"It becomes important to stand out, to be distinctive. I have set my heart after a particular name. They will look at my velvet cape and they will think of my goodness. Inevitably they must begin to call me ... the velvet-hearted Jeroboam. (Straightens himself.) Immaculate, Jero, Articulate Hero of Christ's Crusade..."
In this quotation, Brother Jero reveals his ultimate aim to be a figure of high esteem within his community. Yet although his intention is to be known as velvet-hearted, or kind, his statement reveals the emphasis that Jero places on image rather than on his actions. Here we understand that Brother Jero is not concerned about his actions earning his name so much as his outward appearance reflecting it.
"You've got to have a name that appeals to the imagination—because the imagination is a thing of the spirit—it must catch the imagination of the crowd. Yes, one must move with modern times. Lack of colour gets one nowhere even in the prophet's business."
This quotation reveals Jero's view of the relationship between imagination and spirit, essential for the faith of his followers. Jero feels pressure to "appeal" to his followers by advertising his prophecy and teachings. His mention of modernity also points to what Soyinka evaluates as an increasingly artificial nature of religious communities and their followings. A modern consumer culture has pushed even prophecy into becoming a "business," as Jero states.
"I am glad I got here before any customers—I mean worshippers—well, customers if you like. I always get that feeling every morning that I am a shop-keeper waiting for customers. The regular ones come at definite times. Strange, dissatisfied people. I know they are dissatisfied because I keep the, dissatisfied. Once they are full, they won't come again. Like my good apprentice, Brother Chume. He wants to beat his wife, but I won't let him. If I do, he will become contented, and then that's another of my flock gone forever. As long as he doesn't beat her, he comes here feeling helpless, and so there is no chance of his rebelling against me. Everything, in fact, is planned."
Here Brother Jero reveals his strategy for attracting and retaining his worshippers, whom he sees as customers. Religion and prophecy for Brother Jero are commodified: He values his human relationships merely as business transactions and thus views prophecy as a means to material ends. Soyinka aims to point out the irony in this understanding, as true faith rests on the immaterial. In this quotation Brother Jero also indicates that he has lost other followers in his "flock" in the past (his diction further dehumanizing his worshippers), foreshadowing the fate of Chume. The reader understands that Jero's power rests on his control, as he emphasizes his ability to "plan" the fate of his worshippers.
"From the moment I looked out of my window this morning, I have been tormented one way or another by the daughters of discord."
This quotation reflects the play's central characterization of women as vexing and malevolent figures. Jero's statement places blame on the female sex for his personal failures, and it also condemns women to the realm of permanent sin.
"You didn't hear me complain. You did your best, but if my toes are to be broken one by one just because I have to monkey on your bicycle, you must admit it's a tough life for a woman."
This quotation is one of the first lines of dialogue attributed to a woman in the play. It immediately draws attention to the hardship of women. Here Amope, the only female character consistently highlighted in the play, underscores the irony of the expectations placed on women and the way in which women act these expectations out. Amope feels like she cannot complain although she perceives great hardship. Of course, her actions belie her words: She is in fact complaining. Although the hardship she references in this quotation is greatly exaggerated, Amope here demonstrates her intelligence, her ability to have her voice heard.
"Actually I knew it was he the moment he opened his mouth. Only Brother Chume reverts to that animal jabber when he gets his spiritual excitement. And that is much too often for my liking. He is too crude, but that is to my advantage. It means he would never think of setting himself up as my equal."
In this quotation, Brother Jero reveals his distaste for pidgin, which he disparagingly describes as "animal jabber." Although he criticizes Chume's "crude" manners, he also reveals that they are essential to maintaining his own position as Chume's trusted leader. This quotation highlights Jero's own conception of his false prophethood: He must invent a distance between himself and his subjects in order to maintain his elevated status. Jero's use of the word "animal" is not only condescending but also filled with layers of historical connotations, especially as colonizing white settlers in Africa frequently dehumanized Africans by referring to them in the same way. Thus Jero does not really intend to help Chume or take him seriously; he is equally willing to dehumanize Chume to consolidate his own power.
"Yes, Father, those who are Messenger today, make them Senior Service tomorrow. ... Those who are petty trader today, make them big contractor tomorrow. Those who dey sweep street today, give them their own big office tomorrow. If we dey walka today, give them their own bicycle tomorrow. Those who have bicycle today, they will ride their own car tomorrow. ... I say those who dey push bicycle, give them big car tomorrow. Give them big car tomorrow. Give them big car tomorrow, give them big car tomorrow."
This quotation marks the first step of Chume's transition from serving as Brother Jero's blind, faithful follower to finding his own voice. Chume originally feels uncomfortable temporarily taking over Brother Jero's sermon, speaking calmly and hesitantly measuring his words. However, as he continues to preach to his captivated audience, Chume, too, begins to believe his own words and will them into being, becoming more animated as the crowd matches his own enthusiasm. Chume and the crowd enter a reciprocal relationship where the crowd's passion empowers Chume, and vice versa. As Chume believes more in his own words and what they predict, his language becomes less formal and more impassioned; he begins to use some pidgin, often regarded with disdain by elites like Brother Jero. The irony here is that Chume's candid, casual use of pidgin seems to make him more able to connect with the crowd he addresses.
"Chume, fool! O God, my life done spoil. My life done spoil finish. O God a no' get eyes for my head. Na lie. Na big lie. Na pretence 'e de pretend that wicked woman. She no go collect nutin! She no' mean to sleep for outside house. The prophet na' in lover. ... O god, wetin a do for you wey you go spoil my life so? Wetin make you vex for me so? I offend you? Chume, foolish man you life done spoil. Your life don spoil yea, ye..."
This quote encapsulates Chume's full transition, once he has discovers Jero's inventions and lies. Chume laments his former blind faith in Jero; because his faith in the Brotherhood was central to his life, his discovery of Jero's fallacy leads him to question all constants in his life, including his wife's fidelity. As Chume becomes increasingly sure of the reality of his situation, he increases his use of pidgin. What makes less and less sense and becomes more disjointed to the reader, or viewer, becomes clearer and more obvious to Chume. This version of reality, however, is pursued just as dogmatically, and is just as flawed, as Chume's original belief system.
"Now he... he is already a member of my flock. He does not know it of course, but he is a follower. All I need do is claim him. Call him and say to him, My dear Member of the House, your place awaits you ... Or do you doubt it? Watch me go to work on him."
In this scene Jero approaches his next penitent, aware that he has lost Chume's faith. Jero's attitude toward the Member of the House is the same as it had been toward Chume, however, signifying no lessons learned on Jero's part. Jero sees the Member, too, as an animal he can tame and then "claim" by incorporating him into his "flock." Jero thus sees his followers just as a shepherd might see own sheep: as tools to serve a purpose. Jero also explicitly addresses the audience, anticipating their doubt--perhaps, a bit of his own as well. Jero deeply values the art of performance, as his profession itself is an act, and this new opportunity as a next setting, into which he eagerly invites the audience.
"I don't know what the world is coming to. A thief of a prophet, a swindler of a fish-seller and now that thing with lice on his head comes begging for money."
This quotation from Amope ends Scene 2 and further illuminates Amope’s personality. Constantly playing the role of both the victimized and the superior, Amope self-isolates. While it is true that she has been "swindled" by Jero, who will not pay her back, she attributes a sense of malice or deception to almost everyone she meets, acting aggressively toward both the fish-seller and the drummer child. Amope punctuates these beliefs and actions by placing blame on "the world," acting as if everything is entirely in her hands, while she serves to perpetuate tensions and conflict.
The Trials of Brother Jero Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Trials of Brother Jero is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
For much of the story Chume must bear Amope's unhappy and self-righteous, attitude to her world. Although set free of lies and finally independent, Chume's final fate speaks to the power of social dynamics and their restrictions.