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GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

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GHOSTS by Chimamanda Adichie – Nigeria

About the Author- Chimamanda Adichie.

Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi is an established Nigerian writer. She has written several novels, short stories and nonfictional works. Her major works include Purple Hibiscus, Americanah,

The Thing Around Your Neck and Half of a Yellow Sun among others. Her story ‘Ghost’ was published in The Thing Around Your Neck a collection of her short stories that was published in 2009.

Points to guide interpretation

  • Suffering of retirees as they follow up on their pension.
  • Corruption in government institutions.
  • The University.
  • How people deal with ghosts of the past to survive at present.
  • War and its effects.
  • Counterfeit, drugs and their effects.



The topic is metaphorically used to represent several things: The terrible memories that most people are living with or haunted by. Most people have memories of horrible previous experiences that disturb them. For instance, Ikenna struggles with the loss of his family and his failure to succeed in the Biafran Civil War. Prof James struggles with the loss of his daughter, the destruction of property, the loss of the University’s glory, and the loss of his wife.

Some people were thought dead but turned up alive such as Ikenna. The truly dead but whose spirits visit their loved ones — Ebere -they offer consolation to the bereaved.


  1. Pro James Nwoye

He is a seventy-one-year-old retired professor of Mathematics.

He is the protagonist in the story, and the story is told through his voice. He is the narrator of the story.

He escaped Nsukka when the civil war broke in 1967 and fled to America.

He loses his daughter Zik in the war but gets another daughter (Nkiru) while still in America when he was a lecturer at Berkeley.

He is currently following up on his pension, which is not forthcoming due to the corruption in the University.

He is constantly visited by the ghost of his late wife and has not disclosed this to his daughter Nkiru.

  • Ikenna Okoro

He is a man who was thought to have died in the 1967 Biafran war. During his university lecturing days in the sociology department, he was a renowned activist.

He escaped the Biafran civil war on a Red Cross plane and went to Sweden, where he has lived since 1967.

He lost all his family in the war and never remarried. He returns to Nsukka years later to see how things are. c. Vincent

He is the former driver of Prof James.

He served Prof. James in the eighties when he was the faculty dean.

He is now retired and is following up on his pension, just like Prof and other retirees.

He currently works as a cobbler near the university hostels. Although he is younger than Prof (In his late sixties), he looks much older.

He is seen as a concerned and caring person who always minded about the welfare of Prof.James’ daughter.

d. Ebere

She is the dead wife of Prof. James Nwoye, who appears to him as a ghost. During her time, she portrays some generosity as she would give her daughters old clothes to Vincent for his children. (Satire – giving old clothes)

She has been a caring wife who encouraged James to care for his lovely skin.

Her death is said to have been caused by counterfeit drugs.


Like the title suggests, Chimamanda’s story “Ghost” mainly dwells on how people face and deal with past ghosts, thus informing their present and future. Professor James Nwoye currently lives in a corrupt part of Nigeria where the medical field provides people with counterfeit drugs.

When the story opens, the seventy-one-year-old Professor of mathematics is walking the grounds of the University Bursary, where he is following up on his pension, which he does not get.

GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

The many other retirees that he meets are equally frustrated.

They associate the failure to get their retirement benefits to the corruption of the education minister or the University’s vice- chancellor.

Prof James chats for a while with his former driver Vincent who is to survive the harsh times serving as a cobbler around the university hostel. Vincent inquires about Nkiru (Prof. James’ daughter who lives in America), and James informs him that she is well. The suffering of the people is highlighted in their appearance and hunger. One of the men gathered under a tree requests Prof to buy them bananas as hunger was killing them. Even as he buys them bananas, Prof ironically observes that what they needed was some moisturiser to soften their skin. After leaving the group, Prof. James meets with Ikenna Okoro; a man thought to be long dead. rlhe encounter shocked Prof as he believed that Ikenna, a former colleague and a renowned activist, had died in the Biafran civil war on July 6 1967. When he initially saw him, he thought of throwing sand at him, which was what people do to ghosts. However, his education and the fact that he was walking on concrete grounds prevent him from doing it. The encounter between the two drives Prof down memory lane. He remembers their days at the University where Ikena rebelled when asked to put on ties.

He further remembers how Ikenna acted as an activist fighting for non-academic staff to have better conditions. a flashback, Prof recalls their evacuation from Nsukka on July 6, 1967, when the civil war began. On that day, Ikenna, who stubbornly insisted on going back to the University to get his manuscript, was said to have died.

Ikenna discloses that he escaped Biafra that day on a Red Cross plane that took him to Sweden. He painfully explains that he saw no need to return after the war since all his family was killed when Orlu was bombed.

On his part, Prof James went to America with his wife Ebere but came back in 1970 when the civil war ended. However, they were devastated to find everything in their home destroyed, and their piano was missing. They thus returned to America and only returned to Nsukka in 1976. When Ikenna inquires about their daughter Zik, Prof painfully answers in Igbo that the war took her. He, however, tells him that they got another daughter after the war—the two talk about life during and after the war, with each mentioning their worst moments.

GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

Ikenna asks Prof James about his wife Ebere, and James replies that she died three years ago. He tells him that she visits him. Ikenna appears surprised at the disclosure, so James corrects himself and says that Ebere visited America quite often since their daughter works there as a doctor. Knowing that Ikenna is educated just like him, James knows that Ikenna does not believe in ghosts. He, too, never believed in them until his wife visited him three weeks after the burial. The two talk about the situation ever since the war ended and how things have significantly changed. They point out at the rot in the University — where instead of teaching, people are playing politics and instead of reading and working hard; students are buying grades either with money or their bodies.

The corruption in the university offices does not escape them. James reports how one Josephat Udeana, a vice chancellor for six years, ran the University like his father’s chicken coop leading to the disappearance of money and favouritism in promoting workers. James notes that the current vice-chancellor is not any different, thus why he is yet to get his retirement benefits.

He further explains how people are bribing to have their years before retirement added since nobody wants to retire. Ikenna raises the sensitive topic about fake drugs. It triggers painful memories in James since his wife Ebere is thought to have died because of counterfeit drugs. James dismissively says that counterfeit drugs are horrible in efforts to avoid this topic.

He parts ways with Ikenna after telling him how he has been ‘resting’ ever since he retired. He extends an invitation to Ikenna to join him in his home, but Ikenna turns it down. Once in his home, Prof. James turns on the TV and remembers how a man accused ofimporting fake drugs had justified this act through a TV interview on NTA. The man had explained that his drugs do not kill people but only fail to cure their illness. He wonders why news about Ikenna being alive never came up, yet there were various other stories of the ‘living ghosts’- people thought to be dead but turned up alive. The tale ends with Prof.

James in his study hoping that his daughter Nkiru will call to tell him about their grandson, and if she does not, he will go to bed and await the visit of Ebere.

GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories



  • Prof James Nwoye’s visit to the University Bursary -pg. 57-59
  • Encounter with Ikenna Okoro- pg. 59-65
  • Talk about the civil war on July 6 1967- pg. 60
  • Talk about fake drugs -pg. 65
  • Prof James back home-pg 66-67

Various issues arise from these episodes:

The retirees suffer frustration due to being denied their retirement benefits. When the story opens, Prof James is at the University Bursary to ask about his pension, which he has been following up for some time.-“l was there to ask about my pension, yet again.” (pg.57) He is, however, frustrated when the clerk tells him the money has not yet come.

Prof is not alone. Several other retirees are clustered under the flame tree, filled with similar frustration. Out of frustration, they curse the vice-chancellor who is said to have stolen the money meant for their pension: “His Children will not have children He will die of diarrhoea.” (pg.58).

We also see that these people suffer from poverty. The encounter between Prof and his former driver, Vincent, points to the poor living condition of the people. Vincent has been forced to work as a cobbler to earn a living. He complains about the failure of the students in the hostels to pay him on time for mending their shoes (pg. 58).

The description of Vincent’s current physical appearance also shows that he has lived through tough times. Although he was younger than Prof, he looked older with only a little hair left pg 58.

The plea of one of the men to Prof to buy them bananas shows the suffering that the people have gone through. The man tells Prof, “Hunger is killing us” (pg.58).

These people cannot afford decent meals for themselves. Ironically, Prof observes that they need more moisturiser since their faces and arms look like ash (pg. 58).

The civil war also causes the suffering of many. Many people suffer trauma (ghosts of the past) due to the war. Prof James lost his daughter Zik to the war (pg. 61). The people’s suffering is further captured when Prof James wonders why he had not heard about Ikenna not having died. He notes that people evaded the topic of war and memories of what they had gone through

during the war. “But we hardly talked about the war When we did, it was with an implacable vagueness, as if what mattered were not that we had crouched in muddy bunkers during air raids after which we buried corpses with bits of pink on their charred skin, not that we had eaten cassava peels and watched our children’s bellies swell from malnutrition, but we had survived” pg. 66


The explanation why Prof James and other retirees have not received their pension is due to corruption. Ihe men clustered under the flame tree say, “The Education Minister has stolen the pension money… it was the vice-chancellor who had deposited the money in high interest personal accounts.” ( pg.58).

In the University, corruption is further seen where James tells Ikenna about Josephat Udeana, the great dancer, who, once chosen as vice-chancellor, perpetuated corruption at the University’s high office. “Josephat was vice chancellor for six years and ran this University like his father’s chicken Money disappeared, and then we would see new cars coop stamped with the names of foreign foundations that did not exist.” (pg.64)

He also dictated who would be promoted and who would not. The situation did not change after Josephat left since even the current vice-chancellor is also said to follow the corrupt route faithfully.

corruption is also reported in the Personnel Services Department, where lecturers who do not want to retire bribe, someone, to have some years added to them (pg. 64).

Further, corruption is seen among university students. Prof tells Ikenna that instead of reading and working hard to earn fair grades, the university students have bought grades with money or their bodies (pg. 64).

War and its effects

The Biafran Civil war that the story highly relies on has significant negative implications on the people:

Loss of loved ones

Pro James Nwoye lost his daughter Zik to the war (pg. 61). Ikenna lost the whole of his family to the war, thus the reason he has lived in Sweden ever since. He tells Prof, “My whole family was in Orlu when they bombed it. Nobody left, so there was no reason for me to come back.” (pg. 61)

A great genius – Chris Okigbo, also died in the war Nsukka lost a great mind – a star whose poetry moved everybody. His prowess is compared to that of a colossus; thus, a significant loss for the people page 62.

• Displacement of people and separation of loved ones When the civil war started on July 6, 1967, the people had to evacuate Nsukka in a hurry Prof James and his wife Ebere moved to America while Ikenna moved to Sweden using Red Cross planes (pg. 61).

Prof James and his daughter live separately due to the war. His American born daughter Nkiru is a doctor in America while James lives in Nsukka. He feels that the war has denied him an opportunity to teach his grandson the Igbo language and the culture (pg. 67).

GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

Destruction/Loss of property

After the civil war ended in 1970, Prof James and Ebere returned to Nsukka from America. They were, however, disappointed to find some of their properties having been destroyed and others missing. “Our books were in a charred pile in the front garden. . the lumps of calcified faeces in the bathtub were strewn with pages of my mathematical annals, used as toilet paper, crusted smears blurring the formulas I had studied and taught Our piano – Ebere’s piano was gone. our photographs were ripped, their frames broken.” (pg. 61) On their way home that day, Prof James and Ebere saw a landscape of ruins, blown- out roofs and houses riddled with holes, injuries, and physical pain (pg. 62).

The day Prof James and Ebere drove back to Nsukka, Biafran soldiers stopped them and shoved a wounded soldier into their car, and his blood dripped onto the backseat of their vehicle (pg. 62). Counterfeit/fake drugs

fie selling of expired medicine is the current plague in the country Ikenna tells James that he has been reading about fake drugs in the papers (pg. 65).

The effect of fake drugs has been felt by James, whose wife Ebere’s death is linked to the counterfeit drug deal. Prof James thinks that Ikenna must have heard of ‘How Ebere had lain in the hospital getting weaker and weaker, how her doctor had been puzzled that she was not recovering after her medication how none of us knew until it was too late that the drugs were useless’ (pg. 65)

GHOSTS-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

In addition, Prof James bitterly remembers how he had watched some broadcast of an interview on NTA. Through the interview, a man accused of importing fake drugs – typhoid fever drugs, had defended himself by claiming that his drugs do not kill people but only fail to cure illness (pg. 66).

Dealing with past ghosts Prof James is presented as an individual struggling with ghosts from his past. The illusion of his wife’s return like a ghost is one of the mechanisms

he adopts to deal with his terrible past. It is an attempt to deal with the absence of Ebere and the devastating effects of war. The freshness of the memories of war is brought out through the many flashbacks used by the writer. One of the flashbacks captures the day the civil war arose (pg. 60). Another shows the return to Prof and Ebere to Nsukka in 1970 (pg. 61-62). By remembering these events, Prof James shows that the memories of the war are still deeply etched in his thoughts.

Essay Questions

  1. Society today is filled with many evils that cause suffering to others. Support this from Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Ghost’
  2. War has devastating effects and thus should be avoided at all cost Using illustrations from ‘Ghosts’ by Chimamanda Adichie
  3. Many individuals struggle with ghosts from their past Show how true this assertion is based on ‘Ghosts’ by Chimamanda Adichie.

Questions on styles

  1. How effectively has the writer used flashbacks in the story ‘Ghosts,

The dialogue between Prof James and Ikenna carries the critical messages in the story. Is it true?

3. The higher learning education sector is satirised in the story. Show how this is achieved.


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