Loneliness, Clinginess and Betrayal

Summary Part 1: Meg

Twice a month, the protagonist visits his aging parents at their flat in Enugu. His parents have changed since they retired, becoming slower, both mentally and physically, and beginning to believe far-fetched tales that they would have dismissed as ridiculous before. The protagonist doesn’t believe in their stories, but still humors them in listening and talking to them. One day in November, the protagonist is listening to a story about armed robberies, which prompts his mother to say that the ring leader of a robbery was their former houseboy, Raphael. His parents expect that he won’t remember Raphael, but the protagonist, of course, does remember the former houseboy.

Raphael, at the beginning, was just another houseboy who’d come to work at the protagonist’s parent’s estate. He was a regular teenager from some nearby village, just like all the other former houseboys. The house staff mostly didn’t care about the protagonist, but they cared about not making his mother, who treated the staff poorly, upset with them. She would punish them for all types of offenses, including ones that wouldn’t be considered a very big deal. The protagonist was also his parent’s only child, born late in their lives after they thought that they’d have a child. Both parents were intellectuals, and very intense at that. The protagonist never like reading or academia as much as either of them, and spent his childhood worrying that he wasn’t smart enough for them and read only to make them happy. In all, the protagonist didn’t fit in very well at his house, not particularly liking books or badmitton.

Summary Part 2: Elijah

Onkenwa gets a new houseboy named Raphael after the last one was sent home following an incident where he insulted his mother. At first Raphael is like all the previous house boys until one day while onkenwa was is doing “kung-foo” he catches sight of Raphael watching him. At first onkenwa thinks he has embarrassed himself but then it turns out that Raphael is as much of a fanatic as he is. Raphael teaches onkenwa how to kung foo better. And their friendship blossoms until one day during dinner onkenwa’ mother discovers that Raphael has contracted Apollo. She then Quarantines Raphael to the back room and orders Onkenwa not to see him.

Summary Part 3: Avalon

After Okenwa spent some time in Raphael’s bedroom, helping him with his eye drops, Raphael is finally free of his Apollo. However, after waking up from a dream of Raphael and Bruce Lee, Okenwa discovers that now he is infected with Apollo.

Okenwa’s mother gets mad at Raphael, blaming him for infecting Okenwa with the contagious eye infection. However, Okenwa lies to his mother and tells her that he caught Apollo from a classmate, making up a name on the spot. He does this to avoid confessing to his parents that he was in Raphael’s room.

Okenwa’s mother calls his doctor and gets him proper medicine. She also bans Raphael from his room. For the whole week, Okenwa’s parents visit Okenwa to give him eye drops. The eye drops remind Okenwa of Raphael.

Then, Okenwa started to think about Raphael more, like why hasn’t he tried to visit him? And why didn’t he ever apologize for giving him Apollo?

Eventually, Okenwa just tries to sneak downstairs to see Raphael, but his father’s already at the end of the stairs, so he aborts his mission.

One day, though, Okenwa’s parents are out, and he takes this as an opportunity to go see Raphael. While looking for Raphael, Okenwa hears his voice outside on the veranda and follows. He catches him talking to Josephine, another house worker for whom I assume is Okenwa’s neighbor. Okenwa grew agitated as he noticed how shy Raphael was talking to Josephine, and how flirty Josephine portrayed herself.

Okenwa calls out for Raphael, and then becomes embarrassed, so he tells him to prepare him food. Raphael asks Okenwa what he wants to eat just as he loses his balance. Okenwa falls off the veranda and cries out of humiliation. Okenwa’s parents arrive just in time to find Okenwa on the ground.

When asked what happened, Okenwa claims that Raphael pushed him off the veranda.

Okenwa reflects on the incident, saying that there was time for him to cut in and take back his lie. But he never did. Okenwa let the silence pass and Raphael is told to pack his things and leave.

Analysis Part 1: Meg

The first craft element of “Apollo” that I will analyze is point of view.

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents…

In this quote, at the very beginning of Adichie’s story, the pronoun “I” is used. It is used throughout the story. The story in is in first person, narrated by a man at the beginning, who then flashes back to memories of his childhood. He talks, in first person, about his experience with a former houseboy, Raphael. The author’s use of first person convey Okenwa’s feelings, mostly towards Raphael, but also towards his parents and situations.

The second craft element of the story that I will discuss is characterization. Throughout the story, there are several characters. For the purposes of this analysis, I will focus on four: the characterizations of Okenwa, his parents, and Raphael.

Throughout my childhood, I worried about not being quick enough to respond when they spoke to me.

I sometimes felt like an interloper in our house.

These quotes describe Okenwa’s attitude towards his parents: He does love them but doesn’t connect with either of them very well. This leads to a feeling of loneliness present throughout his childhood until he meets Raphael.

I expected a mild reprimand. He had made my bed that morning, and now the room was in disarray. Instead, he smiled, touched his chest, and brought his finger to his tongue, as though tasting his own blood. My favorite scene. I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. “I watched the film in the other house where I worked,” he said. “Look at this.”

Okenwa feels a connection with Raphael very quickly. As the two grow closer, he becomes obsessive and clingy, expecting that Raphael prioritizes him as Okenwa does Raphael, going so far as to break rules to see and help Raphael.

I wanted to see Raphael, but my mother had banned him from my room, as though he could somehow make my condition worse. I wished that he would come and see me. Surely he could pretend to be putting away a bedsheet, or bringing a bucket to the bathroom. Why didn’t he come? He had not even said sorry to me.

Okenwa goes so far in his clinginess to be upset when Raphael does not break his mother’s rules to see him. Despite his mother’s direct commands and the fact that his mother would be incredibly angry at Raphael, he is unreasonably angry. One day, when both of his parents are out of the house, Okenwa seeks Raphael. Eventually, Okenwa finds him talking to a Josephine, a family friend’s house help, and becomes angry and jealous.

With her, Raphael was different—the slouch in his back, the agitated foot. He was shy. She was talking to him with a kind of playful power, as though she could see through him to things that amused her. My reason blurred.

Okenwa tries to drive Josephine away, by asking Raphael for food, but realizes that Raphael doesn’t care about him like Okenwa does Raphael. It is only when Okenwa’s parents arrive home that Raphael offers to help Okenwa, but it becomes clear that isn’t because of Okenwa; it is because Raphael doesn’t want to anger Okenwa’s parents. Okenwa realizes this and falls. Then, out of revenge, Okenwa tells his parents that Raphael pushed him so that his parents will be upset with Raphael.

Okenwa’s parents are similar people, who are vey competitive with one another and expect Okenwa to be like they are. As discussed earlier, Okenwa doesn’t really live up to their expectations.

I sensed my parents’ disappointment in the way they glanced at each other when I spoke about a book, and I knew that what I had said was not incorrect but merely ordinary, uncharged with their brand of originality. Going to the staff club with them was an ordeal: I found badminton boring…

Okenwa’s mother specifically is very strict, holding her house staff to high standards as shown in this quote:

All the houseboys treated me with the contemptuous care of people who disliked my mother. Please come and eat your food, they would say—I don’t want trouble from Madam. My mother regularly shouted at them, for being slow, stupid, hard of hearing; even her bell-ringing, her thumb resting on the red knob, the shrillness I hard of hearing; even her bell-ringing, her thumb resting on the red knob, the shrillness searing through the house, sounded like shouting. How difficult could it be to remember to fry the eggs differently, my father’s plain and hers with onions, or to put the Russian dolls back on the same shelf after dusting, or to iron my school uniform properly?

Okenwa’s parents are also shown to be smart and sharp, although, at the beginning of the story, it is shown that, in their old age, they grew dull, slow, and superstitious.

It is shown throughout “Apollo” that Okenwa’s parents do care about their son, but they don’t connect very well with him. Yes, they love him, but he doesn’t share their interests in books or badminton. The lack of a parent/child connection makes Okenwa very lonely, which is necessary for the story to make Okenwa’s clinginess to Raphael make sense.

Throughout the story, Raphael is portrayed idealistically through Okenwa. He is more caring and more polite than all of the other houseboys that Okenwa could remember. Raphael liked martial arts and Bruce Lee. Okenwa feels connected to him very quickly, due to shared interests. Okenwa hasn’t really shared interests with any friends before that we are shown, and Okenwa certainly hasn’t shared any interests with his parents.

Despite Okenwa being convinced that Raphael really cared about him throughout the story he only cares about not angering Okenwa’s mother. He does like martial arts and Bruce Lee, but, as Okenwa figures out in this quote:

Had my parents not come back, he would have stayed there mumbling by the tank; my presence had changed nothing.

Raphael is not as attached to Okenwa as Okenwa is to Raphael. This realization angers Okenwa, so he tells his parents that Raphael pushed him, exacting his revenge.

Throughout the story, Okenwa is portrayed through his own eyes. Therefore, the reader doesn’t really understand just how clingy and jealous Okenwa is about Raphael until the end of the story when it is revealed in the last scene. Even so, it makes sense how clingy and jealous Okenwa turns out to be upon rereading the story. The twist of Okenwa’s clinginess is very well-written and sort of unexpected, but also it makes sense with the progression leading up to the reveal. That is something I think could be taken away for our own writings.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the author need to emphasize the strictness of Okenwa’s mother for the plot to go the way it does?
  2. Why does Adichie make Okenwa a lonely child? What relevance does it have to the plot?

Analysis Part 2: Elijah

My two craft elements were flash back and foreshadowing, for flashback I decided to focus on the main transitions from the present to the past. Which is mainly a section that takes places on page 2-3

“Do you know,” she continued, “one of the armed robbers, in fact the ring leader, was Raphael? He was our house boy years ago. I don’t think you’ll remember him.” I stared at my mother. “Raphael?” “It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.” My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory. My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those house boys. You were young.” But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael.

Here is the Initial beginning of the flashback, we have the conflict story and plot somewhat set up here all at once. Keep that in mind you will be seeing this again.

Flash back is particularly evoked in the last two lines especially

-But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael-

The second part of flashback is when we actually flash back in time. Directly below the high lighted section is this continuation

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village

And there now we are in the past. The rest of the story is in the past as made clear by the continuous usage of “I did” “he did” “I was” “then,” which all clearly and distinctly puts the brunt of this story in the past.

My second element of review was foreshadowing and, there is a lot of it sprinkled again in that thick area amongst the flashback transition. Here is a quote you have all seen before. Except this time. It is not flashback hidden in its heart but foreshadowing. a very well used foreshadowing, it is when an author gets right on the brink of contradicting themselves and then does not. I am sure we have all used this in some way or another.

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village.

Here is an example-

The town judge was a good man, just and honest, or so everyone thought.

See quite easy. This type of foreshadowing is used to set up the problem. The town judge is thought to be a good guy. When “reading between the lines” the message is noticeably clear that no. judge is a big bad guy. Same in Apollo.

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village.

In these words, particularly

 At first

And

Seemed

Clue a reader into to the right assumption that the story and connection between onkenwa and Raphael is deeper than what onkenwa would ever have first assumed.

Perhaps an even better example of foreshadowing in this story is at the very beginning of our introduction of Raphael. Which we get through the mother.

“Do you know,” she continued, “one of the armed robbers, in fact the ring leader, was Raphael? He was our house boy years ago. I don’t think you’ll remember him.” I stared at my mother. “Raphael?” “It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.” My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory. My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those house boys. You were young.” But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael.

Exhibit A, the way onkenwa mother speaks of Raphael.

Its clear from the words she uses when she speaks of R. is that of nonchalant. A tone one might use when they find something only mildly interesting and for a fraction of a second consider sharing but then decide it is not worth the effort. She also uses phrases like “I don’t think you’ll remember him.” “you probably won’t remember him” “there were so many of those houseboys when you were young.

From this I gather that the mother thinks truly little of R. from the last sentence I gather that she lumps all her former house boys into a group of little consequence and thinks that is it is just so happens that that R was one of those houseboys. The signifies to me that whatever happens between R and the family does not matter to the mother, overall.

Exhibit B.

On the father’s side he says

“It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.”

This tells me that the past event was in someway negative and though the mother and father place little significance on it, whatever happened led them to lead the assumption that R was no good anyway. This could also be being amplified by their apparent classism of their houseboys.

Exhibit C.

Lastly, we have Onkenwa himself who is perhaps the most telling of all. His line:

But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael

Bears in direct conflict from what the mother said though interestingly not so much with the father. There are two main things I want to talk about in this line. The repeating of words. Very often in literature   and common language itself, repeating a word or phrase adds meaning or in some ways changes the meaning of words, E.g  hot hot, bed bed, close close, and in this case the word remembered which is amplified in turn by the preface of “of course” with just this simply repeating the sentence seemingly takes on a bigger depth, as if there is more to this more we want to know and will be important to Onkenwa. the second thing is the conflict this is with everything else we have heard about R thus far. It has all been he has a trouble maker, he was just a houseboy, extraordinarily little importance but from the way Onkenwa uses these 7 words it makes it seem that if only to Onkenwa that R was something different something more, and why of course he is- and that is-I feel, good foreshadowing.

Discussion questions

Is Onkenwa right to get so attached?

Does Raphael forgive him?

Analysis Part 3: Avalon

The first craft element of Apollo by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I tracked was setting. Adichie uses subtle details to help her readers envision the scenes of her story. For example, in the first sentence of Apollo, Adichie writes:

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.

In this sentence specifically, it lets the readers know the characters’ current location, which is Enugu. Adichie tells the readers where the story starts off in very first sentence, and I believe disclosing your character’s setting in the beginning of your story is very effective because it prevents any setting-related confusion that could generate later in the story.

Again, exclusively to this sentence, Adichie manages to imply to the readers that the main character, Okenwa, lives in a city other than Enugu, away from his parents. Because this sentence tells you so much about the characters and setting in such little words, I think it’s a brilliant way to open a short story.

Adichie uses concrete detail to describe the setting when she says “…small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon”. She uses concrete detail in different parts of the story to help describe the setting, as well.

Along with helping the readers better picture the scenes of this story, Adichie’s use of detail for setting also helps the readers better interpret some of the financial aspects of the characters in this story. For example, some sentences help to hint that Okenwa’s family is wealthy or middle-class (very comfortable).

Here’s an example:

Later, my parents drove to the pharmacy in town and came back with a bottle of eye  drops, which my father took to Raphael’s room in boys’ quarters, at the back of the house, with the air of someone going reluctantly into battle.

This excerpt, through my eyes, leads the reader to assume that Okenwa’s family is at least somewhat rich. It appears that Adichie added the detail “in the boys’ quarter” to imply that there are other boys (house help) who work for Okenwa’s family. Also, the last part of this sentence where it says “…with the air of someone going reluctantly into battle.” Could be interpreted as Okenwa’s father is nervous to enter the boys’ quarters, perhaps because he rarely does.

So to reiterate, I admire Adichie’s use of detail to express location and imply the main character’s family’s financial stance. As well as her brilliant idea of stating the setting at the beginning of her story. These are great aspects that I’d like to adopt in my writing, most definitely.

The second craft element I highlighted was concrete detail, which, surprisingly didn’t really overlap with setting. Adichie uses concrete detail very purposefully. Her words not only appeal to the senses but also reveal bits about the character.

Here’s some examples of concrete detail in Apollo that appeal to the senses:

They even smelled alike—a menthol scent, from the green vial of Vicks VapoRub…

Raphael served white disks of boiled yam on a bed of greens, and then cubed pawpaw and pineapple.

In the first example provided, Adichie could’ve easily stated that Okenwa’s parents smelled like Vicks, however, she decides to describe that scent for the readers. Adichie also described the color of the Vicks container. This sentence would have an entirely different feel if “a menthol scent” and “from the green vial” were removed. The thorough descriptiveness of this sentence is what makes this imagery so vivid and believable.

And the same goes with the second sentence, Adichie could’ve simply written “Raphael served yams, greens, pawpaw and pineapple.” But instead, she included the color and shapes of the food to make this image for appealing to the readers.

Moving on, the last highlight I’d like to include is when Okenwa wakes up with Apollo.

I pried my lids apart. My eyes burned and itched. Each time I blinked, they seemed to produce more pale ugly fluid that coated my lashes. It felt as if heated grains of sand were under my eyelids.

This excerpt has rather specific concrete detail that I’d describe as nauseating and effective. The detailing of the pale fluid is so well described that I found it disgusting. And the overall excerpt as a whole is very necessary because it uses show-not-tell to convey to the readers that Okenwa is infected with Apollo.

Adichie’s use of not excessive, but pleasantly thorough descriptions in her concrete detail help the story’s imagery appear more vivid to the reader’s, and this craft is something I feel I can learn from and would like to incorporate more in my own writing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are Adichie’s details about setting necessary to the story?
  2. How does Adichie’s use of concrete detail affect how Apollo is read?

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