Aggression: A traumatic augury in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water

Ijeoma Susan Ilechukwu
Keywords: Aggression, Traumatic augury, Helon Habila, Water
Tropical Journal of Arts and Humanities 2022 4(1), 42-51. Published: May 11, 2022


Over the past four decades, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria has experienced hazardous environmental issues relating to gas flaring, soot, oil spillage and incessant disposal of industrial wastes. Critical attention has been drawn to the environmental situation the region finds itself in. The sole purpose of the paper is to examine the extent to which trauma from environmental hazards and personal experiences trigger aggressive behaviours in characters like Professor and Major in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water. The paper avers that frustration is internal and typically a stimulant for aggression caused by traumatic events like the deplorable living conditions in the creeks and being forced to live and work in a dangerous area which seems upsetting for Professor and Major to bear. Hence, hostile and instrumental aggressions become coping mechanisms for the characters in Oil on Water. Hostile aggression is a reaction to pain, frustration and feelings of endangerment. Traumatic events often leave emotional, maybe chronic features of mental life. Major’s personal life experiences affect his relationship with the indigenes of the Niger Delta region and cause several episodes of aggression which includes several attempts at incinerating some innocent villagers in the creeks. On the other hand, Instrumental aggression involves a motivating desire to attain some other goal which may include money, land, and sex. This is replicated in Oil on Water by the Federal government as it uses soldiers to forcefully claim the Yellow Island stating that the land had been bequeathed to the federal government by the late Chief Malabo who dies in detention. Also, Professor and his militant group kidnap Isabel Floode in order to obtain ransom, in the process kills some journalists and harmless indigenes of the region. This paper concludes that environmental degradation which causes aggression from Major and Professor threatens the mental state of the characters like Rufus, Zaq, Doctor Dagogo, Tamuno and Michael at the end of the novel.