The Interference of the Past in “Ghosts”
Culture perceives ghosts as apparitions that appear in the dark to petrify the living. Adichie’s interpretation of ghosts, however, transcends the literal. In “Ghosts,” true phantoms are the memories that haunt us. James’ past trauma festers as memories, eventually altering his identity. These memories interrupt his life, moving him to acknowledge the suffering he has repressed. This traps James between the past and present, resulting in a fractured sense of self. James’ changing identity allows him to accept the unreal and deviate from his logically-based beliefs. Through the war and its aftermath, James recognizes his powerlessness. This shift in control changes his approach to corruption. Trauma, regardless of his neglect, transforms James’ perception of culture, power, and spirituality. By interweaving past and present, Adichie illuminates suffering’s effect on identity.
Suffering moves James’ identity to the boundary of the past and present. He does not fully engage in the current moment, nor does he accept the trauma of his past. Adichie constantly shifts between his memories and the present narrative, thereby reinforcing James’ fractured sense of self. When Ikenna asks about Zik, James avoids the consequences of trauma. “‘The war took Zik,’ I said in Igbo. Speaking of death in English has always had for me a disquieting finality” (Adichie 4). James longs for the time before suffering, unable to voice his pain aloud. His differentiation between English and Igbo reinforces this disparity. Just as he feels trapped in the outskirts of two cultures, he becomes stuck between the past and present. As Nkiru, the university, and the townspeople move forward, the past isolates James. He detaches from his community, simultaneously detaching from the present. This detachment lends itself to James’ narrative. A removed sense of self compels James to relate everyday events to the suffering of his past. In this way, detached autobiography allows him to effectively process and reflect. James’ developing identity translates into his spirituality.
Through Ebere’s ghost, Adichie illustrates trauma’s impact on beliefs. Upon experiencing loss, James deviates from rationality to enjoy Ebere’s comforting presence. The role of a professor demands a factual perspective, therefore triggering Ikenna’s doubt. This response mirrors James’ former identity. James reflects, “We are the educated ones, taught to keep tightly rigid our boundaries of what is considered real” (Adichie 6). James takes on a critical tone towards a reason-based ideology. He mocks the assumption that education cannot coexist with spirituality. Through suffering, James’ system of thought evolves past the tangible. His feelings of isolation and loss manifest in the ghost of Ebere. In this sense, she serves as a coping mechanism. James’ detached autobiography seamlessly transitions the reader from the real to the unreal. His reliable narration makes the reader struggle to decide Ebere’s realness. James’ evolving beliefs, supported by his point of view, foster his eventual acceptance.
Although James admits powerlessness, he looks toward the future with hope. He recognizes the futility in fixing a broken system and finds peace in this acceptance. James no longer wants to rebel like he did in the war, but rather accepts corruption as inevitable. Upon seeing the fake drug importer on TV, James is not passive, “But I was not offended, not as egregiously as I would have been if Ebere did not visit” (Adichie 9). He contrasts humanity’s tendency towards corruption against his love for Ebere. In this way, James accepts his lack of control while maintaining hope for the future. Moreover, James proves his readiness to reunite with his wife and daughter. He removes himself from the affairs of the living world to prepare for the afterlife. James tells his story of corruption as his final act of peaceful resistance. By relaying his suffering in detached autobiography, the reader recognizes James’ integrity, untouched by selfish motivations. Ikenna, characterized by his advocacy for change, signifies James’ former self. After experiencing suffering, James’ changing sense of self allows him to accept his lack of control.
“Ghosts” illustrates trauma’s transformation of identity by incorporating the past. As James detaches from the present, he develops a fractured sense of self. He cannot accept the past, so his pain festers in his memories. This suffering compels James’ spirituality to evolve. He chooses to believe in the unreal so Ebere’s ghost can relieve his isolation. After experiencing trauma, James accepts his lack of control. He accepts corruption’s inevitability as he prepares for the afterlife. These shifts in thought, belief, and power transform James’ identity. Through his memories, Adichie forces James to confront the ‘ghosts’ he has chosen to neglect.
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Culture perceives ghosts as apparitions that appear in the dark to petrify the living. Adichie’s interpretation of ghosts, however, transcends the literal. In “Ghosts,” true phantoms are the memories that […]