AD's English Literature : Rereading of Chinua Achebe through Nigerian Sociopolitical and Cultural Aspects

Rereading of Chinua Achebe through Nigerian Sociopolitical and Cultural Aspects



African colonization by European settlers and the aftermath has wide, descriptive and analytical coverage in Chinua Achebe’s novels. Particularly there is an avid examination on the Nigerian sociopolitical and cultural aspects. More specifically, Achebe’s novels depict Igbo tribes either in south-East Nigeria or elsewhere in the world dating from pre-colonial era to the present. His novels cover the timeline of Nigerian history and like a prophet his writings are visionary of long desired Nigerian peace and prosperity. Reading thorough his novels it can also be determined how women is such a vital studies for lasting peace and prosperity in Nigeria. This research paper will interrogate, compare and contrast women’s different roles as they relate to Chinua Achebe’s fictionalization of female characters. It will examine women's roles in this fast changing tribal society as seen in Achebe’s novels illustrating specific examples from the same. Women in tribal societies were often forced to undergo several changes and these changes can be well traced in Achebe’s novels. The complex individual, social and tribal-political relations in pre-colonial and post- colonial Nigeria can be seen in the same. It will provide not merely the context for the search for Igbo women identity, but also to a large extent determine its intellectual conclusions. This paper will examine the societal disallowance to women. It will cover the journey of women from Igbo to Igbo Christianity and subsequent impact on it. In this regard it requires a logical argument for the historical journey of multicultural Igbo women through Nigerian society and researching cultural aspects of them in Achebe’s novels. It needs a thorough search for a more general understanding of issues of tribal womanhood.

In fact, South-East Nigeria and Igbo tribal life are the prime focuses of Chinua Achebe’s novels. They are set in Africa and describe the struggles of the African people to free themselves from European political influences. We learn from his novels that women work for their own rights and reorganization. The objective of this paper is to underscore how Achebe’s female character typifies multiple inscriptions of identity by their own rights and reorganization. Critics in the past have argued that there were Achebe’s relative neglect of the dynamics of Igbo women’s historical active roles as change and cultural agents. This paper will investigate if there were any real gap on not, or how, if there was any, was it amended by later fictions. Simply, this paper will revisit Achebe’s fictive women by tracing images of women presented as personae in specific socio-historic periods- the pre-colonial, the colonial and the post-colonial in different novels by him.

Chinua Achebe’s novels are about community and its relationships to men and women, to society, and to culture. It is through culture that Achebe discusses a young nation’s rebellion against a colonial and bifurcated world. In that perspective, the female protagonist, in Achebe’s novels, struggles between the roles that society has imposed upon them and their personal definition of self; and culture becomes the symbol of that struggle and their eventual rebellion. At the end of Anthills of the Savannah, Beatrice partially reconstructs that new persona, or concept of self, through a renewed relationship to society and culture.

Now it is set the time to review Achebe’s novels at the time when feminism is experiencing a renewed popularity among African political movements. However, the concepts of women’s liberation were in contrast with the actual experience in women’s day-to-day lives. Also, feminism, although known in the critical circle, is not a popular topic of conversation in the Igbo community. Women perspectives were diagnosed in a feminist’s office but were not being widely discussed in African literature. Having been published in this era prior to full-blown discussions of women’s rights and women’s issues, in Nigerian history, Achebe’s novels require many reviews that mainly will emphasize the novels’ literary techniques.

Critics of Achebe are united by the idea that women’s position in Achebe’s novels in tribal society is unequal to that of men, and that society is structured in such a way as to benefit men to the political, social, and economic detriment of women. However, Achebe’s novels can be read through different perspectives to explain these inequalities and it can also be advocated through different ways of redressing inequalities, and there are marked historical variations in the nature of feminine identity from the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial time frame. Even in this tribal society (Things Fall Apart) a mother dares the superstitious beliefs to save her child displaying the courage of a man.  However, tribal women are wise to the ways of the tribe and try to adhere to sacred tribal customs.  Igbo woman begins her life as an apprentice. If she survives the tender age, she assists her mother at home, on the farm, or in the marketplace. However, as she advances in age, she learns hard work such as marriage- duties and the need for social advancement. Achebe’s novels cover the journey of Igbo womanhood, taking up issues such as female circumcision, Igbo courtship, marriage, marriage process, bride price, the wife’s position, polygamy, family ranking, political battle and the like. A comprehensive study of Achebe’s Igbo women will enable us to have a better understanding of these tribal women. A close observation of the wide range and astonishing variety of women’s roles in tribal society is a formidable task, not to speak of scrutiny and analysis. 

Again, Achebe is often praised for his skillful blending of folklore, myth, proverbs, and customs with modern western political ideologies and Christian belief systems. By presenting these two approaches, Achebe asserts his belief in the power of the past to ease the excesses and confusion of the present. In a similar vein, Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to apply the conventions of the novel to African storytelling. Achebe saw for himself how disruptive social upheaval and political instability are and how they affect every facet of a society. He was born during Nigeria's colonial years, a period of tremendous conflict and sociopolitical change. Achebe grew up during the ensuing period of nationalist protest. Once Nigeria gained independence in 1960, vestiges of the colonial years remained including borders and new political ideas and structures. When Achebe left his position with the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in 1966, he accepted the position of Biafran Minister of Information. The Republic of Biafra was a short−lived Ibo state created upon secession. The Ibo decided to found their own state after witnessing the massacre of their people by Islamic Hausa and Fulani people, rival ethnic groups. Anticipating further bloodshed, the Republic of Biafra announced its independence in 1967. Unfortunately, the announcement was not accepted, and a civil war ensued that lasted until 1970, when Biafra surrendered. Achebe is revered as one of the founders of modern Nigerian literature for his historically sensitive and insightful novels about his native land and its people. He is praised for his ability to artfully combine traditional folklore and tradition with Western ideologies, and critics are quick to note that Achebe's writing is relevant to a multitude of societies, not just those of Africa. Still, Achebe is first and foremost a contemporary African writer writing novels that carry important messages about and for his people. Even, in this highly patriarchal society the roles of women are not negligible and Achebe’s novels depict them in the light of a writer’s perspectives whose political ideology can never be diminished in any way.

While defining the story of Achebe’s novels we find a language variety with a set of multiple implications. Achebe's use of multiple narrative voices indicates that history is more than a set of events in the past to be told; it is also the feelings and ideas that different people have about the events (Swann 15). Critics also agree that Achebe writes in Western English without sacrificing the integrity of his characters or their African settings and is capable of writing dignified speech as well as he writes dialect when necessary. The frequent use of Pidgin English in the novel, however, posed a problem for a few critics who felt it might alienate Achebe's international readers. Its inclusion also represents unity in diversity: "With political orthodoxies side−stepped, the sounds of hope come through across a range of diverse language levels—the sophisticated English of the educated elite, the demotic[everyday] Pidgin of the people, the proverbial and parable−like cadences of the Abazon elder, the liturgical incantation of Ikem's 'Hymn to the Sun,' the lyricism of Beatrice's temple−priestess lovemaking with Chris, the transformation of traditional kolanut ritual into litany for blessings not only upon the infant being named but upon all life of Kangan."( Ravenscroft)

Women as a cultural agent serve a key factor in African society as portrayed in African literature. Achebe’s novels set forth these wide aspects of living and lifestyle of tribal people.  Prior to colonization, common language and geography differentiated Nigerian societies. Six types of societies existed: hunting and gathering societies, cattle-herding societies, forest dwellers, fishermen, grain-raising societies, and city (urban) societies. The geographic area in which people lived determined their lifestyle. Nigeria was divided into more than twenty nation-states, with no regard for maintaining groups sharing common language and livelihood. While religion varied from society to society, most Africans shared some common beliefs and practices. They believed in a supreme creator god or spirit. Other lesser gods revealed themselves as, and worked through, community ancestors. Missionaries arrived and introduced Christianity. Many tribesmen converted to the new religion. Prior to colonization, Africans had their own identities and cultures and were not concerned with participating in the modern world. After colonization, African children were taught European history and literature so that they might compete in the modern world, while their own heritage was ignored. Rereading of Achebe’s novels revive the knowledge of the old heritage and give an ample opportunity to determine the roles of women in the changing tribal society.

At present, Nigerian societies are no longer as clear-cut. People have more opportunities for education, better jobs, and improved means of communication and transportation. They marry individuals from other societies. As a result, the societies have become mixed, but ethnic conflicts still lead to violence. Christianity, Islamism and traditional religious believes conflict over various issues in present state of Nigeria. Islamic radicalism is also raging high in the present context. There is, however, a renewed interest in cultural heritage, and traditional customs are being taught to Nigerian as well as to the world. The enlightened Nigerian children and new women far gaining power and political will. Nigeria is heading towards much desired peace and Achebe like a prophet declared it visionary judgment in his novels.

Notably, Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups—the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo—represent about 70 percent of the population. However, recent estimates suggest that in the Igbo heartland in southeastern Nigeria 50 percent are Muslims, 40 percent are Christians, and 10 percent adhere to traditional religions. Igbo are now spread worldwide but culturally they are marginalized. In fact, the stories of all of Chinua Achebe’s five novels take place in the Nigerian locations. The Igbo tribal traditions and in general the life of Nigerians —worship of gods, sacrifice, communal living, war, and magic make an integral part of his writing. 
Critics appreciate Achebe's development of the conflict that arises when tradition clashes with change. He uses his characters and their unique language to portray the double tragedies that occur in the story- the tragedy of an individual and tragedy of a community. They are in equal part a tragedy of womenfolk. The paper will examine the subjugation of Nigerian women with regard to how their political marginalization constricts the public sphere, the resource centre of public opinion, which strengthens the ideals of democracy and good governance. The political marginalization of women in Nigeria is a rectilinear upshot of their low participation in government and politics necessitated by patriarchy. This patriarchal practice has animated the feminist movements which are ideological, aesthetic and cultural movements for the rights of women. This has expanded the frontiers of their participation in the political process. The boundary of woman issues widens as the Achebe the writer progresses. Notably, in the political novel Anthills of the Savannah Chinua Achebe has deftly refracted the rise of new Nigerian women, who are generation changers. Beatrice represents Achebe’s new women; her portraiture in the novel interrogates postcolonial Nigerian politics of disempowerment, marginalization, shrunken public sphere and gendered space that occlude good governance.

Ardhendu De 

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