Immersed in the Storyworld: Rotten English and Orality in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy

By James, Erin | Journal of Narrative Theory, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Immersed in the Storyworld: Rotten English and Orality in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy


James, Erin, Journal of Narrative Theory


Perhaps the most striking thing about Ken Saro-Wiwa's novel about the Nigerian Civil War, Sozaboy (1985), is that he references oil only once in the text, in passing. The novel's narrator and protagonist Mene-a naïve young man struggling to decipher the political and economic forces that shape his world-speaks of the natural resource in a metaphor about the dangers of serving as a soldier (soza) on patrol. "As petrol burns," he states, "that is how this patrol kills" (104). On the surface, the metaphor makes a figurative, visual, and aural connection between the fast-burning oil flares of the Niger Delta and the speed with which a patrolling soldier can meet his death. But dig deeper and the metaphor raises a significant question: why is oil not mentioned more in this novel?

The question is vexing given Saro-Wiwa's reputation as one of the world's foremost protestors of the oil industry. As a founding member of MOSOP (the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People) and through non-fiction texts such as the political pamphlet "The Ogoni Nationality Today and Tomorrow" (1968), the civil war memoir On A Darkling Plain (1989), the polemic Genocide in Nigeria (1992), and the prison diary A Month and A Day (1995), he launched an environmental justice campaign and drew worldwide attention to the corrupt oil politics of the Niger Delta and destruction of his minority Ogoni tribe at the hands of the multinational oil companies Shell and Chevron and their partners in the Nigerian federal government. In these texts Saro-Wiwa is insistent that the health of Niger Delta minorities such as the Ogoni relies upon the redistribution of oil profits, and he regularly appeals to the international community to help correct the social and environmental injustices to which they contribute when they purchase Shell and Chevron gas. Saro-Wiwa's campaign was so successful it eventually caught the ears of those he was protesting. After being arrested on trumped up murder charges and enduring a farcical trial that drew international attention, Saro-Wiwa was executed and thereby silenced by General Sani Abacha's regime on November 10, 1995. Oil was so important to Saro-Wiwa that he ended up paying for it with his life. Why then does his imaginative retelling of a war largely fought because of oil only mention it once, and figuratively?

One popular answer to this question is that Sozaboy is a text more interested in linguistic experimentation than oil or environmental justice. In the novel's "Author's Note," Saro-Wiwa writes that the nonstandard english Mene speaks-a language the writer labels "rotten English"-"thrives on lawlessness, and is part of the dislocated and discordant society in which Sozaboy must live, move and have not his being" (n.p.). He also clarifies that rotten English, a "mixture of Nigerian pidgin English, broken English and occasional flashes of good, even idiomatic English" is his own invention. Many scholars celebrate the text's language as a sustained experiment in linguistic nation building. Eckhard Breitinger foregrounds the importance of the novel's language to its representation of Nigerian identity when he argues that rotten English illustrates Saro-Wiwa's pragmatic attitude towards languages and the writer's desire to reach as wide an audience as possible. With respect to debates about language in African literature that challenge writers to reject English for indigenous languages, Breitinger sees Saro-Wiwa as opting for a third choice. Rotten English, Breitinger argues, is a hybrid language that speaks to a broader, middleclass national audience beyond that reached in Kana, Saro-Wiwa's indigenous Ogoni tongue, or by Standard English, which Breitinger sees as largely spoken by university-trained Nigerians (242). Abiola Irele similarly argues that "the most rewarding approach to the novel is to read it as the expression of a clearly defined national consciousness as it begins to express itself in our literature" (261). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Immersed in the Storyworld: Rotten English and Orality in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.