Garden Eggs or Apocalyptic Easter Eggs?

Savannah Burley, Hallie Edic, Iris Kahris, Kathleen McCarey, Marie Naudus

Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Lagoon, takes place in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Okorafor blends many Nigerian traditions into her work and makes the setting a key focal point in the narrative. In the novel, garden eggs are mentioned frequently and come to be an integral piece of the conclusion. Garden eggs are a type of eggplant popular in African countries. Additionally, “garden egg is used as a less expensive meat substitute because its spongy texture allows it to absorb other flavors, similar to meat” (Mangan). The garden egg is significant to many African cultures, it is often shared at special events and given as gifts as they represent fertility, friendship, respect and are a sign of a welcoming community. When Adaora is trying to make her new extraterrestrial friend, Ayodele, feel welcomed in her home, she discovers that her new companion enjoys garden eggs specifically. Adaora notes how “Ayodele had eaten every scrap of food Adaora placed before her… commenting the entire time how enjoyable it all was” (38). When Adaora questions Ayodele about if the food was satisfactory, Ayodele specifically notes her pleasure in consuming the garden eggs. In later scenes, Ayodele can be found enjoying the vegetable. In mid conversation, Adaora describes how Ayodele was “happily munching on a garden egg” (42). Ayodele is new to culture in Lagos, but already is attached to the local cuisine. The garden eggs in the novel first operate as a way for Ayodele and Adaora to grow their friendship and later are used as a way to show how the novel operates under the terms of apocalyptic fiction.

Our Black Apocalyptic Fiction class is centered around novels that connect to apocalyptic ideas. When examining how Lagoon fits into this category, it is important to first define apocalypse. Commonly, apocalypses are defined as, “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.” However, in relation to this course, our class has defined an apocalypse as the complete, final destruction of the world. In the novel, multiple characters discuss the events that are happening around Ayodele as the apocalypse. When Fisayo witnesses the video of Ayodele addressing the Lagos community, she thinks: “this is the rapture, the apocalypse, the end” (129). Fisayo cannot wrap her mind around what is happening and assumes that it is the sign that the world is coming to an end. However, Agu has a differing way of comprehending the event. When his cousin questions him about whether he thinks “‘this is the end of days,’” Agu responds with a hard “‘no’” (151). Despite whether or not the characters view the events as apocalyptic, the clear destruction of the city, alien invasion, riots, and monsters coming to the surface, it is clear that this novel falls under the genre of apocalyptic fiction.

 By the end of Lagoon, it is clear that garden eggs become a crucial part of the plot and can connect directly to how the novel operates under the genre of apocalyptic fiction. Our class discussion, which defines apocalypse as the destruction of a world, can fit into the novel by the way in which Ayodele’s death brings about a vast change in the civilians of Lagos, destroying their notions of the original world and creating something new. When Ayodele is dying in Adaora’s arms, the alien musters the strength to speak to her friend: “‘You people need help on the outside but also within… I will go within… Adaora… let go of me’” (268). Ayodele enacts change in the world that Adaora knows. She relates how they will “‘all be a bit… alien’” before she slowly dies, using her final breath to state simply: “‘Garden eggs. Nothing better’” (268). Ayodele dies thinking of a happy moment: eating garden eggs. Garden eggs have made a great impact on her and connect her to her friend, Adaora, who shared the vegetable with her originally. After Ayodele’s death, Adaora notes “a faint tomatoey scent of… garden eggs” and was “overcome with a craving for garden eggs” (269). Ayodele’s spirit enters into all the people of Lagos, forever becoming a part of them. In this sense, Ayodele can be seen at the katechon for the apocalypse. The katechon withholds the apocalypse and has positive connotations. In the Andrew Santana Kaplan article, “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” Kaplan defines the katechon as “the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world” (80). It is Ayodele’s mission to stop the destruction she sees happening in Lagos. Lagos needs change due to the people and government destroying themselves. With this understanding, the thing that is destroying the world is not the aliens like would be commonly thought, but the Lagos government and people themselves. Ayodele sees the way in which the people of Lagos are destroying themselves, and in order to put a stop to this destruction, she places a piece of her soul into each individual in the city. Adaora credits Ayodele and her people “‘being catalysts of change. Wherever they go, they bring change’” (158). Adaora views Ayodele as the positive force she claims to be. By entering into the people of Lagos, Ayodele is using her last efforts to help, as she says, on the outside and within. 

The events that took place in Lagoon connect to the idea of apocalyptic fiction and strengthens our understanding of what it means to be in a class called Black Apocalyptic Fiction. Lagoon shares many common themes with the previous books we have read thus far in the class. Similar to Wild Seed and the characters of Anyanwu and Doro, the characters in Lagoon also share god-like powers. Anthony, Agu, and Adaora all possess powers that differentiate them from common people, which is the reason Ayodele chooses them as the three people who are swallowed by the sea. In this sense, while Ayodele deems herself the ambassador, Anthony, Agu, and Adaora become almost prophets. These three are chosen to announce the upcoming apocalypse, whether or not they view the matter as apocalyptic or not. Ayodele’s ability to transform into other people and animals are also shared with Wild Seed’s Anyanwu. Connecting the novel to other novels we have seen in this class helps to strengthen the understanding of how Lagoon can be read through the lens of an apocalyptic work of fiction.

Works Cited

Mangan, Author(s): Frank. “Garden Egg.” WorldCrops, 27 Jan. 2017, https://worldcrops.org/crops/garden-egg.  

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon. Saga Press, 2016

Santana Kaplan, Andrew. “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought.” The Comparist, vol. 43, Oct. 2019

Sule, Fati. “The Bittersweet Wonders Of The Nigerian Garden Eggs!” https://jd-publishing.com/the-bittersweet-wonders-of-the-nigerian-garden-eggs

Tsalal: A Beacon of Hope?

Written by: Sage Kearney, Kathleen McCarey, Marie Naudus, Kya Primm, Isaac Schiller, and Owen Vincent

Merriam-Webster defines denotation as “a direct specific meaning as distinct from an implied or associated idea.” Conversely, Merriam-Webster defines connotation as “something suggested by a word or thing or the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes.” To better understand the difference between denotation and connotation, we can think of the common phrase, “that is just how the cookie crumbles.” Should the phrase be interpreted based on its denotation, one might expect for the ways in which a cookie falls apart to be explained. However, when interpreting this based on its connotation, the speaker is referring to an unfortunate event that there is no foreseeable solution to. To give a clear example, if you miss the RTS bus here at Geneseo, a common response by a defeated, yet resigned, student could be to say “well, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.”

The tensions between connotation and denotation in Mat Johnson’s novel, Pym, reach their climax as the reader is introduced to Thomas Karvel’s “paradise.” As Chris stumbles upon Thomas Karvel overlooking the interior of his world, Chris inquires about how Karvel views change and how he has come to create his own sanctuary. Karvel replies, “No. There is only one look. There is only one vision. Perfection isn’t about change, diversity. It’s about getting closer to that one vision” (251). The connotation revolving around this statement is that Karvel wishes to extinguish all diversity and keep his world white. He values whiteness over all else and has his world mirror this belief. If only analyzing the denotation, the reader could interpret this as an innocent if not singularly focused display of artistic vision. Karvel says. “No, what I’m still creating is the land itself” (251). In doing so, he claims that he is only designing a room to manifest his artistic vision, but, he is actually creating a world  in which there is only whiteness and, by extension of whiteness, perfection. However, an analysis of the connotations at play reveal a discriminatory message as it highlights his obsession with whiteness. This “one vision” belongs to him; he believes that all of the best things on Earth are in his dome and happen to be white. His vision, at first glance, is jumbled. However, Karvel clarifies his intentions when he states that he’ll “never leave the U.S. of A” (236). Karvel is striving to create an ideal America, while removing any non-white context from these “components.” While Karvel and Chris are defending the 3.2 Ultra BioDome, the arctic snow monkeys are rapidly approaching but Karvel doesn’t notice them: “‘I don’t see anybody. Are you sure somebody is there?’” to which Chris responds, frustrated, “‘There, right there, in front of your face’…not even aware of my tone” (263). The denotation of this is that Karvel could not distinguish a white figure against a white canvas in Antarctica. The connotation however, would be that Karvel cannot comprehend whiteness as anything impure or as a threat. The culmination of all these events cause Chris to become wary of the motives of white individuals, humans and arctic monkeys alike. 

Chris’ physical and ontological assaults from an all white world propel him to an all Black world, Tsalal. Once he discovers what he believes to be Tsalal, Chris explains the image he sees as a man “shaking his hand in the air, waving it, and we, relieved, waved ours back” (322). The novel ends with Chris stating how “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” (322). Chris is able to see Tsalal as a symbol of hope due to his prior experiences. In the opening scene, Chris recounts how he was fired due to his refusal to join the diversity committee and was denied tenure. Chris explains to his replacement: “‘The diversity committee has one primary purpose: so that the school can say it has a diversity committee. They need that for when students get upset about race issues or general ethnic stuff… People find that very relaxing’” (18). Chris views his role at the university as being a token, used only for his race. These experiences are not isolated in America, but can be seen in his experiences in Antarctica as well. Upon interacting with Mrs. Karvel, Chris acknowledges: “I often forget to some I actually look ‘black,’ not just ethnically but along the ‘one drop’ line…in that sense, Mrs. Karvel’s discomfort with my presence as a Negro was more comforting to me than the trepidation I often feel not knowing how I will be perceived” (239). Chris vocalizes to the reader how he is constantly in a sense of discomfort over how his race will be interpreted by others. This discomfort comes to a head when Chris realizes Thomas Karvel’s unhidden trepidation: “it was just that, clearly, the six of us were more startling to him presently than the one unfortunate Tekelian who was no doubt that moment ravaging Karvel’s stores of frozen pastry products” (273). Chris notices that Karvel is more comfortable with the presence of a seven foot snowman than he was with the other black human’s in the room, further highlighting his desire and favoritism for whiteness. All of these accumate to Chris’ worldview being one of skepticism regarding white intentions. 

These events can work to show how Chris views his arrival to Tsalal as a positive outcome. A world where he cannot see any whiteness upon his approach is a welcome change for him. This vision provides hope and the prospect of no longer having to question white intentions which have proven to stem from selfish motives. Chris views the connotations of the individuals of Tsalal waving as welcoming and can only imagine a positive outcome upon arriving to the island because it does not appear to be touched by whiteness, and thus is viewed as a place of refuge for Chris. However, there are other connotations that readers can see from this scene. The waving can come across as unwelcoming, a signal for Chris and his crew to turn around and leave. His eagerness to want to be accepted by this group can blind Chris from any danger that could actually be on the island. The individuals may not want Chris to corrupt them. We believe the waving on Tsalal and its ambiguity to be an overarching signifier to represent Western views, more specifically those that have affected Chris throughout his life in America. Chris views this final interaction as positive because he is seeing a land that has not been affected by whiteness. However, they may not accept him because of the way he has already been affected by the same system he is trying to escape. He has been so affected by American views on race that he does not recognize that there is more to acceptance in society than being judged by it.

The Apocalypse Through a New Lens

Kathleen McCarey

Beth McCoy

September 26, 2022

Essay 1

When first registering for a class called Black Apocalyptic Fiction, I was met with some hesitation. I am an anxious person, and I feared that possibly the subjects of the novels that were required in such a class would be too intense for me to handle. Having grown up in an era where my peers were obsessed with The Walking Dead or movies like Zombieland, the word “apocalyptic” always brings forth to mind images of half-dead creatures, bloody bodies, and eerie settings that work to make the audience uneasy. Of course, in my mind, anything apocalyptic had to fall into the category of horror. Despite my worry that this class was not for me, I pushed aside my hesitation and registered anyway. The course readings thus far, to my delight, are not ones that I would categorize as being in the horror genre. While American Desert does revolve around a character who is neither alive or dead, it is enough for my faint heart to handle. The works that I have completed in the class, Andrew Santana Kaplan’s “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” as well as Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, have caused me to question my own understanding of what apocalyptic fiction truly is. The Santana Kaplan article and Butler’s Wild Seed have caused me to rethink and evaluate how I view and interpret apocalyptic fiction and what can be categorized as such.

Andrew Santana Kaplan’s work, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, provided me with a new level of understanding of the word “apocalypse” and its relation to Afro-Pessimism, an idea I was not at first familiar with. I found this article difficult to work through and I frequently had to reread and lookup words. I struggled through this article, read it again, and struggled a bit more. Luckily, class discussion the following day provided some relief when I heard my peers shared the same experience. The Santana Kaplan article left me trying to figure out numerous elements of the idea of the apocalypse. Before enrolling in Black Apocalyptic Fiction, my understanding of the word apocalypse was merely the end of the world. Santana Kaplan notes that despite how the word apocalypse is used interchangeably with the destruction of the world, the word itself means to “uncover” and how for the apostle, Paul, “apo-kalupsis names the unveiling of the messianic event and the passing figure of this world” (81). Santana Kaplan goes on to explain how the crucial element of the apocalypse is the revelation, “which shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error” (81). While I worked through this article, I came to understand that the Afro-Pessimistic approach to the apocalypse revolved around the idea that in order for the effects of chattel slavery to be rectified, the world would need to end. The article also presented the idea of the “katechon”, or how Dr. McCoy explained it in class, the restraining force on the antichrist. This was yet another layer that developed my understanding of what exactly a class on Black Apocalyptic Fiction would entail and what relation the apocalypse had on the texts that would be discussed in class. The Andrew Santana Kaplan article granted me with starting blocks that I could use while growing my understanding of what exactly apocalyptic fiction looks like and its relation to the Black experience.

The article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, was especially helpful in examining Octavia Butler’s novel, Wild Seed, through the lens of Black Apocalyptic Fiction and its relation to the apocalypse as a whole. The setting of Wild Seed, which is not a barren wasteland or zombie infested city, does not resemble my original understanding of an apocalyptic world. I was left to figure out how Anyanwu’s seventeenth-century village in Africa, and later nineteenth century America, could be seen as an apocalyptic world. However, my understanding of the apocalypse was flawed. A world that needed ending did not have to be the physical world, it could be an individual’s personal world, their life. I was constantly rethinking how I understood the apocalypse through my reading of Wild Seed. The character of Doro, a being able to inhabit bodies, as well as Anywanu, another character possessing powers who is not exactly human, provided me with a way to work through how an apocalypse could be individual. Doro’s creation story in itself is apocalyptic, having died and then being resurrected. Butler sets the scene by writing how “he was thirteen when the full agony of transition hit him” and how “his body had died, and for the first time, he had transferred to the living human body nearest him” (189). This human body was his mother’s. Doro ultimately killed every living person in his village, destroying the world he had grown up in. His body had died, his people had died, and the world in which he was so familiar with was now destroyed. To rectify the emotional damage he caused, Doro led the rest of his life building an army, a family, of people to surround himself with and to create his own world. However, Doro created this new world through the death and misery of others. Anywanu, unhappy with the killing of innocent people, acts as the driving force against Doro’s mission. When reading Wild Seed with the ideas presented in the Santana Kaplan article, Anyanwu would act as the katechon. Anywanu, however, faces her own apocalypse when her world ends as well. In the final scene of the novel, after Anywanu has finally agreed to spend her eternity with Doro, relinquishes the final piece of her identity before Doro: her name. Butler writes how “she became Emma Anyanwu. ‘It will give people something to call me that they can pronounce’” (298). In this moment, Anywanwu finally opens up to the possibility of a new life by allowing herself to connect with others, not shielding herself from the companionship of new individuals. Anyanwu strips away her protective walls and comes to be known by a European name as a way to set up roots in America and restart her life. If I read Wild Seed without reading the Santana Kaplan article prior, I would not have been able to explain how Wild Seed could fit into the genre of apocalyptic fiction. 

After reading “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” and Wild Seed, I am left trying to figure out how the other novels in this class will shape my understanding of what apocalyptic literature can look like. These texts have already equipped me with key terms and ideas that I will be able to transfer to my critical reading of the novels that follow. At this point in the class, I am curious to see if the rest of the fiction that I read in Black Apocalyptic Fiction will depict apocalyptic moments seen in Wild Seed or if I will be reunited with my original images of how I understood the apocalypse to look like. Regardless, I know that my definition of what I see as apocalyptic fiction will continue to mold and grow, leaving me with a drastically different interpretation than the one that I entered the class with.