Chinua Achebe's Fifth Novel Term Paper

Pages: 10 (4071 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Literature

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] Beatrice has drawn praise from Ikem for the "odd short story and poem" she has written. Ikem is an admired poet as well as a journalist, and his prose-poem "Hymn to the Sun" is held in higher regard by his friends than all of his crusading editorials. Only Chris, the former editor of the Gazette, does not produce literature (this is only one of the ways that Achebe shows that Chris does not see what is happening around him). Not until he is on the bus heading north and he looks at Ikem's "Hymn to the Sun" again does he begin to learn how to read literature, and to see with the clarity of a writer. The poem reveals "in details he had not before experienced how the searing accuracy of the poet's eye was primed not on fancy but fact."

But even literary writing can be corrupted if the desire for fame overrides the desire to express truth. The most pointed commentary on mass media and its influence is the poetry magazine Reject, edited by Dick in Soho, London. Reject was intended to publish only poetry that had been rejected by other magazines. The editors soon learned that many people were so hungry to appear in print that they were willing to write fake rejection slips to accompany their submissions. Even a magazine designed to offer rejected work cannot be trusted to be genuine.

As he demonstrates in all of his novels, Achebe reveres oral literature and the honest spoken word. Many critics of Anthills of the Savannah have pointed out that the lines spoken in pidgin by various characters of less education often contain the essential wisdom and truth of the culture. Proverbs, snatches of song, and the myth of the priestess Idemili all are presented as demonstrating the goodness and strength of the Kangan people, far removed from the sophisticated upper-class Westernized government officials.

In the ninth chapter, the Abazon elder honors Ikem for his work on behalf of his people, although he has not read Ikem's writing, "because I do not know ABC." The elder praises those who "tell their fellows that the time to get up has finally come," and also those who, "when the struggle is ended...take over and recount its story." With his editorials and his poetry, Ikem is prepared to do both. The elder continues:

"The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards -- each is important in its own way...But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather I will say boldly: the story."

Three chapters later, Ikem delivers his own oration, before a large crowd at the University of Bassa. He has been fired from the newspaper, but follows Beatrice's suggestion that "if you can't write you can surely get up and talk." Like the Abazon elder, whose voice has "such compelling power and magic" that everyone is captivated, Ikem gives a speech that is "so powerfully spoken it took on the nature and scope of an epic prose-poem." It is this oral presentation, far more than anything he has ever written in the Gazette, that moves the government to silence him.

Throughout the novel, Ikem is the one among the three old friends who has retained the most of his youthful idealism and vision; the two others are played off him. Like the president, Ikem respects the power of the media, and is aware of his role in the spotlight. Although he has some of the president's sense of self-importance, Ikem tries to use his public forum for the greater good. Like Chris before him, Ikem is editor of the Gazette, and like Chris he initially approaches the job with no strong political conviction. But Ikem is politicized when he goes to watch a public execution, something Chris never did. Not until the end does Chris begin to see with "the poet's eye." Ikem has a better perspective on the media than the president does, he is a more effective journalist than Chris was, and he is a better poet than Beatrice. Ikem and the others face similar choices, but Ikem chooses the most nobly. This idea is reinforced by the novel's references to journalism and literature. He combines the best qualities of the other two, but in the end all three die.

Anthills of the Savannah is not a repudiation of journalism or of the notion of objectivity. Instead, Achebe calls for balance. Ikem writes dozens of impassioned editorials, but it is finally through his prose-poem that he connects with Chris, and through his speech that he poses a threat to the president. If Kangan is ever to be a just nation, its rulers and its people must combine old and new, objective and subjective, editorials and poetry. They must use both their heads and their hearts. The precise combination is beyond Achebe's Ken to describe.

Many readers of Anthills of the Savannah are left with a sense of hopelessness at the end of the novel. Three of the novel's four main characters have died senseless deaths, and the country is left in the throes of instability. Free of one military regime, it faces another, with no reason to believe that this one will be any better than the last two. Even so, Achebe weaves a story that is not completely devoid of optimism; there are elements of hope and unity, but the reader, like the people of Kangan, must search for them. There is a subtle spirituality running through the novel, and Achebe seems to suggest that the spirit of the people cannot be defeated, even by a series of dictators and corrupt governments. This enduring spirit is what binds the people together and maintains a sense of community that offers the weary Kangans a degree of stability and buoyancy.

Achebe, as the son of a missionary who has spent much of his life in Western cultures, is fully aware of the significance of the number three to the Christian belief system, and he uses it twice in Anthills of the Savannah. There are three male figures who dominate the novel: the dictator, Sam; the editor, Ikem; and the Commissioner of Information, Chris. The three men met in their early teenage years while attending the same school, yet each took a very different path in adulthood. They come from similar backgrounds, illustrating that predicting the course of a person's life is not a simple task. Achebe's group of three main characters do not represent religious figures, but they are three aspects of the same entity, and therefore comprise a sort of trinity. They make up a political system that will not work and is destined to fail. Sam represents power driven by self-interest. Ikem represents the desire for reform. He is outspoken and admired by the people, and prefers to do things his way without compromising. Chris represents efforts to work for good within the system. He is a good man in a bad regime, and he is idealistic enough to believe that by staying in the government he can serve his people. By the end, of course, the regime has been toppled, replaced by another that will surely be just like it. When a system dies, so do its components, and as representatives of different aspects of the failed system, each of the three men is killed -- Sam by another just like him, Ikem by his own peers, and Chris by an evil man who would rather murder than behave honorably.

The story also contains a female trinity in the characters of Beatrice, Elewa, and Amaechina. Beatrice is well-educated, sophisticated, and independent, and she holds an administrative position in the government. Beatrice represents the positive aspects of the present. Elewa is a common woman who is highly emotional and uneducated. She supports herself by working in a small shop. Elewa represents the past. Amaechina is Elewa's infant daughter, and although she does not appear until the end of the novel, she is potential embodied. As Ikem's daughter, she represents the meaning of her name, "May the Path Never Close." She is hope for the future, even though the future currently looks grim.

Beatrice and Elewa do not seem to have much in common, and readers may be surprised by their friendship. Their commitment to each other, however, is undeniable. Upon receiving the news of Chris's death, Beatrice is in complete shock. Achebe writes:

"In spite of her toughness Beatrice actually fared worse than Elewa in the first shock of bereavement. For weeks she sprawled in total devastation. Then one morning she rose up, as it were, and distanced herself from her thoughts. It was the morning of Elewa's threatened miscarriage. From that day she addressed herself to the well-being of the young woman through the remaining weeks to her confinement."

Despite their differences, Beatrice and Elewa have a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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