ACVIEVING 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‟sThings 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‟sMeasuring 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.
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 offersa refreshing attempt to unveil the approaches adopted in Achebe‟s Things Fall Apart, Festus Iyayi‟s Violence and Helon Habila‟s Measuring Time, in structuralterms, 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.
1.1 Literature and Society in Nigeria
There is a way in which a symbiotic relationship exists between literature and society. It is this relationship that enables literature to follow the various contours of changes in the society.
In this regard, Nnolim (2010:1) argues:
It is now commonplace knowledge that contemporary African literature cannot be properly understood and appreciated as an isolated expression but must rather be viewed as part of the totality of human experience. As a literature of a people, it cannot be fully understood by the simple separation of form and content, for literature is part of a social situation and must be approached primarily as a mode of collective belief and action…
The dynamism between literature and society pave ways for possible reconciliation in the work of art. This simply means that although there are dynamics and complex developments in Nigerian history including its social and cultural formation, Nigerian literature could still be explored, and understood as a unified and coherent experience. Nnolim (2010:112-113) argues further that:
The relationship between art and society cannot be ignored, for art itself is a social phenomenon: first, because the artist, however unique his primary experience might be, is a social being; second, because his work, however deeply marked by his primary experience and however unique and unrepeatable its objectification or form might be, is always a bridge, a connecting link between the artist and other members of society; third, because a work of art affects other people – it contributes to the reaffirmation or devaluation of their ideals, goals, or values – and is a social force which, with its emotional or ideological weight, shakes or moves people. Nobody remains the same after having been deeply moved by a true work of art…Art and society are thus necessarily connected: no art has been unaffected by social influences and no art has failed in turn to influence society…
The above view further validates the importance of art in human existence especially in Africa where this existence invariably includes the contact with the Western world. Again, Nnolim (2010:29) posits that:
The story of Europe‟s encounter with Africa, it seems, will never be complete in our literatures until its ramifications are traced by our literary artists from that initial break-up of our culture, which Achebe so splendidly recreated in Things Fall Apart, to Ousmane Sembene‟s concerns with the oppressive nature of theforces of production which Europeans unleashed among the labouring Africanmasses, then to Ngugi Wa Thiong‟O‟s tracing of those oppressive elements inherited by Africa from the departing Europeans and perpetrated by them as neocolonist African stooges on their disadvantaged fellow Africans, as recreated in Petals of Blood.
Nnolim‟s view again establishes link between the artist and the society in which the artist is both voice and conscience. Simon Gikandi (2007:101) had earlier made the point that: it has always been the task of African art and artists to be critical prods and guides of their societies. “The artist has always functioned in African society as the record of the mores and experiences of his society and as the voice of vision in his own time…. In the same vein, Achebe expresses the opinion that the African writer functions as a teacher in his society and as a teacher, he/she is expected to inculcate values or at least live an exemplary lifestyle. It, therefore, means that African writers have the social task of raising the consciousness of their people about reality in terms of their social well-being, history, cultural values, challenges and leadership, to mention but a few. Achebe‟s commitment, in using literature in creating awareness in African society, has always been obvious for decades now. He argues accordingly that (1975:79): It is clear… that an African creative writer who tries to avoid the big social and political issues of contemporary Africa will end up being completely irrelevant like that absurd man in the proverb who leaves his burning house to pursue a rat fleeing from the flames. Consequently, most African novelists are not too concerned with the triviality in the society but with critical or “burning issues” of violence, leadership, social injustices, etc. Since independence, many literary works have reflected the changing phases in the society. These works examine the claim that literature entails man‟s daily and conscious struggle with forces in society. Ngugi (2003: xi) mentions that: Imaginative literature in so far as it deals with human relationships and attempts to influence a peoples‟ consciousness and politics, in so far as it deals with and is about operation of power and relationship of power in society, are reflected in one another, and can and do act on one another.
The open-ended realm of possibilities in imaginative literary works is very well noted in Ngugi‟s comments. Similarly, the trends in Nigerian literary works have been affected by the relationship between art and society as social changes determine the direction writers take in exploring the state of affairs in their various milieus. Thus, according to Irele in Literary Criticism in the Nigerian Context, has in mind when he says that:…in a growing literary culture the canon is hardly ever a stable or final one, and every generation has the opportunity to shape its literary preferences according to its own perception of the values it considers essential to the continuity of its tradition.
It also means that the terrain of Nigerian fiction is dynamic. This dynamic nature of Nigerian fiction is reflected in its various handling of thematic preoccupations and the stylistic devices are commonly used. For instance, the first generation of writers represented by Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Gabriel Okara and J. P. Clark-Bekederemo, dealt with specific cultural issues while Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Femi Osofisan and Festus Iyayi, who are the major voices of the second generation, express their angst against the decadence of post-independence leadership. There is, then, a group whose artistic features constitute another terrain of Nigerian fiction, such as Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Attah, Helon Habila, Doreen Baigana, etc.