wife, my wife…,” “I love her, I love her, I love her…,” Is it love for mouth? After all, love does not keep the pot boiling”’ (45). The tragedy of losing his girlfriend and the follow-up tragedy of his sick father suffering a devastating stroke, which pushes his poverty-stricken family further into the cesspit of want, compels Kingsley, in a fit of contemplative reaction, to begin to question his own lack of imagination in a society where materialism is the order of the day:

Maybe I had not been smart as other young men who were ‘finding their way.’ Maybe I had been too carried away by my academic achievements. After all, my father, with all his brilliance was wallowing in poverty. I shuddered at the thought of ending up like him – full brain, empty pocket.

(46)

Pushing further into introspection, Kingsley compares his father with his maternal uncle, Boniface, and discovers the difference between being brilliant and being ‘smart’: “Despite his poor academic record, Uncle Boniface was extremely wealthy. Rumours abounded of his innumerable cars, real estate, and frequent trips abroad” (47).

At this moment, Kingsley sees his uncle, who is also known by the cognomen, Cash Daddy (a successful ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ and ‘419 kingpin’), as the archetypal success story; a man who understands the workings of a materialistic and postmodern society than his own father, who ‘like Lazarus…was likely to be the one found in Abraham’s bosom” (54).

In Nigerian society, a righteous man is not rewarded; rather, he is the object of scorn and pitied for being stupid. Summarising his father’s righteous and patriotic feelings for his country despite having the opportunity to relocate abroad, Kingsley offers, “… my father had given the very best of his life to serving his country in the civil service. Today, retired and wasted, he had nothing to show for it” (68).

The time has come for the son of a wasted patriot to abandon the lofty ideals of a higher calling and employ his intellect to escape the grip of poverty. Faced with entreaties from his uncle and the poverty of his family, Kingsley joins Cash Daddy in the ‘419’ business.

Theme of Love and Betrayal

The theme of love and betrayal is one of the discernible themes in I Do Not Come to You By Chance. This is exemplified by Kingsley’s romantic relationship with Ola. In spite of their past affection for each other, Ola’s cold reception of Kingsley and her eventual announcement of her impending marriage betray his feelings. His lingering love for Ola contrasts with the betrayal he feels upon learning of her decision to marry someone else.

Themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance
Themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance

Within Kingsley’s family, there are instances of both love and betrayal. While there is a strong familial bond and a sense of responsibility towards each other, there are also betrayals of trust and expectations. Kingsley’s involvement in fraudulent activities, while motivated by his desire to support his family, can be seen as a betrayal of their values and integrity. Similarly, Godfrey’s decision to drop out of school can be read as a betrayal of the expectations of his family members, particularly Kingsley who funds his education.

Theme of Corruption

The theme of corruption is one of the dominant themes in I Do Not Come to You by Chance. The novel depicts corruption through characters like Cash Daddy, who amasses wealth through dubious means such as fraud and money laundering. His lavish lifestyle, characterised by extravagant spending and influence peddling, exemplifies the corrupt practices that exist within Nigerian society.

Cash Daddy uses his ill-gotten wealth to fuel his ambition to contest for the post of governor of Abia State. He promises the electorate, and manipulates the electoral process to achieve his political aspirations.

The theme of corruption is further demonstrated by Kingsley’s descent into fraudulent activities under the influence of his uncle. This financial fraud becomes a means for Kingsley to support his family and fulfil their financial needs, albeit through unethical and illegal means.

Despite his initial reservations, Kingsley becomes deeply involved in scamming unsuspecting individuals for financial gain. He compromises his moral principles and integrity in the process. This takes a toll on his psyche. He grapples with moral dilemmas, guilt, and inner conflict as he navigates the consequences of his actions.

Further Reading:

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