In Ben Okri's The Famished Road, rituals such as baptism are easily lost in the dense symbolism. The novel is, in the words of Douglas McCabe, a "ramshackle and untidy affair, a hodge-podge of social ideologies, narrative forms, effusive enthusiasms, and precision-jeweled prose poems" (McCabe 17). This complex untidiness can be discouraging for readers and critics alike, and yet "there is something contagious about the digressive, meandering aesthetic of The Famished Road" that makes the novel difficult to consign to confusion (Omhovere 59). Commonly considered post-colonial, post-modern, and magical-realist, The Famished Road deals with, among other things, spiritualism, family relations, and political and sociological tensions in Nigeria in the decades before its publication in 1991. These themes are depicted with a rush of symbols, and in such a clamor, baptism and other rituals may have trouble making themselves heard. And yet, paying attention to the repeated performance of baptism transforms this audacious, ramshackle novel into a story of liminality, alienation, and reconciliation, a story which celebrates these things as inevitable and necessary parts of life. As readers, we can use baptism to decode The Famished Road. In doing so, the novel develops a cyclical, ongoing narrative focused on the difficulties of and increased agency in liminality and the necessity of ritual, on an individual, familial, and socio-cultural level, in navigating that in-betweeness. I will begin by exploring baptism in The Famished Road in order to understand the performance and power of ritual. Here, ritual acts as a doorway, giving characters a chance to navigate liminality without removing themselves from it. This navigation gives them an increased understanding of how the world works and how they may operate in it. After exploring baptism as a ritual, I will examine Okri's "universal abikuism" and its connection to the flexibility of liminality.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





baptism, Nigeria, The Famished Road, Ben Okri, ritual, reconciliation, liminality