Garden Eggs: A Nutritiously Bitter and Apocalyptic Snacc ™

By: Lidabel Guzman Avila, Adelia Callear, Kendall Cruise, Madolley Donzo, Marlee Fancet, Kya Primm, and Nicholas Parks

Praised for its nutritional benefits and bitter taste, the garden egg, an eggplant variation predominantly grown in West African countries, is known as a ‘super-fruit,’ aiding in the consumption of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. The fruit—sometimes perceived vegetable—assists in the digestion of food and protection of cells from damage, due to all of its valuable minerals. Heavily grown in Nigeria, it has acquired  both an agricultural and cultural significance to the country’s inhabitants. The fruit is especially unique to Lagos, Nigeria, adding to people’s sense of national pride and togetherness because the city is a significant centerpiece to the country. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon actualizes this dignified sense of community in Lagos, Nigeria, both through people’s connection to the garden eggs, and the city’s collective experiences with extraterrestrial beings that suddenly find themselves in the country in the 21st century.  The coming of these ‘aliens’ catalyzes several series of events in the novel, where people, communities, and values seem to be sacrificed for the sake of different people’s peace during this apocalyptic instance. Apocalypse, as defined by Andrew Santana Kaplan, “primarily means to uncover, it shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error,” (Kaplan 81). Here, Kaplan emphasizes that world-ending efforts are not only necessary, but inevitable in a lot of cases. They argue that occurrences of apocalypse—on individual and grand scales—happen over the course of people’s lives constantly, especially the lives of marginalized people. Okorafor’s Lagoon explores how needed these endings are, why they might occur, and how deserving people are of their super-fruit garden eggs at the end of these apocalypses.

The garden egg, by name, seems to suggest a type of poultry product, though in actuality, it is a plant species. Raw, the garden egg, also recognized as a type of eggplant, can be perceived as a vegetable because of its bitter taste, when in actuality, it is a fruit. The perceived deception of this taste and the general belief that fruits are meant to be sweet-tasting connects to the actual experience of the aliens, who do find garden eggs sweet, purely because of their status as a fruit. In a sense, the aliens take things just as they are defined to be, as they are experiencing things like tasting a fruit for the first time, without the social connotations that what typically classifies as fruit is much sweeter than garden eggs. So, when Ayodele gives up her life and her mist spreads to all people in the country (and seemingly beyond, too), many people sense the taste of garden eggs and the experience of one man is described through the lines, “He reached into his bag and brought out one of the smaller garden eggs he’d just purchased. He’d been hungry for them for hours” and “No one noticed as he bit it like it was the sweetest mango and continued on this way” (Okorafor 284). Many people now perceive the taste of garden eggs, especially when they’re raw, to be much sweeter than before.

The significance of garden eggs within Lagoon appears small, but in reality they pose a deeper connection between the human population and the extraterrestrials. Garden eggs are named after their resemblance to something else and are connected to the earth. They hold nutrition and a tasteful bitterness that makes them desirable and regarded highly above other foods mentioned within the book. Their nature is similar to how the aliens can resemble anything and are seemingly connected by one larger unit; they hold much more advanced technology and want to bring this innovative progression to the Nigerian population. Garden egg contains “egg” in the name, however, it is a plant and not a typical “egg” that we would think of; Ayodele is an alien, but she is just as much an alien as anyone else in Lagos, especially after her foggy departure and absorption into everyone, as seen through the peoples’ cravings for garden eggs afterwards. Within the novel as Ayodele died, she stated, “We are a collective. Every part of us, every tiny universe within us is conscious. I am we, I am we…You’ll all be a bit…alien.” (Okorafor 268). They are all connected within the larger picture of society as a whole, which the Lagos people find very hard to accept as they view the incoming of these foreign people as an impending doom that will end their own society. Rather, the actuality is that the aliens desire to improve the society they come to cohabit. Garden eggs are not represented effectively by the connotations of their name, just as Ayodele and the aliens are represented ineffectively by the name “alien” as they are no longer aliens to the humans of Lagos. Both find homes within Nigeria and improve the life of the present inhabitants. Garden eggs are in a way katechon–‘the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world’ as described by The Nomos of the Earth in Kaplan’s essay–yet opposingly a catalyst for the apocalypse where we see them play a metaphorical role as a white flag raised in addition to the object that spurs the chaos for the rest of Nigeria as they become included in the context of the “apocalyptic” situation.

This “apocalyptic” situation, for Lagosians and other Nigerians alike, presents itself as the arrival of Ayodele and her people. Upon their introduction, there is an uncovering of corruption, during Ayodele’s discussion to “bring [them] together and refuel [their] future. Your land is full of a fuel that is tearing you apart…We are here to nurture your world.” Ayodele made it clear to the Lagosians that their corruption was preventing their country from prospering with the resources they possessed. While the connotation of her desire to ‘nurture the Lagosians’ would be to help them stop corruption, following the release of the fog, we came to realize that Ayoldele was actually referring to the literal meaning of her phrase. Ayodele had intended to literally stop their corruption through the spreading of garden eggs, aka a superfruit. Rather than allowing themselves to heed the warnings and understand the preachings of Ayodele, the people of Lagos set out to kill and destroy anyone they deem aliens, turning their back on family and friends alike. Fisayo, one of the witnesses of the oncoming apocalypse––Ayodele walking out of the water––, decides that “Lagos is hopeless” and begins killing people she deems unsafe. While this is happening, the people who were surrounding Adaora’s home, awaiting Anthony’s free performance, loot televisions, computers, and anything else they can get their hands on because despite the impending end of what they once knew to be Nigeria, they find themselves needing to commit these acts of corruption. Even the Area boys in the streets near Bar Beach find themselves running around with machetes, assaulting people, stealing cars, and allowing their base needs to take root in whatever is happening. This ‘uncovering’ that Ayodele has alluded to––the idea that her people aren’t creating the chaos taking over Nigeria, but only exposing it––is the basis of the apocalypse in Nigeria. The aliens believe that Nigeria’s old way of living, that the corruption plaguing them needs to be exhibited before it can be abolished. 

With that being said, the fog, with its “faint tomatoey scent of…garden eggs” is seemingly the end of what we consider Nigeria’s apocalypse to be. After Ayodele’s sacrifice, not only was “everyone in Lagos craving garden eggs,” but a calmness had blanketed them. Once the screens of televisions and phones flashed on for the second time, many Nigerians listened attentively to the message presented by the president. A message stating that “Last night, Lagos burned. But like a phoenix, it will rise from ashes–a greater creature than ever before.” This is the end of corruption in Nigeria. The end of their oil mining efforts. The end of the pollution of their home. And the beginning of a “transitional shift.” For this momentous point in Nigerian history marks a new way of life for every citizen of Nigeria. They now carry a bit of alien-ness in every one of them, allowing them to see through their base needs and proceed toward the progress of a better Nigeria. But with this revelation to the rest of the world, with the president’s nationalistic pride within his speech, many other countries find themselves jealous of what Nigeria is experiencing, signifying a universal apocalypse. “Other people in other parts of the world…agreed…Lagos is a cancer…[they] wish to cut…out before it spreads.”  This fear of what is happening in Nigeria––specifically Lagos––has caused people around the world to notice the unrest occurring around them and now, the only option is for them to stop Nigeria from succeeding in their collaboration with the aliens or it will mean the end for their own nations. It is an uncovering to the rest of the world. A show of how they will fall as Nigeria rises. And an end to what they once knew to be the world they lived in.

Returning to Santana Kaplan’s definition of the apocalypse and its ability to uncover this sentiment rings true in relation to the aliens within the body of this novel. Before the aliens arrived in Lagos, the oil companies had been allowed to run rampant and corrupt government officials had continued to allow it to occur. This then harmed the natural world of Lagos, “They [oil companies] brought the stench of dryness, then they brought the noise and made the world bleed black ooze that left poison rainbows on the water’s surface” (Okorafor 3). The aliens sought to correct this corruption by changing the composition of the water around Lagos to make it more beneficial for the creatures who lived in the waters, even if that made it more harmful to humans, since the water is the home of the animals while the land is the home of the humans. The aliens then bring new technology that can help buffer the losses in the economy due to the ceasing of the oil companies as directed by the President after the leaders of Nigeria and the aliens meet and compromise. These ideas of uncovering, aliens, and the garden eggs come together to merge in the real world towards our interpretation of the aliens in the book being symbolic of immigrants/refugees in our world as supported by statements like the one Ayodele makes when addressing the public at large saying, “‘…We are guests who wish to become citizens…here.” (Okorafor 111). 

The real life connotations of this book come from its ability to teach humanity as a whole the importance of learning from one another. . This is just as the change in perspectives of the garden eggs, which were once colloquially thought of as bitter-tasting “vegetables,” but after Ayodele’s sacrifice, they begin to taste like sweet fruit to the people of Lagos. This shows how welcoming in new ideas of others from the outside—in regard to foods, ideals, or policies—into the body of the country/space they are now inhabiting can result in a shift in the perspectives of those who already lived there. The defamiliarization of their views could be one that makes the country they all collectively inhabit more enjoyable, like in the way the aliens made the natural world of Nigeria healthier and the taste of the garden egg sweeter: the perfect treat after an accumulation of apocalyptic events.

Chris Jaynes: the Anti-Hero of the Day

By Adelia Callear, Savannah Burley, Makayla Garrison, Marisa Greaney, Iris Kahris, Nick Parks, McKinley Skala

In Mat Johnson’s novel, Pym, denotation and connotation are used in various parts throughout the novel where interactions could be viewed in various ways. These terms are closely related, both serving each other through their own meanings. Denotation is defined as the “literal or primary meaning of a word, in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests”. It is the direct meaning(s) of a word as distinguished from ideas associated with it. For example, when one says “sick,” the denotation of this would be when one is physically ill. On the other end, connotation is an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal/primary meaning, primarily an abstract/subjective meaning. Referring to the first example, “sick” depending on the tone/context it’s presented in could mean “awesome”, “cool”, “gross”, “gnarly”, “ill”, “unwell”, etc. Connotations tend to be associated as positive or negative, certain words that may have the same denotation can be described connotatively differently. Childlike would be seen with a more positive connotation whereas childish is negative, implying immaturity. Antique is more positive, portraying something rustic and serving value, whereas decrepit is negative, seen as old and holding little value. Within our reading of Pym, Johnson integrates connotations within his writing then explicitly defines or explains his references through denotations within the footnotes. On page 214, Pym describes the Tsalalians as black, which offers Johnson an opportunity to explain through footnote the different connotations associated with a white person or calling someone else black. He writes, “‘Pym said ‘black’ the way really white people do: not like they are simply naming the pigment, which those people do in one quick syllable, but in the way that made the word specific to Negroes. This black had at least two syllables and there was always enough emphasis on the second syllable to convey all of the anxiety the speaker had about my ethnic group as a whole. Ba-laaaaaaaaack.” This footnote offers insight into the way in which Pym perceives the world. In addition, this example shows the importance of tone and understanding different connotations of a word because it can imply a totally different meaning. Additionally going deeper into different characters’ characterizations, three of the crew members associate “love” with different connotations despite knowing the true denotation. Angela sees love as something flirtatious, consuming, and selfless as seen in her last act of trying to save her husband Nathaniel. Nathaniel in turn, views love as more possessive in nature and complacent, seeing Angela as “his” and expecting her to do as he wishes. Chris reprimands Nathaniel for these views over Angela, yet hypocritically thinks the same way. He feels love more selfishly and obsessively, since he’s vowed to win back Angela eventually and hasn’t rid her from his mind for almost a decade after the end of their relationship. 

As we finished Pym, the ending scene created a plethora of interpretations for the reader to reflect on. The class had a discussion about the multiple meanings behind the Tsalalians waving their hands in the air. The frantic waving could be interpreted as excitement, fear, enthusiasm, or the seeking of attention. Other interpretations were possible warning signs or motions of shooing the tiny crew away. Chris had expressed that they were “relieved” and “waved [their arms] back” at the man (322). Chris and Garth did not acknowledge the specific context of the Tsalian’s actions, yet they input their own connotations which allowed the reader to infer the original contexts to be more positive than negative, especially given the overall journey of the novel to be to land on this island and allow Chris to finally see Tsalal. He further expresses his comfortability arriving to this foreign land by stating “On the shore all I could discern was a collection of brown people, and this, of course, is a planet on which such are the majority” (page 322). Chris is accustomed to living in the minority, as the readers became aware of right from the start of the novel with Chris’ experience with his rejection of tenure and the Diversity Committee. He desired to find a place on Earth where he would be fully comfortable with those around him. Chris and his fellow companions, in a way, escaped the rest of the world by pursuing their research/work in Antarctica, only to be put right back into the minority and enslaved shortly after by an ironically white species (the snowmen). Chris’s miscalculations and ambitious nature brought the demise of the majority of the crew; his adventure leading them away from the end of the world only to have their own be crushed as well, more permanently for some than others. 

The ending of Pym also brings into question how human nature can lead to genocidal actions. Chris in particular, felt disgusted by the creatures, and felt little to no sympathy towards the life that the creatures were living. In his mind, poisoning all the creatures was acceptable, intending to kill all of them, was justifiable in order for the crew and himself to survive. The way the creatures are described by Chris portray them in a way that leads their physical attributes far away from that of a human, intending to dehumanize the creatures as much as possible. Some dehumanizing language such as calling the humanoid beings “beasts” and “sausage nose”, meant to belittle their existence (302, 305).  This is part of the reason why Chris had little remorse, similar to colonizers, as they often saw native peoples as less or nothing like humans, or what they thought as a “human”.  Furthermore in regards to human nature, we see that Chris embodies many different traits–both negative and positive–that also reside within the other characters. Nathaniel and Chris both are nearly the same person, just depicted as two different characters who despise each other for the traits they each possess. Both are selfish and possessive, especially in regards to Angela’s love, as mentioned earlier in our essay. Augustus and Chris also hold pity for one another, observing the situations the other is in–Chris’s enslavement and starvation vs Augustus’s poor living condition and isolation from his species. They additionally hold large amounts of curiosity as they each try to understand the other’s species/language (as shown with Augustus learning a few English words and Chris understanding their culture/way of life). Lastly, Chris and Pym, despite being portrayed as opposing characters, they are basically parallels of each other within different races. They both are self-serving and strive to support their race. They regard the places they found as Heaven with its inhabitants as gods or godly beings, the Tekelili to Pym as the Tsalalians are to Chris. Human nature is taken into a much wider perspective within Pym, its entire existence creating both beautiful things yet devastating endings/events for others.

What It Means To See an End

In my nineteen years, eight months, one day, thirteen hours and twenty-nine minutes on this Earth, I have had my world end four times. What felt like devastating and life changing experiences that tore my being apart, they were, in actuality, miniscule when only applied to myself in the scale of the world’s constant tragedy. I had not coined the term “apocalypse” to be associated with the definitions we have discussed in class, yet they make the utmost amount of sense in retrospect. Most societies have been socially trained through the media to link ideas like zombies, nuclear waste, and other science-fiction fantasy-esque topics to what an apocalypse is. However, taking into account the essay “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” by Santana Kaplan, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, and an introduction to Percival Everett’s novel American Desert, we can concur that an apocalypse does not have to behave like the typical depiction we see, rather it can consist of a varying scale. For some individuals, they state their apocolypses to be the world around them being destroyed, whereas others portray their conceptions as when their own personal world dies in some way, shape, or form. Despite the take, an apocalypse in my mind seems to require some form of change in normalcy. Taking into account the pendulum of apocalyptic definitions, I have wondered which has a harsher impact: an individual apocalypse or a worldly one.  

My world ended when I was five years old for the first time when my parents separated. At that time I didn’t quite understand the depth to the seriousness of the situation, nor the impact it would wreck on my life years afterward. By incorporating the speculations from above, I would describe this instance in my life to be an individual apocalypse. Within the literary work Wild Seed, the main characters Anyanwu and Doro experience a vast array of their own calamities. Anyanwu has lived for centuries and has lost many children, outgrown them and watched them and generations afterwards pass on. She loses her freedom when Doro’s life and her’s intertwined, their immortality chaining one to the other out of self preservation and loneliness. Her understanding of her surroundings is constantly altered, she is barely given time to adjust and step onto her feet. Doro–while he does not get the most sympathy throughout the majority of the book–we observed had his life collapse when everything he’d known to be was gone, his humanity revoked along with the lives of his townsfolk. In these instances, when the personal world was altered, the outside world was affected in a dire way. Anyanwu was taken from her home where her life was flipped upside down, and in turn she was used to breed a possibly enhanced human race with potential powers, weaving the effects of her estrangement within a plethora of communities around the planet. Doro’s apocalypse instilled fear in many colonies; it altered many parts of societies through his mission to breed the perfect race. Henceforth, when we observe an individual change, occasionally that change can send a reverberation of ripples throughout the world. 

I was in ninth grade when my world ended for the third time. I came to the realization through an introduction to high school and the beginnings of complex schooling that the place I lived in was not the wonderful place I had been told growing up. In fact, it is filled with nonstop plagues of death that take various appearances all over. This epiphany was not my own world falling apart, so much so as the perception of the world finally being clear enough to see it already was in the process of devastation. In Wild Seed, I had pondered about Doro’s apocalypse he experienced as a child and how that affected his surroundings, the small to the big ripple effect. On the other hand, Anyanwu fell into one of those ripples sent out by Doro’s immortality. Her life changed once Doro knew of her existence, but did she change the lives of those around her due to her own apocalypse? Or possibly it manifest from a separate cataclysmic event in someone else’s timeline, AKA Doro’s. I’ve established that the two powerful beings are connected on many levels. If we take it a step further, we can see how personal apocalypses create worldly changes, but also vice versa. The typical depiction of an apocalypse through a movie or video game centers its focus on one individual person, enduring the aftereffects of the collapse of their society. Anyanwu’s personal realm was damaged and dismantled due to Doro’s own personal apocalypse, for without his transformation into the creature he is, we would not have seen Anyanwu’s life be modified in a momentous way. She was living her life, pushing through the losses of her family except all the while creating new kinsmen to ease her loneliness. I’ve begun to question to what end does this cycle go, though, and how might the understanding of these topics aid us in comprehending the infiniteness of our finite existence. 

As we read through the beginning of American Desert, I have noticed how typical humanity tends to be when faced with fear-evoking encounters.  When Ted is revived through some unworldly miracle, instead of preaching life and hope, Ted’s city revolted. It spiraled into absolute chaos at the understanding–or lack thereof–of Ted’s rejuvenation. Why do people turn to actions of destruction to process the unknown? How must we alter our minds’ capabilities to stay sane after witnessing unfathomable events? An apocalypse of the individualistic nature, if attention-grabbing enough, acts as an activator for the circumambient communities to revolt, destroying what they knew to eliminate what they didn’t. Within Santana Kaplan’s essay, he discusses how Afro-pessimism requires the end of Western human civilization because the racism lies too deep within history and society. Santana states that “The Worldly privileging of citizenship, rights, and inclusion fundamentally reinforces our constitutive forgetfulness of the question of Black being” (Kaplan 73). Inside humanity there lies constant reminders for people of color that their ancestry endured such traumatic oppression, their lives revoked of individuality. As time passed on, their identities were built back up with the culture they had originally lost as well as the strength in their abilities to find equality. Despite everyone’s best efforts to progressively enhance society into true equality, the endeavors are met with the persistent reminder of a racist presence intertwined into everyday aspects of life. The only way to erase racism is to invoke a cataclysmic event, to fully abolish the wrong-doings of man. To complete this task, however, is almost impossible, not only due to the grandiosity of the act but because society’s ignorance causes many to believe society as a whole understands racism, and because its roots/history is “understood” by the prominent demographic–white people–it is a fathomable concept. Its existence is too known by the majority, therefore Western civilization humanity is not willing to destroy it out of fear.

There are connects through practically everything we see around us, through history and the present, even the future we picture as we wouldn’t be capable to make assumptions without the inclusion of current evidence. In class we conferred about recent events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, black helicopters, new world order conception, Ruby Ridge, and Waco. As we dived into the context of these horrific events, we began to see patterns as one event had a tie, then two ties, then multiple ties to every other event on the board. Society creates issues to solve the ones it feels threaten the sanctity of its structure. Through prejudice, racism, classism, ableism, sexism, etc., the divisions between us all grow wider each passing moment as we ourselves break off into our secluded colonies, prepping for the completely literal end of the planet.