First and foremost, Ogot has a direct and precise style that does not lack in dramatic action. Her storytelling abilities are directly influenced by stories her grandmother told her while growing up in western Kenya. Thus, not only does she rely on myths and legends of the Luo people from whom she is descended, but she also uses traditional elements of oral storytelling in her work. One can see this most clearly in her use of direct rather than metaphoric or figurative language. Her rich descriptions bring her stories to life, and her narrative pacing create suspense and excitement. The beginning of the story is most memorable for its ability to get the reader quickly involved in the action surrounding the pursuit of the cattle thieves.
Ogot is also known for incorporating Luo rituals into her stories. For example, in “The Green Leaves,” she describes Nyagar taking traditional medicine to calm his nerves after the thief has been left for dead. Other rituals she incorporates are leaving the injured man beneath the leaves so as not to bring evil into the village and ending the story with a song of mourning that Nyamundhe sings after she discovers it is Nyagar beneath the green leaves. She also incorporates a number of superstitions into the story to show how symbols such as a black cat are imbued with specific prophetic powers that may or may not turn out to be true. In this case, the black cat that Nyamundhe sees cross her path foretells the death of Nyagar. Such coincidences help to reinforce the power of such symbols.
Although Ogot does not rely heavily on metaphoric or symbolic language, she does use particular images to signify emotions and create suspense. For example, from the very beginning of the story, Nyagar is concerned about locks and bolts on the door of his hut and yard. Although this seems like an insignificant detail, it actually foreshadows the danger that will befall Nyagar. Ironically, even though he appears concerned for his safety, his pursuit of the thief’s money shows how his greed overrides these feelings of danger. The attention to gates and locks also reveals that the world he lives in is not safe. This vulnerability can be related on a larger level to the vulnerability of indigenous peoples to the influence and exploitation of British colonial powers. Again, it is ironic that it ends up being Nyagar, a member of the clan, who endangers the other clan members. By stooping to the level of a thief and getting killed for it, Nyagar makes the clan vulnerable and suspicious of each other at the end of the story.
Another image that is referred to frequently is the image of the green leaves that cover the thief and then later Nyagar. Ostensibly, these leaves are meant to hide the thief and keep his spirit from invading the village. However, covering the dying man with freshly torn leaves foreshadows that the thief may not be dead. Only Nyagar will discover this when he returns to steal the thief s money. The green leaves also signify that traditions such as leaving a thief to die in the middle of the night so as to prevent his spirit from entering the village may not be the most efficacious method of handling criminals. However, this is lost on the members of the clan as they try to cope with Nyagar’s death at the end of the story and the “evil hand” that has descended upon them.
Point of View
What is most interesting about “The Green Leaves” is that the story is narrated in a third person omniscient point of view, meaning that it is told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who sees all that is happening in the story. This point of view allows the narrator to move from Nyagar’s point of view to the clan members’ and then to Nyagar’s wife’s viewpoint throughout the story. In this way, Ogot’s story reveals multiple perspectives— male, female, individual, and group—that account for the tensions and conflicts erupting in the story. For example, the shift from Nyagar’s perspective of gaining more wealth by stealing the thief s purse to that of the clan leader proposing that the whole clan take responsibility for killing the thief reveals the differing values that Nyagar has in relation to his clan. It also prepares the reader for the end of the story, which shows the tension among the clan members over Nyagar’s death as being his fault. If he had not desired the thief’s money, then the clan could have responded to the European police officer as they had intended to do from the start.
It is also important to consider how Nyamundhe’s song at the end of story reveals her own personal pain and loss over the death of her husband. In the end, it does not matter who killed Nyagar. For Nyamundhe, her husband’s death means that she will now be alone. Her song reveals a woman’s point of view of the consequences of death for those who are dependent on men for protection and comradeship. This provides another viewpoint from which to consider the effects that Nyagar’s irresponsible actions have had on his family and the clan.
Many parts of the story are written in dialogue to convey some of the conflicts and misunderstandings that occur between the clan members and the European police officer. For example, when the European police officer and the clan leader first meet, the police officer claims that he has not believed a word that the clan members have told him. When the clan leader says that he sent them to inform the authorities that the clan had killed a man, the officer keeps saying, “You killed a man?” in his attempts to establish one person’s guilt rather than to accept that it had been a communal effort. Cultural misunderstandings occur frequently in the dialogue as a way of revealing ideological beliefs and differences between the clan and the colonial powers.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Grace Ogot, Published by Gale, 2002.