Summary of The Potter’s Wheel
The potter’s wheel is a novel that takes us to the village called Umuchukwu in the eastern part of Nigeria, where one of the basic elements of the local idioms is wise sayings or proverbs.Very much like a Bible-based community where people communicate through chapters and verses citations.
In the story, even the young ones had riddle and proverb contests to see who knew the most. The story was set about the time of the Second World War (1939-1945). In the story, references are frequently made to the ongoing war, which Nigerians, at that time were part of, through conscription or voluntary involvement.
The story centres on Obu, an eight-year-old boy, who, as the only son with five older sisters and one younger sister, had been badly spoiled by his adoring mother. The mother’s reason for her indulgence towards him was simple; it was the boy’s eventual birth that gave her strong footing in her husband’s house. The husband’s family had compelled him to take another wife who would give them – the family – a male child.
In fact, the five female children that were born before Obu had been given names suggestive of the degree of anxiety and faith, with which Mama Obu and her husband had longed for a male child. The name “Uzoamaka”, given to their first female child, means “The road is excellent”; the second, “Nkiru” means “That which is yet to come is greater”; the third, “Njideka” means “Hold what you have”; the fourth, “Nkechi”, means “Whatever God gives”; and the fifth, “Ogechukwu”, means “God’s time is the best”. Besides that, when Obu arrived, he became a cynosure to the parents, the mother particularly, so much so that apart from his first name “Obuechima”, which means “Compound must not revert to bush”, he was given all sorts of endearment names, such as “Ezenwa”, meaning “infant king”, “Nwokenagu”, meaning “A male child is desirable”, “Oyinbo”, meaning “A companion”, and “Obiano”, meaning “Solace”. No other boy came after Obu, but a girl came two years after his birth, and she was named “Amuche”, meaning “No one knows God’s mind”. All these events depict the superstitious nature of the Ibos and how they weave some stories around everything that happens to them.
Obu’s father, Mazi Lazarus Maduabuchi was a successful cloth dealer. He was a kindly man, but fearing for the boy’s future in the hands of his over doting mother, he sent him off to be a servant of a weird, fearsome couple, Teacher Zaccheus Kanu and Madam Deborah Onuekwucha Kanu, both of whom were childless and lived in Aka, a village, some sixty miles away from Umuchukwu.
Mama Obu was vehemently opposed to the seemingly suicidal idea of having her treasured son sent to the house of a “wicked man and the witch he has as wife”, even when her husband proverbially reasoned with her that, “He who does not suffer hardship cannot develop any common sense”. In the end however, her resistance, merely verbal, cut no ice, for she was the one, who even later took Obu to the Teacher’s house in Aka, where the boy was to begin a new life as a servant.
This event is symbolic of the prevalent mentality of African parents, fathers specifically, who so much believe, against the stifling fondness of mothers, that some degree of hardship and suffering is very essential in the upbringing of a child, if such child is to be useful to himself/herself in the future. Also, the subservience and abject obedience of mothers and wives to their husbands was aptly portrayed by Mama Obu, as such slavish compliance, as far as African traditions are concerned, is crucial to the continued survival of a marriage.
Teacher Zaccheus Kanu’s house, a reformatory home of some sort, sheltered an assortment of other youngsters: Silence (who was 14yrs), Moses, Ada (who was 16, and a cousin to Teacher), Mary (who was a spoilt girl, already engaged to a man but was ‘enrolled’ by the fiancé at Madam’s home, for her to undergo some tutelage in domestic and wifely training), Monday (who was 19, and Madam’s cousin), Bright (whom his father gave out to Teacher in exchange for the money the father was owing Teacher), and Obu, the newest arrival. These children were beaten and abused, and were subjected to slavish lives.
For instance, apart from the ‘baptism of fire’ slap that Obu got from Madam, Teacher’s wife, on his first day at Teacher’s house, for talking back at the woman, he also, at another time, was served another deafening smack by the ruthless Madam, because of his careless and wasteful attitude of pouring away the excessively salted pottage that she had asked him to prepare for her. The smack sent him sprawling on the ground and made him dizzy for some time. At some other time, Obu was openly embarrassed and beaten so wickedly on the assembly in his school, by the headmaster, who must have been told by Teacher that Obu stole a piece of meat from the pot at home the previous night.
Expectedly, these children, in their various childish ways, devised different acts of vengeance, to get back at their two oppressors – Teacher and Madam. First of all, they all developed strong flair for lying, as they mostly had to lie to escape from the unwarranted harsh punishment they were endlessly subjected to. Besides, Silence, the very tricky fourteen year old boy, would never answer a call by either Teacher or Madam, the first two successive times. He would neglect the call the first two times, with the hope that if he didn’t answer it, his caller would call someone else. He would answer the call only if it came the third time. Bright was another character.
Teacher almost always liked to insultingly remind him that he – Bright – was serving him (Teacher), because of his (Bright’s) father’s debt to him. When once, he gave Bright such humiliating reminder, and even attempted to wipe his oil-soiled hand dry on Bright’s head, the boy, “like a drenched dog…” (pg. 133), “…shook his dripping head vigorously…”, and he let drops of the oily water splash on Teacher’s shirt.
Ada was yet another character! Exasperated by Madam’s unrepentantly cruel behavior towards her and others in the house, Ada once poured on her Madam “…a bowl of dirty water containing cocoyam peels, discarded ora leaves, and a coating of palm oil from the cooking utensils she had washed in the bowl…” (pg. 186). Even after that mischief, Ada stood unremorseful and ready for the consequences of her actions. As the furious Madam punched and hit and smacked Ada, the girl defensively fended off some of the blows and mockingly took some, unwearyingly. Even the bigger punishment from Teacher, which came much later – scrubbing the school latrine every day for one whole week – meant nothing to the girl. She was happy that she had succeeded in cutting her Madam down to size!
The brutalities that abound in the Aka home provoked nostalgic feelings in Obu about his birth place. He had nostalgia about home, through dreams and reminiscences. He was so home-sick that he thought of what seemed to be a foolproof strategy, which was to write a letter in the guise of his mother, to Teacher. In the short letter which he eventually wrote, in Igbo, his impersonated mother said she wanted Obu to come home, to Umuchukwu, to look after his younger sister. What Obu had thought would work against Teacher was so easily faulted by the crafty Teacher. Teacher was nonetheless stunned by the creativity of the boy (for him to have thought of something as ingenious as impersonating his mother!)
After a year of the hellish life Obu had lived in Aka, his father requested that he be allowed to return home for Christmas, and by the time he returned to Umuchukwu, Obu had become so much transformed into a dutiful, hardworking boy. His return sent everywhere agog! He had shed his old habits – he was no more the loafing, bed-wetting, spoilt Obu!
However, happy about his eventual rescue from the tortuous Aka life, Obu never wished to return to Teacher’s house. He asked his mother to help him tell his father about his decision, but the mother, understanding how predictably fruitless such effort of hers would be, urged Obu to speak to his father himself.
After some long contemplation as to how to tell his father about his decision not to return to Teacher’s house, he finally broached the topic. His father’s compromising response trivialized Obu’s protracted worry, and he (Obu) wished he had said his mind long before he later did. And after Obu’s father’s seeming compromising response, he later called Obu to sit. With some wise cajolery, the silver-tongued father of Obu succeeded in making the boy see the need for him to return to Teacher’s house.
“…Nobody who does not suffer can succeed in life. Edmund is what he is because his father forgot yams, forgot cocoyams, forgot meat and sent him to suffer in Teacher’s hands. It was Teacher who made him.
Teacher tells me your brain is even hotter than Edmund’s. So, there is no reason why you should not drink tea with the white man and study in the white man’s land. But if you want to be like Caleb, you should come and live with your mother, eating goat meat and drinking palm wine and dancing with masquerades. But when the time comes, don’t say that I did not warn you. You can go.”
After this persuasive talk with his father, Obu himself voluntarily returned to Teacher’s house in January (after the Christmas holiday).
The story ultimately centres (thematically) on the challenges of parenthood. With the constant interplay between the vernacular Igbo and the English language, the author enlightens us on many things: The plight of a ‘maleless’ (without a male child) wife or couple in traditional Igbo or Nigerian society; the concept of Ogbanje (or Abiku) children and the societal attitudes to such children; the richness of traditional values as seen in the prevalently mentioned local food (especially the uncommon ones as fried termites, which were here considered as a treat; and the very common one, kola nuts, which are usually served, as etiquette demands, by hosts to visitors.); local names guarded or prompted by some superstition; local proverbs put to various communicative uses; local beliefs and traditions, etc..
POINTS TO TAKE NOTE OF IN POTTER’s WHEEL
The story is all about Obuechina*. (Obu). Mazi is the father of Obu and he has seven children. Obu is the 6th child and he is the only son of the family, his best friend is oti*, while the eldest of the three friends is samuel* who is referred to as the bully and trickster*.
Obu lived with his family in the village of Umuchukwu*. obu came first in the school exam while he was 5 years old.
Ogechukwu(Obu’s immediate sister) is three years older than Obu, but Ogechukwu failed. Obu ‘wished’ he didn’t want to go to school at the age of 5, but his parents refused. (Mazi, obu’s father was a cloth dealer* and he was a dancer when he was young.)
Obu’s father also had a bicycle but the first person to have ridden a bicycle in Ummuana town* was Chief Okeke Okafor*).
Obu was given a red flute* to congratulate him on his success. When he was asked to name anything he wanted and he asked for a goat, his father said they had one for Christmas already.
Obu said he wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle and it was granted to him but he never got to learn it.
Obu’s mother over-pampered him leading to bed wetting.
Obu was meant to die at his 9th birthday, as a result of a mark and a stone called ogbanje stone which was buried and which represented his life.
Obu wanted David to teach him how to ride a bicycle but when he went to David’s house he was sick. So he moved on to his friend, Oti but he too had followed his brothers to the river for fishing.
Because he was over-pampered his father was not pleased with his mother so he sent him to a village called Aka,to one Mr Kanu Zaccheus’ (a schoolmaster). The man and his wife frequently called were known to be wicked. On getting there, Obu was maltreated by the schoolmaster’s wife. Later, Obu got registered in a school named Central School where he met an Osu girl called Margret. Osu means “an outcast” Consequently Obu was classified as impure as a result of the interaction between him and Margret..
Monday was the eldest of the houseboys, he was 19yrs old, after a while, Obu began to play tricks on the teacher as a result of the way he was treated by the teacher’s wife, he wrote fake letters to the teacher that his dad needed him at home but the teacher refused them,until his dad sent Madu (Mazi’s friend) to visit Aka town to check how his son, was doing. On getting there, he slept over and came back the next day with Obu whom his mother always calls “Onyigbo”*.
His mother was so happy that she left what she was doing to welcome her son. But by then obu has totally changed as of his experiences in Aka town.
GET THE MEANING OF THESE IDIOMS/PROVERBS AS USED IN THE NOVEL
“It is because you have not trained him very well that I’m talking about sending him away before he dissolves completely like a bag of salt”
” The dog does not eat the bone chained round its neck”
‘John whose face knows no laughter”
” Vultures will eat your meat as thy ate Jezebel’s if you continue answering me without putting Ma”
“When the cricket knows the crime it has committed, it dabs whitewash round its eyes.
WHAT YOU SHOULD TAKE NOTE OR WHERE QUESTIONS MAY COME FROM
While reading the novel pick up pen and jotter and jot down
(1) names of major characters
(2)idioms used in the book.
(3)significant events that took place
(4)quotation passages e.g quoting a passage and asking u who quoted it or to whom it refers
(5)the mood of the writer , dates,places,author autobiography.
(6) The Writer’s Mood or the Writer’s Point of View.
Note that Potters Wheels has 10 questions for 15marks while The Successors usually has 5 questions coming out
Aka was gotten from the combination of the first letters of the names of three adjoining towns disputing over a controversial piece of land. The land was leased to the Church Missionary Society which made peace by building an elementary school to serve the three towns. They named it Aka Central School to symbolize the combined ownership of the school.
Also know Nwomiko (the spiritualist) whom Jamb asked about last year.
The plp of Umuchukwu also likened Samuel to a bully and a trickster because he was fond of browbeating the children and making them do his work for him
And also the “pad” was a symbol of failure worn by student who failed their exams at Aka Central School
USUAL QUESTION TYPES
1. The writer’s Intention.
2. The title you would have given the passage.
3. The writer’s mood.
4. The writer’s point of view.
5. What figure of speech an extract is
6. What is conveyed in a given statement.
7. How a word is used in the passage.
8. In choosing the best options don’t ever add your own meanings to any of the passages probably because you know and event described in it before.
PLEASE NOTE THAT REVISION NOTES ARE NO SUBSTITUTES FOR READING RECOMMENDED TEXTBOOKS