A friend of mine shared this article to me from his blog, My Mind Snaps.
It is an intelligent critique of Chimamanda’s latest literary works vis á vis Achebe’s masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. The writer is Tobe Osigwe, and he shares the view that writers have a moral responsibiity to their readers, even in works of fiction.
Read and enjoy, and while commenting, please bear in mind that by virtue of Section 38 (1) CFRN 1999, every Nigerian has the freedom of thought and the right to hold his own personal beliefs and opinions. So you are not neccesarily bound to agree with the entirety of the views of the writer.
Tobe Writes: DECONSTRUCTING CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE AND HER SENSE OF POETIC JUSTICE
It will be an understatement if I say that Chimamanda Adichie is one of the most celebrated young Nigerian lately. To say that she is a sound and deep story teller is stating the obvious. And to say that she is an overrated writer is a cheap improvised definition of lie. Chimamanda, to me, is a ring bearer for most young writers and a lucid Nigerian epitome of ‘Yes We Can’. Like an Amazon, she is bestriding our literary milieu in the charitable spirit of ‘My success is other people’s success.’ Like a heroine, she is making a case for so many strangled voices. But, like all Greek heroes and heroines, Adichie has her tragic, poetic flaws. The Igbo people have a saying: Aru gba afo oburu omenala (if an abomination is allowed to repeat itself it becomes a tradition).
Going by this philosophical thought, I dare say that there is a stylistic trend which has become evident in Adichie’s storytelling technique, precisely, her concept of resolution. This stylistic form of resolution surfaced in her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, and like an Abiku, it reincarnated in her latest work, Americana. For the comprehension of those who must not have observed this or those who but may have waived it aside, this frailty in resolution is Adichie’s style of sacrificing morality on the altar of happy ending.To understand the import of this, one needs to go back to the etymology of tragedy. Tragedy was first recorded to be defined in ancient Greece. Aristotle in his treatise, Aristotle’s Poetics, defined tragedy and went further to lay down guidelines on the structure and form of tragedy. One of the several elements that
Aristotle enumerated, which is crucial to this piece, is his rule that tragedy should be about a hero or heroine of noble birth and that
tragedy should have the element of catharsis (purgation of the emotion of fear and pity). Aristotle was of this opinion, because
he believed that if the ordinary citizens of Greece saw the tragic end of a hero of noble birth, it would evoke pity and fear in the
heart of these citizens. Therefore, these citizens would leave the theatre a changed people, or better put, renewed citizens, after
seeing the suffering of a great personality.
It is clear from the foregoing that Aristotle saw tragedy-drama as a vehicle for social rehabilitation and surgical transformation of the citizens’ behavioural attitude. One might ask, what is the correlation between drama and fictional novel (prose)? My answer
is: A whole lot. Drama and novel are forms of writing. All forms of conscious writing falls under literature. And, the purpose of Literature is to educate and to entertain. This purpose of literature is like the two ends of a stick; you cannot dialectically or practically divorce one from the other. This means that once you consciously or unconsciously pick one end of a stick, you have inadvertently picked the other end. Simplistically, what this also
means is that once a writer sets out to write, the writer has unconsciously set out to educate and entertain.
Chinua Achebe posits in one of his essays: If the society is sick, the role of the writer becomes enormous. The writer in this context, I believe includes, inter alia, scriptwriters, playwrights, novelists, journalists, and poets. Therefore, writers are the vanguards and moral fibre of the society; through their works,they mirror the ills of the society. They do not stop at that, they show the society what should and is supposed to be. I believe this
is in tandem with the perspective of Ben Okri when he opinionated: The decline of a Nation begins with the decline of its writers, writers represent the unconscious vigour and fighting
spirit of the land. Writers are the very sign of the psychic health of a people: they are the barometer of the vitality of the spirit of the
nation. In the light of the foregoing, there is one undercurrent insinuation that Aristotle, Achebe and Okri have unconsciously underscored: Writers are teachers and healers. If this is true, then I ask, what is Chimamanda trying to teach the society in Americana when she allowed Obinze to divorce his legally-married wife with no case of infidelity to marry Ifemelu, his first love? Is she directly or
indirectly proposing that all unhappy couples should divorce their spouses to marry their exes? What is Chimamanda trying to
teach when she allowed Jaja to go free after admitting responsibility to the homicide committed by his mother in her
debut novel, Purple Hibiscus? (Please do not get me misconstrued; I am in no way suggesting to Adichie how to end
her stories. Be that as it may, I believe a griot should end his story in a way that will cure societal malady.)
It behooves me to point out that in a society laced with volatile marriages, a proliferation of divorce and family crises, that our fiery writer cum teacher would dabble in a sensitive niche, plot a beautiful conflict out of it, and then create a grotesque resolution, a resolution that seems easy and nihilistic, a resolution that stifles the didactic voice of reason.
The German writer, Ludwig Van Goethe says that: To act is easy, to think is hard. Therefore I can wager a coin that somehow, somewhere, there is a husband/wife who will opt for divorce – without thinking his action through – after reading a certain award-winning book called Americanah. I believe that there is a youth romancing the idea of committing patricide or matricide hoping in the future he will be granted amnesty for such a justifiable
Now, this is the part I ask, does Chimamanda Adichie really understand the concept of error of judgment on the part of a protagonist? Does Chimamanda think that Achebe liked the idea of making his lovable character Okonkwo commit suicide? I believe these two questions will aid our writer of the moment in understanding the importance of poetic justice. No writer likes to make his lovable protagonist suffer but they are forced to do it so that people will learn from the dire consequences of the characters’ irrational actions. Story-telling from ancient to modern has been a vehicle for teaching morals. If any writer or griot fails in this duty, then I believe such person has unconsciously validated one unknown listener or reader of his sins.
To this end I say, no writer will ever know the impact, influence and reach of his writings. I believe if someone will tell Saint Paul
that thousands of years after, religious men will still be consulting his epistles as foundation for religious doctrine and dogmas or that it will be a guideline for conflict resolution, he would not have believed it. If someone had told Confucius that scores of
centuries later, his writing will aid in rebuilding a tottering oriental nation, I doubt if he would have believed it. Perhaps, if someone had told Karl Marx that his Communist Manifesto will be a
foundation for one of the most vicious governments the world has ever witnessed, perhaps he would have stopped in his tracks. If
someone had told Joseph Conrad that his Heart of Darkness will be a book that will ignite protest writings among Africans, I
believed he might have soft-pedaled in his use of words and imagery. If someone had told Salmon Rushdie that his novel Satanic Verses will spark series of murderous protests, maybe he would have. . .
Therefore, it calls for tact, circumspect and discretion whenever a writer sits down to pen his stories, thoughts and fables. Writers
are teachers, and teachers are builders or destroyers of society.
May GOD open our eyes of understanding.
Written by Tobe Osigwe, @ikolondigbo
Special thanks to @Walt_shakes for this article.
Reblogged from mymindsnaps.wordpress.com with permission.