Achieving Unity And Coherence Through Contradictions In The Novels Of Achebe, Iyayi And Habila

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Achieving Unity And Coherence Through Contradictions In The Novels Of Achebe, Iyayi And Habila


This study attempts an exploration of how unity and coherence through contradictions are achieved in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Iyayi’s Violence and Habila’s Measuring Time. It is significant to state that the choice of these texts is informed by the need to comprehend how various generations of Nigerian writers have negotiated the contradictions, tensions, distortions and challenges, which have characterized the social, historical and political landscape of Nigeria.

In addition, this study reflects the many dimensions of contradictions, distortions, tensions, injustice and disillusionment prevailing in the selected texts. It touches on character juxtaposition, comparative analysis, differences and interrelationships among structures in the texts. It however achieves unity and coherence by showing the connection of representations in the texts. For instance, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart projects unity and coherence of the African culture as well as Western religion through distortions and tensions evident in the text.

The writer’s skilful portrayal of the two cultures, co-existing side by side, is one of such structuralists binarism achieved in this study. Iyayi explores unity and coherence by pointing out the insensitive nature of the government. He encourages the masses to unite in the struggle towards a desirable and functional social order in the country. Habila’s Measuring Time depicts family disunity and its effect on the individual character. He achieves unity and coherence in the text, emphasizing on individual contributions towards the unity and development in the community. Structuralism as a reading method is appropriate.

This is in relation to its distinctive features of binary oppositions, the primacy of the text and the generation of meaning through differences, etc. The deployment of these features enhances the understanding of the contradictions, distortions and tensions predominant in the texts. The study therefore establishes that in spite of these contradictions, complexities, disintegrations and distortions the texts display some levels of unity and coherence towards a desirable functional society.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

The study attempts to explore and examine how literary texts achieve unity and coherence through contradictions in Chinua Achebe‟s Things Fall Apart (1958), Festus Iyayi‟s violence (1979), and Helon Habila‟s Measuring Time (2006). The study foregrounds the manner in which the selected Nigerian novelists appropriated and engaged the social realities, changes, challenges, sensibilities experienced in Nigeria to recreate and express a new consciousness.

To understand the nature of this new consciousness, the contact of Africa with the Western world is significant in the modern literary imports of Nigeria and Africa at large. The contact significantly impacted on the formation of literature from the oral to the written form, the language use from indigenous languages to the English language, the change in thematic values of cultural encapsulation, the issues of colonialism and post-independence disillusionment, etc.

This contact with the Western world and its implication has drawn critical attention in Oswald Spengler‟s Decline of the West (1918), Franz Fanon‟s Wretched of the Earth (1968), Walter Rodney‟s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), Austine Amanze Akpuda‟s Reconstructing the Canon, Joseph Conrad‟s Heart of Darkness (1988), and many other literary and critical texts. These works essentially explore and articulate the many dimensions of colonialism. One of such relevant comments to this study is credited to Simon Gikandi (2007:54):

But what is now considered to be the heart of literary scholarship on the continent could not have acquired its current identity or function if the traumatic encounter between Africa and Europe had not taken place. Not only were the founders of modern African literature colonial subjects but colonialism was also to be the most important and enduring theme in their works. From the eighteenth century onwards, the colonial situation shaped what it meant to be an African writer, shaped the language of African writing, and over determined the culture of letters in African…,

The view explains to a large extent, the positive and negative impacts of colonialism and its impact on the African writer.

Chinua Achebe is one of Africa‟s prolific and influential writers and no discussion on the historical relevance of Africa‟s fiction can be complete without referring to him. Achebe‟s work emphasizes and focuses on the importance of the individual person, the family structure, and the community. His creative vision transits from one generation to another, exploring the distortions, misrepresentations, standards, changes and phenomena which characterized the society through the use of history and realism. As a critical realist, Achebe selects a language frame that most appropriately conveys his messages. This is demonstrated in his works as they move through a certain level of historical progression from Things Fall Apart (1958), through No Longer at Ease (1960), to Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966).

Festus Iyayi, on the other hand, represents one of the most powerful voices in contemporary Nigerian literary scene. His writings are distinctly characterised with directness of words that address societal and national interests. As a socialist realist, Iyayi explores the nature of the Nigerian society in various ramifications, from political to the economic especially in terms of implication for the poor and marginalised members of the society. He explores the Nigerian socio-political structures and how individuals negotiate their existence within these structures. Iyayi demonstrates great measure of radicalism with Marxist fervour in his literary works. The radical propagation of Marxist ideology is a common feature associated with many of Iyayi‟s contemporaries such as, Niyi Osundare, Isidore Okpewho, Femi Osofisan and others. This presents an interest for this study because Marxist register is full of opposites and contradictions, such as the rich and poor, oppressed and oppressor and privileged and less privileged which fully express the sense of the binary. The Marxist approach sees the history of

human beings in terms of class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat, capitalism and socialism. He also simplifies the language that he employs in his works in order to generate spontaneous response from readers. His writings project limitless possibilities of the masses towards changing the society at large.

Iyayi embodies the younger generation of Nigerian writers referred to as committed writers because his novels, to a larger extent, offer a comprehensive insight to the life of the poor working class facing the odds of exploitation and oppression in Nigeria. He explores the socio-political degeneration in Nigeria which is defined by the economic inbalance in place.

Helon Habila demonstrates a level of writing that shifts from the conventional approach of writing in Africa, as he negotiates between fantasy and realism in Measuring Time. His appropriation of Magic realism, allows his work to extend social experience in the novel to reach beyond the confines of realism and draw upon the energies of fable, folktale and myth while retaining a strong contemporary social relevance. This type of avant-garde is also seen in some of Ben Okri‟s works.

This study offers a refreshing attempt to unveil the approaches adopted in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Festus Iyayi‟s Violence and Helon Habila’s Measuring Time, in structural terms, toward the creation of unity and coherence through contradictions prevalent in them. In this regard, the study examines the differences in ideological perceptions and connections between the novel and reality, binary oppositions in characterizations that have defined the trend and focus of these writers across generations.

Chapter One continues in the complete material…

Chapter Five

5.0 Conclusion

The study has been streamlined and anchored on the structuralist analysis on binary opposites, the primacy of the text¸ the intertextuality of the selected texts, the interplay of words, conventions and codes to generate meaning. With these, structuralism has enabled a better understanding of the interrelationship of structures, and juxtaposition in the selected texts Chinua Achebe‟s Things Fall Apart, Festus Iyayi‟s Violence and Helon Habila‟s Measuring Time. Tradition and modernity, appearance and reality, affluent and poverty, life and death, nature and culture, employed and jobless, bitter and sweet, to mention a few are some of the binaries explored in the course of this study. Also, binary opposites develop and build meanings and discussions through contradictions.

The Nigerian society is made of distinct identities. It is therefore natural that it is characterised by varying views, thoughts and opinions. Suffice it to say that such differences and contradictions in the writings of the selected authors are ingrained under some courses of unification and growth for the society. It is therefore significant to emphasize that the selected texts through the framework of structuralism has enhanced meaning and cohesion from the seemingly contradictory situations and characters that exist in the novels.

One of such unification is on the need for a greater individual empowerment and consolidated provision of basic social facilities. This growing consensus is buttressed through the writers‟ predominant exploration on the various deplorable conditions in the country. The writers note that in spite of divisions, cultural differences, tensions, complexities, contradictions, family disintegration and estrangement, inequality, nepotism, bigotry, unfairness, fragmentation, despondency, and other antagonistic features, the texts attempt to bring unity to issues in order to reflect meaning and coherence at the end.

In addition, the writers posit that any departure from addressing the pressing issues of man‟s inhumanity to man, insecurity, inequality, insensitive nature of government and lack of social amenities would destabilise the country. The writers observe that while change is fundamental, the quest for a functional Nigeria must be upheld vehemently. The authors envisage a Nigeria of greatness. For instance, Iyayi‟s Violence critically urges the populace to revolt against the system. Some of the ways of revolting against the system include insisting on change by voting wisely and condemning every iota of corrupt activities.

Essentially, the writers promulgate a functional Nigeria. Change is needed for a better society. Change to maximize the resources available, to capture the social realities, exchange ideas, interact with one another and recognise the power of unification toward building a better society. Accordingly, collective struggle to bring about popular government must be enforced. The writers negotiate their writings and come to term with the fact that a functional social order is significant.

In Achebe‟s Things Fall Apart, for instance, the author redefines contradictions, and relationships of characters and events to one another in the text by consciously juxtaposing two opposites. Achebe emphasizes that the two cultures could coexist side by side. Evident in the critical and conscious elimination of Okonkwo, whose character structure is built around the local tradition. Furthermore, the structuralist principle of linguistics on the arbitrariness of the sign is lucidly captured. This arbitrariness of signs reflects on the unnatural connection between the female character of Ezinma and male character of Nwoye. In other words, between the signifier and signified.

Iyayi‟s Violence, on the other hand, negotiates the relationship of one character and event to another, contradictions and tensions, while unifying them on the need for a change. Practically, the author presents the text as an object whose meaning can be interrelated in terms of its symbolic patterns to the reality in the Nigerian system. The society where social dishonesty is allowed and social provision is inspired by a few in the society, who turn tax payers‟ money into private use. The writer explores the power of the populace and challenges the masses to mobilize themselves against self-enrichment, political and social injustices through revolution. According to Iyayi, revolution is the surest way of fixing the system‟s unpopular policies, non-functional body and an end to the reign of corruption and insensitivity of the government.

Habila‟s Measuring Time achieves unity and coherence through contradiction by negotiating the reality and appearance between modernity and tradition. The writer colourfully paints the differences and divisions in the society through the characters of the twins. There are, notwithstanding, various instances of structural features in the text. The twins are vividly embodied with structural element of modernity and tradition, alienated and fulfilled, culture and nature and individual sacrifices toward building the nation.

In conclusion, the study demonstrates that the writers arrived at coherent narratives in spite of the contradictions and binarisms prevalent in the respective texts. The selected texts are unified in one single effort to bring transformation and conscientize the reader. These texts have demonstrated distinctively a society with vast possibilities both in human and natural resources. Yet, this capacity is not realized with majority of her citizens living in abject poverty, fragmentation and alienation. The writers also uphold that the success and growth of the individuals and society rely essentially on the prevailing social and political system. In the light of the above discussion, it is clear that a structuralist analysis is vividly applicable to the works of the selected authors.

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