A Comparative Analysis Of Language And Society In Chinua Achebe’s

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

A Comparative Analysis Of Language And Society In Chinua Achebe’s

Chapter One

A General Introduction

1.1 Introduction / Background to Study

This is a B.A. long essay written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an award for a Bachelor’s degree in English. This paper is a comparative analysis of language and society inAchebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

Establishing the nexus between language and society which is the focal point of this long essay is one whose importance cannot be over emphasized. This is with regard to the concepts of African and post-colonial literatures which are the umbrella concepts that define most of the literatures written in this part of the world, including Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. This paradigm begins to take meaning when one begins to interprete these literatures according to Tyson (1999) with respect to the struggle for individual and collective cultural identity and the related themes of alienation, homeliness, double consciousness, and

hybridity; and the need for continuity with a pre-colonial past and self definition of the political future (374) which defines these literatures including Purple Hibiscus and Anthills of the Savannah.

The African experience is one that is basically conveyed in African literature. This is an experience that has been defined by the totality of the influences on the African society; past, present and future including colonialism. The African people and society in the process of this contact are altered significantly such that it can no longer be said to be wholly African or European as a result of the cultural imperialism of the Africans by the colonial masters.

With society being altered thus the language also alters. This is because the people of necessity must communicate the complexity of their new reality or experiences which are foreign to their indigenous language. The foreign language becomes according to Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin (1989) the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated, and the medium through which the conceptions of “truth”, “order” and reality become established (7). Importantly; Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin (19890 also acknowledges that this power of the colonial language is rejected in the emergence of an effective post-colonial voice (7). Thus the use of the indigenous languages in literature is not only an effective post-colonial voice but also according to Mazisi Kunene (1992) an instrument for the re-assertion of African values, African history and a whole ideology justifying the existence of the African world against “their world” (26). Hence the focus of the post-colonial literatures with regard to the above becomes a discussion by which language with its power has been wrested from the dominant European culture.

So far, one realizes the inherent importance for the colonized societies to carve a niche for themselves, an identity distinct from that of the colonizers. When we consider these, the attempt to examine how language has been conceptualized or localized to reflect the varying and growing concerns of the society becomes meaningful. By these works like Achebe’sAnthills of the Savannah, Arrow of God, Things Fall Apart and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscusbegin to take on new meanings. This is with reference to the distinct abilities of the authors to manipulate their use of language such that it is able to convey the peculiar experiences of people of the different echelons that make up the society.

Furthermore, the nexus between language and society is also relevant from an aesthetic point of view. One would begin to ask how the writers have been able to convey or characterize the social circumstances of their characters in their language. Also the ability of the writers to hint at their targeted audience or society becomes relevant in this paradigm.

Conceptual Clarifications

The key words to this research are language and society which will be defined subsequently.


The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language; Encyclopedic Edition defines language in fours ways as

  • “The expression and communication of emotions or ideas between human beings by means of speech and hearing, the sounds spoken or heard being systematized and confirmed by usage among a given people over a period of time”.
  • “Transmission of emotions or ideas between any living creature by any means”
  • “The words forming the means of communication among members of a single nation or group at a given period; tongue.”
  • “The impulses, capacities and powers which induce and make possible the creation and use of all forms of human communication by speech and hearing.”

The American Heritage online Dictionary defines language in the following ways:

  • “Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures or written symbols”.
  • “A system of signs, symbols, gestures or rules used in communicating: the language of algebra.
  • “Body language; Kinesics
  • “The special vocabulary of a scientific, professional or other group”.
  • “A characteristic style of speech or writing”.
  • “A particular manner of expression: profane language, persuasive language.

The Britannica Concise online Encyclopedia defines language in the following ways:

  • “The words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.
  • “Audible, articulate meaningful sound, as produced by the action of the vocal organs”
  • “A systematic means of communicating ideas, feelings and gestures by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures or marks having understood meanings”.
  • “The suggestion by objects, actions or conditions of associated ideas or feelings in their very gesture – Shakespeare”.
  • “Form or manner of verbal expression specifically.”

However one chooses to define language on the basis of the above definitions, one thing is certain; it is a tool for the expression of meaning and as such it is a very vital tool in literature. This is because the writer not only uses it to relate his idea and as such communicate with his readers who share the same language; his characters as well use it also to communicate their own experiences. This therefore emphasizes a two way use of language in literature; as a bridge between whatever gaps there are between a writer’s imagination and its expression in a literary text; and as a tool with which characters communicate their experience.

It is through this use of language that one gains a total insight into the characters’ outlook on life their past or present or future socio-political and cultural experiences and that of the writer to an extent. In this regard, its study should be relevant to our interpretation and understanding of literature in order to gain an experience from the literary text.


The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language, Encyclopedic Edition defines society in the following ways:

  • “The system of community life, in which the individuals, ordinarily in a territorial establishment form a continuous and regulatory association for their mutual benefit and protection” .
  • “The body of persons comprising such a community”
  • “A number of persons in a community regarded as forming a class having certain common interest, status etc.
  • “The fashionable or cultured portion of a community, considered as constituting a class.

The American Heritage Online Dictionary defines society in the following ways:

  • “The totality of social relationships among humans.”
  • “A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institution and a common culture”.
  • “The institutions and culture of a distinct self perpetuating group’.
  • “An organization or association of persons engaged in a common profession, activity or interest. A folklore society; a society of bird watchers

“The Britannica Online Encyclopedia defines society in the following ways:

  • “Companionship or association with one’s fellows: friendly or intimate intercourse: COMPANY”
  • “A voluntary group of individuals for a special end especially: an organized group working together or periodically meeting because common interests, beliefs or profession”
  • “An enduring or cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationship through interaction with one another. b. A community, nation or broad group of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests”.
  • “A part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct: asocial circle or group of social circles having a clearly marked identity- literary-b. a part of the community that sets itself apart as a leisure class and that regards itself as the arbiter of fashion and manners”.

Society, in literature however one chooses to define it drawing from all of the above definitions, constitutes the setting- geographical and time, of a literary text; it refers to its physical setting and captures a structured community of people bound together by similar traditions, institutions or nationality. By this, therefore, we refer to the fact that the characters of any text of necessity are part of a society which shapes their ideologies, actions and thinking. Therefore a study of characters in relation to this society explains the events in which these characters exist as they affect their daily life, their behaviour, value system and ultimately their language through which they relate their experience. Hence, its study becomes relevant to our understanding of literature in terms of the characterization and language.

1.2 Research Problem

The ability of a writer to effectively capture the socio-political, cultural and economic biases which stratify his society is important. However, as a result of the hybridization and plethora of these experiences and the society, it becomes relatively difficult to mirror it through a language (the indigenous languages) that is alienated from it. Hence the question arises as to what extent is a writer able to mirror the ideological, ethnic, economic and socio-political variations operating within the society through the language? It also involves an examination of how the language of the characters echoes their social circumstances. The efficiency of the writer to aptly establish the link between the language and society is also investigated.

1.3 Research Objectives

  1. To carry out a comparative analysis of the language and societies of Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.
  2. To assess to what extent the writers have been able to reflect in the language of their characters, their varying social backgrounds.
  3. To assess to what extent the language of expression and the societies-experiences conveyed in the novels reflect their “Africaness”.

1.4 Research Methodology

The approach will be largely objective; considering the societies in these works in their own right and as a reflection of the larger society. A study of characters and their characterizations will also be carried out to understand the biases operating within these societies. An authorial background of the authors as well as their autobiographical sketch will be given to give one an insight however little of what factors may have shaped the work from the perspective of the authors, knowingly or unknowingly. An informed synopsis of the works will be given before their analysis. For the purpose of a coherent and detailed comparison, the works will first be analyzed individually before being contrasted.

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