Ben Okri’s “Laughter Beneath the Bridge”

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Abstract

As this prize-winning short story from Ben Okri’s “Incidents at the Shrine” is a child’s eye view of the Nigerian Civil War, I shall begin by briefly contextualizing Biafra’s quest for freedom in the late 1960s. I shall attempt to reveal the ideological constructedness of both abstract and concrete aspects of wartime existence in Nigeria and the dynamic between them in relation to the trajectory of “Laughter Beneath the Bridge.” The argument will attempt to show how the writer’s graphic symbolism mediates perceptions of time and place informed by the ideology of power and violence while, at the same time, also having singular signifying possibilities and limitations. My approach to the theme of freedom will thus be Rousseauesque in its lack of freedom thrust. Using Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject, I probe the fine line between “laughing with” and “laughing at,” between pleasure and pain. Focusing on the pleasure/pain paradox illuminates how satire works in this story; the physical pain and suffering of the characters suggest how readers are implicated in and redeemed from represented systemic violence.