Different Story, Different Strategy: A Comparative Study of Achebe's Style(s) in a Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah

By Okunoye, Oyeniyi; Odebunmi, Akin | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

Different Story, Different Strategy: A Comparative Study of Achebe's Style(s) in a Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah


Okunoye, Oyeniyi, Odebunmi, Akin, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


ABSTRACT

Literary style, the meeting point between literary criticism and linguistic analysis, is the focus of this paper. The study demonstrates the viability of collaboration between principles of the two approaches. Focusing on two novels of the world-acclaimed African novelist, Chinua Achebe, the paper suggests that even when a writer's stylistic inclinations are recognizable, each literary work is at the same time a product of peculiar thematic, social and discursive situations, which are inevitably reflected in its stylistic features. It concentrates on such levels of linguistic analysis as lexis, semantics and graphology, while privileging allusion, setting and symbolism as elements of literary explication relevant to the comparative study of Achebe's style(s) in the novels.

1. Introduction

There is no denying the fact that time, place and the linguistic environment that generate a text determine, to a very large extent, the linguistic choices available to a writer. This hints at the correlation between a people's culture (including the languages spoken) and the literary works emerging from the society. In this regard, African writers can be said to be confronted with a great task in representing in English, experiences and realities that are peculiar to Africa given the complex linguistic milieu in which they operate. Emmanuel Ngara's (1982: 19) view in this regard is relevant. He maintains that "[t]he African writer's position is a complex one. His chosen tongue is not his own, neither is it his own people's language. His society has its own linguistic system with its own prejudices and world views while his chosen language reflects those of its native speakers."

Chinua Achebe is a foremost Nigerian writer. He has, to date, published five novels, namely Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1988). Both Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God are set in the past. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe presents a balanced picture of the traditional Igbo Society (and that of Africa by extension). The picture, according to Ernest Emenyonu (1978: xvii)

   shows a vigorous society that encourages living sportsmanship,
   diligence and integrity. But it is also an aggressive society,
   self-centred and excessively individualistic.

Arrow of God flashes back to Things Fall Apart. It deals with a period in Igbo history when the old and new values existed co-existed. No Longer at Ease is set in the period immediately preceding pre-independence in Africa. It reflects a stage in Igbo society when progress was measured by Christianity and Western education, and value was placed on the occupation of positions vacated by whitemen as independence drew near. Achebe portrays in the novel a society that is "infused by its multiplicity of races and of values, and by the bewildering search for a workable compromise" (Emenyonu 1987: xix). A Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah, that are studied in this paper, are set in post-independence Africa.

Achebe's writings bear traits of his society while still communicating in a second language. The experiences he reflects relate to the customary practices of his people, the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria. The immediate exigencies of intelligibility and realistic representation would therefore determine the language he adopts. A multilingual context often demands the integration of languages or dialects. It is natural then that Igbo, the mother tongue of the writer and that of most of his characters, should feature in Achebe's texts, especially when such traditional practices as story-telling, as we have in Anthills, are to be encountered. Proverbs, communal properties in traditional African societies, equally condition the communicative process in this context.

When Achebe reports life in Igbo society, he integrates into English the Igbo similes, wise sayings, proverbs, riddles, songs and other traditional art features. …

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