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Lesson Note
Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the Novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn by Alex Agyeri-Agyiri
Lesson Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners understand the novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn”. By the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:
A. In few sentences describe who the author is;
B. Identify and write about setting of the novel;
C. Narrate the plot of the novel;
D. Identify and discuss the themes in the novel;
E. Detect the plot of the novel.

Learning Aids: See Reference Resources below lesson content.

Lesson Summary

Who is Alex Agyei-Agyiri?

Alex Agyei-Agyiri was born in Ghana, West Africa. He is a product of the University of Ghana, Legon, and a legal practitioner who has written poetry since 1979. He has the following poetic works to commend of him: “Passover”, Ancestral Faces”, and “This Death Call”. “This Death Call” and “Passover” were considered among the best the best selected poems for the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award for 1982 and 1984 respectively. His two collections of poetry won the Ghana Association f Writers Literary Prize for Literature in 1982 and the Valco Awards for Literature in 1982. Though Alex Agyei Agyiri has written some length work, and it won a Valco Literature Award for Literature for best manuscripts in Ghana in 1988 under the title “Alien”.

B. Setting Of the Novel
Setting includes the historical moment in time and geographical location in which a story takes place and helps initiate the main backdrop of the story. Setting is a critical component for assisting the story as in Man versus nature or in man versus society stories. And in the case of ” Unexpected Joy At Dawn”, it is likened to  man versus society.
The novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn” is set in West Africa in the late 1960s through the late 1970s and early 1980s between Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria). It focuses mainly on Ghana during the PNDC military era- a period of economic gloom, panic economic measures, scarcity, a time when people engage in all manner of corrupt practices as the case of civil servants and businessmen.

C. Symptomatic and Symbolic Setting of the Novel

The setting of the novel is drawn from the symptomatic social and political malaise: cracks in the social fabric and the national infrastructure employed by the author as metonymies telling “the story of a nation in labour”. This is pictured in the graphic symbols of pervasive Filth, decay and putridity.
Again Massa (whose terminal illness is the note on which the novel opens), symbolises the living physical replica of the political, social, and moral decay – the nation in labour, hanging on tenaciously to life by the thinnest of threads, “she was already looking like a grandmother at twenty-two”. Just like the collapsing of Ghana, looking at her, “it was difficult to tell, whether she was just lying silent or dying”. Finally, Massa’s excrement, vomit, phlegm and all the infirm body’s by-products, which Nii has to manage routinely, symbolize the dying nation; a nation which no longer has neither the capacity nor the decency to contain its own people.

D. Plot (Background Story Of The Novel)
This is also known as “subject matter”. It tells the action of the story. It is what event, situation or experience a book has described or record? Who is the speaker? It can also be described as the topic of the book or what it is all about.

The novel Unexpected joy at dawn relates the story of Nii and Mama Orojo two siblings during the 1983 deportation of ghanaians from Nigeria under the Shehu Shagari administration. Nii, who is a Nigerian by blood but a Ghanaian by birth, was left in Ghana by her parents as they embarked on a complicated journey to Nigeria when Ghana enacted the aliens compliance order of 1967 which made every individual who were inhabitant of Ghana without the required papers completely an alien. This unfortunate incident which could also be described as incessant decision by the government made Nii to change his name so as to reflect the name of his adopted parents. After 14 years of unendurable hardship while working in a bank, doing multiple jobs, not being able to bury his  dead wife, and being chased around by market women for alleged “fraud”, he then made the move to travel to  Nigeria his supposedly fatherland in search of his roots (origin). Aside the fear of being labelled an alien, Nii also had to face some number of issues arising from proof of citizenship as it got to a point where blackness (dark skin complexion as common amongst Nigerians and Ghanaians), tribal marks, and name alone no longer grant citizenship or staying permits. This is as a result of the rising tensions in Ghana against Nigerians as a direct result of the predicament of Ghanaians in Nigeria.
Soon after embarking on the perilous journey with ordeal experiences such as deaths threats, bribes, swindles and gun-point robbery, getting to Nigeria, he realized that again, tribal marks, colour and a name alone do not also make him a Nigerian. At this point in time, three more things which Nii was lacking such as the ability to speak in Nigerian language, how to speak like a Nigerian and dress like one seems to be the major requirements. His inability to do any of these got him exposed and everywhere he goes, he is welcomed with the statement ‘Omo Ghana abi’.
This makes him feels like a total stranger and insecure. He had to indulge in some temporary jobs ranging from serving as a slave in people’s cassava farm to living in slums, deportation camps to being a building labourer all just to survive. Eventually, he was tagged as an armed robber and it was at this point that Fate smiled upon him.

It is important to note that Nii was in Nigeria in search of his roots, Mama Orojo had also come to Ghana searching for his brother. Mama Orojo, however fell in love with a gold dealer who was a customer of Expens bank, where Nii previously worked as an Assistant Manager. It was in search of Nii that they realised the enormity of the problem they had at hand including the burial of Nii’s wife Masa.
However, both two were to meet under weird circumstances, after Nii encountered a case of mistaken identity (the people had taken them for armed robbers). This unforseen incident made him to abscond from a deportation camp and took cover in an uncompleted building. It was in the process of them being chased after by the people that Mama Orojo and Joe, her gold dealer lover, saw Nii. Nii’s predicament didn’t just end in Ghana, as much problems befall him after crossing the boarder to Nigeria. For instance, while he was trying to dodge  the authorities in order to prove his citizenship, he lost two people that were dear to his heart, same people with whom he crossed the boarder, Aaron his friend and Marshak his lover as well as good number of friends he met in the camp.

E. Themes of The Novel
Theme is central topic a text treats. Themes can be divided into two categories: a work’s thematic concept is what readers “think the work is about” and its thematic statement being “what the work says about the subject”. The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or concept that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g love, death, betrayal).
In this novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn”, the notable themes are as follow:

  • Theme of corruption
  • Theme of economic mess
  • Team of xenophobia

Analysis of the themes
The novel creates parallel plots that alternate between Accra /(Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria) hence the writer present the issues of corruption, economic mess and xenophobia as regional and continental problems. The parallel deportations bring into question the whole concept of pan-africanism, African unity and identity. On both sides of the divide, there is an inbuilt culture of xenophobia embodied in the term “alien”. Both Nigeria and Ghana have seen years of such occurrences and real currencies leading to loss of lives, property, identity and fear in one’s own country where he becomes a fugitive.
The government/cabinet’s measures and policies results in the military and forcing the corrupt practice of discrimination at the same time when their economic policies have rendered the thriving masses poor and incapacitated. In Ghana, the cabinets withdrawal from circulation of 50 cedi notes, the nationals currency’s highest denomination, leaves a lot of people penniless, all savings in Banks above fifty thousand cedis are frozen and to make withdrawals from such accounts one must apply for clearance from the attorney general’s department and as a result and old woman dies of heart attack having lost forty thousand cedis.
The instance of a soldier armed to the teeth chasing a 10-year old girl in the Streets of Accra for selling above the “control price” terrifies the poor girl to a point where she is too afraid to cry and her concerned mother traumatized by the scene collapses in the street gasping for life, bares the depth of the general insensitivity to the dignity of human life. What else explains xenophobia like this same insensitivity of the street mob turned accomplice and accessory, which applauds and energizes the soldier in his brutal assault:
“There was applause of approval from the crowd that opened a sore in Nii’s ears. He turned from one face to another, expecting something different from the devious support that the soldiers and their behaviour received – a people’s anger, an uprising or some signs of distaste and robust show of disconnect against the shooting – but nothing happened. He was alone and voiceless”. This is enough to question the whole system and the dispensation of Justice.

F. Narrative Technique/Style
Narrative techniques or styles are the methods that authors used to tell their stories. When analysing a novel, It is important to identify these techniques in order to shed light on the ways in which they function in the story.
In the case of ” Unexpected Joy At Dawn”, the entire story of the novel  is told from an omniscient point of view as the author depict and tells all that needed to be known by the reader. He did not leave the reader to dig the meaning of or reference to any clues.
The author also link  a complex plot featuring two protagonists: Nii and Mama; two historical periods and two West African countries into one Odyssey of search for identity and self. On the surface, the multiple episodes embedded in the untitled chapters may seem desperate and unconnected, but in time and space they eventually coalesce into one captivating story, though the denouement seems rather contrived and unconvincing. again the writers recreation of the scenes and landmarks in the history of Africa goes beyond mere recollection. He probes the human psyche and lays bare it’s frailties.
the probe sets him apart from a historian since a historian can only record events on their face value, the writer in his creativity turns events into a human experience beyond the elasticity of cause-and-effect permutations. he interrogate the human psychology behind these events and shows the military psychology interfaces with the Civic psychology. Doing that, he fills in the missing lynx in that collective historical unconscious by redirecting the role of ordinary Ghanaians and Nigerians the formulation of their common history and destiny.
Finally, his use of a demotic language sometimes moves a notch higher into the realm of high-flowing philosophical discourse and poetic sublimity, it is a story told by a master-teller, whose eyes for detail create a tale, which combines collective human foibles and collective responsibility with individual fortitude, hope and love.

Done studying? See previous lessons from literature

Lesson Evaluation
The following are evaluation questions which are likely to be presented by WAEC, NECO or any other external examination body and will guide you in providing accurate answers to the questions. The questions are as follows:
1. Comment on the style/narrative technique employed by the author of the novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn”.
Answer: Refer to ” F” content.
2. Highlight the notable themes of the novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn”.
Answer: Refer to ” E” content.
3. Highlight the assertion that the setting of the novel is symptomatic and symbolic in Unexpected Joy At Dawn”.
Answer: Refer to “C” content.
4. Discuss the plot of the novel “Unexpected Joy At Dawn”.
Answer: Refer to “E” content.

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Lesson Summary Aids

Agyei, A.A. (2004). Unexpected Joy at Dawn. Sub-Sahara Publishers, Ghana.

Ibitola, A. O. (2018). Essential Literature in English for senior secondary schools. Tonad Publishers Ogun.

J. O. (Ed.). (2019). Study Guide to Selected Poems, Prose, & Drama Texts for SSCE . Harmony-Pen Publications.

Okoye, C. G. (2019). Total Study Edition in Literature in English for WAEC, NECO, GCE, NABTEB, JAMB. Gabson Educational Publishers Onitsha.

Note: We consider the above academic resources appropriate and so were sourced for the development of this lesson. Hence no part of these reference materials should be lifted from this blog without due credence.