Incident in the Park Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide

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Incident in the Park by Meja Mwangi

About the author

Mwangi was born David Dominic Mwangi in Nanyuki, Kenya, and was educated at Nanyuki Secondary School, Kenyatta College, and briefly at the University of Leeds.

He then worked for the French Broadcasting Corporation doing odd jobs and the British Council in Nairobi as Visual Aids Officer, before turning to writing full-time.

He was Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1975-6).

After a prolonged period on the Kenyan and African publishing scene, Mwangi moved to the US after gaining international recognition and winning several awards.

His best-known early work includes the novels Kill Me Quick (1973), Going Down River Road (1976), and The Cockroach Dance (1979), which illustrate the urban landscapes of Kenya, the struggle against poverty, and the AIDS epidemic.

The Title

The title "The Incident in the Park" is appropriate for the text because it describes an event that occurs in the park.

The incident in question is the encounter between the fruit seller and the two city constables, and the subsequent events that unfold as a result of this encounter, including the death by stoning of the fruit seller.

The title captures the central event of the story, which takes place in the park, and it also reflects the theme of conflict and confrontation that runs throughout the short story.

The incident in the park serves as a microcosm of the larger social and political issues that are touched upon in the story, such as class conflict, corruption, and injustice.

Overall, the title is fitting for the text because it accurately reflects the events and themes of the story.

Kenyan novelist Meja Mwangi presents a bleak picture of a loafer-infested park with foreboding air hanging over it in his short story Incident in the Park. In an instance of mistaken identity, an innocent fruit seller is stoned to death by a crowd.

The Plot Summary

The short narrative begins with a depressing description of the park. We come across some park loungers who spend hours napping in the park. The majority of idlers ignore the parliament and City Hall clocks and would rather do nothing all day.

Office workers flood out of their offices at 1:00 p.m. They are subsequently consumed by the depressing city as they disperse in quest of food. 

The park's idlers watch the workers emerge from their workplaces, disappear into the city, and even anticipate the surge of workers returning from various eateries and flooding past the park back to their respective offices.

"The patched park was almost dead, alive only with few idlers."

fruit-seller is among the lazy folks sitting or lying under trees and plants. He sits under shrub, tallying his sales.

He mumbles and curses and rolls onto his back, his thin hands covering his face.

During his lunch break, he relaxes. Perhaps he is unable to buy  decent meal. More bored men sit by tiny lake, watching two men paddle rental boats.

This is what these loafers do all day. Sit and laze around in the park.

The park is in disrepair. A pond in the park is overgrown with unsightly plants. An idle man ignores the rule not to feed the hungry fish by throwing garbage into the water.

He soon begins speaking with another idler. They discuss how fish are similar to humans.

As they compete for food in their feeding site, the largest fish in the pond bullies the lesser fish.

The man feeding the fish claims that there is a great large fish that could swallow all the water in the ocean, causing a great drought and causing the world to end. The enormous creature is said to eat other fish.

We also meet two ice cream men in the park who are desperate to sell their ice cream.

Later, city cops question the fruit vendor about his driver's license and identity card.

He pretends he left them at home and tries to bribe them with five shillings and then 10 shillings, but they refuse.

He pleadingly begs the men to let him go. He's got a case against a judge he labels a tyrant.

He sells fruits to raise money for the case's fine. He also provides the constables a fruit basket and ten shillings. He even offers both of them his fruit baskets in an attempt to buy his freedom.

When they remain steadfast, he decides to run awaybut he is apprehended by mob who misidentifies him as thief and stones him to death.

They assess him based on his soiled ripped clothes and cruel hungry visage his trade's uniform.

The police arrive to retrieve the body, but no one is ready to testify about the circumstances that led to the poor man's sad death at the hands of ruthless unpredictable mob.

The two loungers who were conversing about fish observed the entire incident before guiltily returning to the park to resume lounging.

The park is now again serene, much like pond after someone has splashed something into it.

Key moments in the story

  1. The description of the city park in August afternoon. (p6 - 7).
  2. Two idlers' dialogue at the pond. - 10).
  3. An ambush by two city constables in the park ending in violence.
  4. The fruit merchant condemned unheard. (p 12).

Characters and Characterization

List of Characters

  • The narrator
  • Couple of men paddling in small hired boats
  • Men sitting on cement bank
  • Ice cream man
  • Man throwing debris at fish in fish pond
  • Stranger standing by fish pond
  • Hairy loafer sitting on "DO NOT FEED FISH" board
  • Fruit seller
  • Two city constables
  • Office workers
  • Man who nabbed fruit seller
  • Inspector
  • Regular park loungers

Character Traits

The narrator:

  • Observant: the narrator is described as having "undivided interest" and "sharp eyes" and pays attention to the actions of the other characters.
  • Reflective: the narrator seems to be thinking about the actions and behavior of the other characters, and is able to draw conclusions about their motivations and personalities.

The idle loafer:

  • Disrespectful: he throws rubbish into the fish pond and seems to take pleasure in disturbing the fish.
  • Lazy: he is described as a "hairy loafer wearing worn slippers" and is sitting idly by the fish pond.

The stranger:

  • Helpful: he offers the idle loafer a cigarette when asked.

The ice cream man:

  • Persistent: he continues to ring his bell and try to sell ice cream, even though no one is interested.

The city constables:

  • Authoritative: they demand to see the ice cream man's licence and are described as "demanding" and "harsh".

The fruit seller:

  • Desperate: he pleads with the constables to let him go and offers them money and his fruit baskets in exchange.
  • Fearful: he is afraid of the judge and thinks he will be punished severely for not having a licence. That is he will be fined or be castrated by the tyrant judge.
  • He is a poor old man who sells fruits at the park. He has no licence or identity card. 
  • He is a responsible man as he remembers he has a family which depends on him when accosted. I have a wife and children and... 
  • He is hardworking because he sells fruits (two baskets) to earn his living despite being unable to afford a license. 

The police officer:

  • Authoritative: he takes charge of the situation when the fruit seller is found dead and demands to know what happened.

Themes

Poverty

Many of the characters in the story are struggling with poverty and financial hardship, as seen in the fruit seller's efforts to earn money and the idler's request for a cigarette.

Problems of urbanization

Urban population growth, driven by migration and searching for jobs, has become a significant issue in cities like Nairobi.

However, the masses end up frustrated due to a skills mismatch in the labour market, dwindling economy and poor governance. But every now and then, a misplaced person rose with a start... 

In a few seconds, the thousand or so strong swarm had been swallowed up by the yawning concrete jungle..
Urban poverty is also witnessed as many remain loitering and idling reminding the park loungers just how many hours they had wasted lying idle.' 

​'A shaggy thin man sat under a shrub...' (p7). ' hairy loafer' (p8). ' The idler seated on the bank...' (p8) torn trouser legs.' (p8) 'horny toes. (p9)

There is also evidence of poor hygiene. The park is littered with debris, cigarette ends and butts. (p8,9). The two gentlemen share puffs on the cigarette. One offers a full cigarette, and smoking in this zone could be a form of escapism from their poverty. (p10).

The fruit seller has only ten shillings which he offers to the constables to spare him. He cannot afford to pay for the licence, or even the fine has on another case. (pl 1).

Injustice

The fruit seller is unfairly targeted by the constables and is violently killed by a mob, even though he was simply trying to make a living. This highlights the injustice and prejudice that can be present in society.

Social class

The text touches on the divide between the wealthy office workers and the poor, working-class people who frequent the park.

Conflicts between city authority and street hawkers

When the two constables accost and demand licences from the ice cream man and the fruit peddler, they tell the merchant that he will only explain to the judge.​

The fruit seller already has a case and is trying to sell to afford a fine. (pl 1). The fruit seller pleads with the constables, who say nothing. 7hefruit seller cursed them and their wives and children... (PI 1).

Brutality

The violence and murder of the fruit seller demonstrate the potential for brutality and aggression in human behavior.

Mob justice / social injustice

The fruit seller is lynched unknowingly by the park people. By the time the constable ran up, the fruit-peddler lay like a broken and twisted ragdoll at the bottom of the ditch. (p12)

He cries and pleads for mercy in vain.. had drawn thick red blood over the sparsely bearded face. Dead' was his verdict (p12)

The word 'thief' hovered over the assembled crowd. mob universally condemns him, and it is impossible to tell from which mouth the condemnation is issued. (p12)

Ironically the mob had had what was right. Justice fairly quickly and completely administered ... (PI 2).

Isolation

Many of the characters in the story seem to be isolated and disconnected from others, as seen in the monosyllabic communication of those who sit in twos or threes and the muttering of those who sit alone.

Abandonment

The fish pond, which was once a source of beauty and enjoyment, has been abandoned and left to become overgrown with weeds. This could symbolize the way that society often neglects and abandons certain areas or groups of people.

Stylistic Devices.

Simile:

Comparing two things using the words “like” or “as”

A figure of speech that compares two things using "like" or "as", such as "the reflection of another man materialised by that of his in the water at his feet" and "the fruit-seller lay like a broken and twisted rag doll at the bottom of the ditch".

Personification

When an idea or animal is given human characteristics. “The sky weeps.”

Attributing human qualities to non-human things, such as "the yellow, blue and purple water lilies struggled with the colourless weeds" and "the reflection of another man materialised by that of his in the water at his feet".

Repetition:

Repeating words or phrases.

(There are actually many different types of repetition like anaphora and epiphora.)

the repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis, such as "Home," the old man said faintly. "Home," the constable repeated.

Metaphor:

Comparing two things without using the words “like” or “as”.

A figure of speech that compares two things without using "like" or "as", such as "the yellow, blue and purple water lilies struggled with the colourless weeds" and "the reflection of another man materialised by that of his in the water at his feet".

Imagery:

Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head.

Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

The use of descriptive language to create vivid mental images, such as "the yellow, blue and purple water lilies struggled with the colourless weeds" and "the largest fish, pitch black with vast pink blotches on its head and back, caught the cigarette-end and swam powerfully away from the others towards the centre of the pond".

Alliteration:

Repetition of initial consonant sound.

The repetition of the same sound at the beginning of multiple words in a phrase, such as "the fish pond, now dangerously overgrown with weeds" and "the hawker said quickly".

Foreshadowing:

Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story.

Foreshadowing is useful for creating suspense, a feeling of unease, a sense of curiosity, or a mark that things may not be as they seem.

The use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in the story, such as "by the time the constable ran up, the fruit-peddler lay like a broken and twisted rag doll at the bottom of the ditch" which suggests that the fruit seller is going to be caught and punished.

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect.

Example from the text: "The constables looked furtively around for someone to blame. No one looked guilty enough." (This is an exaggeration, as it is unlikely that no one in the crowd looked guilty at all.)

Irony

The definition of irony as a literary device is a situation in which there is a contrast between expectation and reality

A contrast between what is expected and what actually occurs, such as the old man being caught for selling fruit without a license, when he was only doing so to pay the fine for a different case he has coming up.

Symbolism

Symbolism is a literary device that uses symbols, be they words, people, marks, locations, or abstract ideas to represent something beyond the literal meaning.

The concept of symbolism is not confined to works of literature: symbols inhabit every corner of our daily life.

The use of symbols to represent abstract ideas, such as the fish pond representing the deterioration of the park.

Revision questions for an Incident in the Park

  1. What is the significance Of the title Incident in the park?
  2. What do you make of the comparison that Mwangi makes between the park and a pond?
  3. What is ironic about the two constables' behaviour at the park?
  4. ​How else do the people spend time at the park?
  5. With evidence from the text, discuss the urban problem that leads to the destitution of the masses.
  6. How does the city's jobless population escape their wretchedness?
  7. Compare and contrast the city workers and the jobless masses.
  8. What are the harsh realities of city life and the illusion of a better, promising life?
  9. How does the rural-urban influx affect people's lives?
  10. What does the presence of butts, used matches and stubs at the park tell you?
  11. How does the lack of identity cards and license affect peddlers?
  12. Juxtapose the kind of identification the police demand from the fruit vendor and one that awaits him at the mortuary.
  13. Referring closely to the fruit-seller show how the mob and the legal system administer justice.
  14. Why does the merchant resort to flight and fight for his life instead of overcoming his fright for the justice system?
  15. Who is to blame for the death of the fruit-seller, the constables, the public, or the vendor himself?
  16. What lessons can be taken from the incident at the city park?
  17. What does the fruit seller's mention of the 'tyrant judge' tell us about the justice system?
  18. What figures of speech does the writer use to describe the park and events in the park?
  19. Why is it ironic for the fruit peddler to flee from the constables and lose his life?
  20. Explore the use of dialogue in Meja Mwangi's Incident in the Park.

Essay Question

  1. Urban centres are riddled with frequent conflicts with innocent Citizens. Discuss the truth of this assertion based on Meja Mwangi's Incident in the Park. (20 marks).
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