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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:


•         “A voluntary group of individuals for a special end especially: an organized group working together or periodically meeting because common interests, beliefs or profession”

•         a. “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.” 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.

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.

Research Objectives

To carry out a comparative analysis of the language and societies of Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

•         To assess to what extent the writers have been able to reflect in the language of their characters, their varying social backgrounds.

• To assess to what extent the language of expression and the societies-experiences conveyed in the novels reflect their “Africaness”.

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.

Scope of Research

For a satisfactory analysis, the focus will be on Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Reference will also be made to other works which helps illuminate and meet the set objectives.

A Review of Relevant Literature

The Essence of Africa Literature: Language and Society

Normally the society that structures the physical and cultural surroundings of children also provides them with their first language, which is the seminal foundation for literature. Sadly however, the debate over the most appropriate language for African writers suggests that some disaster has befallen the African Society- a disaster that has either rendered it Incapable of supplying its citizens with their first language or made it impossible for that language to support the production of written literature. (Isola 17

In a sense according to Abiola Irele, the oral tradition represents our classical tradition – that is that body of texts which lies behind us as a complete and enduring literature, though being constantly renewed and which most profoundly informs the world views of our peoples, and is at the same time the foundation and expressive channel of a fundamental African mental universe (12). Oral tradition with its relation to the social systems and values, its mode of insertion within the total culture of the traditional world gives a comprehensive image of the “Africaness” of a literary text when referred to. An instance is Achebe’s Anthil1s of the Savannah which is a fusion of myths and legends with modern styles.

In tradition, Abiola lrele believes that the need to examine traditional literature from this historical perspective is that on the one hand it gives a global view of literature. On the other, we derive from obtaining these images of the past, a sense of our history, a sense that proceeds from the consciousness of a living background, of a creative endeavour within our world and which provides to the literary artists of today a vital source of reference. For him therefore,what emerges is a history of those concerns and preoccupations that have in relation to historical and sociological factors featured as poles which have crystallized a modern African consciousness and thought (13).

Every hour that passes brings a supplement of ignition to the

crucible in which the world isg being fused. We have not had

the same past, you and ourselves, but we shall have strictly the same future.  The era of separate destinies has run its course.  In  that sense, the end of the world has indeed come for everyone of us, because no one can any longer live by the simple carrying out of he himself is.(79-80: emphasis mine)

The experiential aspect of African literature goes way beyond the traditional era.  It is a summation of the traditional, the colonial, and post colonial experience of the African peoples. With the emergence of colonization, the African experience became disjointed.  As Kane notes in his Ambiguous Adventures;

The colonial experience at once possessed the efficacy of a cannon and the attraction of a magnet. Thus, where the cannon made a pit of ashes and of a death in the sticky mould of which men would not have rebounded from the ruins, the “otherness” of colonialism also establishes peace. The upheaval of the life of man is in this order, similar to the overturn of certain physical laws in a magnetic field. (Ambiguous Adventures: 50). As a result, the African peoples were wedged between accepting a new world view and rehabilitating their dying traditions as well as debunking the preconceptions about their past.

In view of this, the thematic concern of the modern writers changes in these post-colonial literatures. The problem of the modern writers according to Oyebode in his essay “Is there an African Aesthetic” in Brown’s Kiss and Quarrel: The Yoruba/ English Strategies of Meditation, becomes how they can effectively articulate modern concerns and still hold a dialogue with an irresistible past.  In other words, they sought to create a balance, not losing focus of their origins still facing squarely the challenges of their modern life. His preoccupation becomes the need to capture the impact of the colonial contact on the African, his society and his soul. He is imbued with modern concerns which include an evaluation of the rapidly changing sounds of social values, the problems of identity associated with post-colonialism in terms of alteration, migration, eurocentricism and hybridism as exemplified in Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventures.  He is also faced with conveying the impoverishment of the spirit, the decomposition of the organic world and the ferocious aggressiveness of ethnic differences (40).

Works like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Ezeigbo’s The Last of the Strong Ones Laye’s The Radiance of the King, Mongo Beti’s Poor Christ of Bomba in line with the above have put in words about the positive image of the pre-colonial Africa society in defense of the African world view. Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, beyond this, go further to appraise the post-colonial aftermath in terms of the problems that plague this society all of which that may not be attributed to the colonial masters. Hence, the political life and failures of the indigenous leaders as leaders of the African society are examined with its attendant effects of structural and economic breakdown.

Following Irele’s paradigm, any literary text which captures all of the above may be regarded as an African literature. But its authenticity will once more be questioned on the basis of its form.  According to Lewis Nkosi in his Tasks and Masks: Themes and Styles of African Literature, “the art form of any society develops are intricately related to the kind of social structures it has built”.  Thus the kind of art which was priced above all others in the old Africa, was the one which promoted harmonization (communalism) of the potential areas of conflict within the community by psychological projection or externalization of opposing forces of good and evil through ritual and communal forms of art. In other words the world view captured in a literary work is a reflection of the larger society that produces it. Referring again to Nkosi, we understand that the form of the novel we have acquired from the Europeans is no more than that which places man, the individual at its core and his rights over that of the community as a whole especially in Marxist societies, distorting the communal spirit of the African society(15). Through this disparity therefore, we understand and also liken the novel form to a mirror whose prisms impose their own shape on the reality they try to view, therefore the judgment on the

African values are already inherent in the form itself. The point therefore is that chronicling an African experience in a non- African medium does not harness its” Africanness”.

Furthermore, having implied that the form of the traditional literature (oral literature) is conveyed by word of mouth, it is therefore obvious that the modern written form – that is, the very act of writing, reflects another aspect of the African literature that owes its being to the Europeans, a very positive one at that too. This is because though the Africans owe this medium to them, it bas taught them to preserve both the originality and existence of their former oral literature. Not only this, they are able to read these forms as a result of this contact. Therefore, one can also argue that even this ability to document through writing is a borrowed culture as it were.

Undoubtedly, one of the most veritable tools for judging the existence of an African literature is the medium of expression which is the language. This is because according to Irele (1981), literature is not a mere category of language and cannot be reduced to a system of signs but possesses its own peculiar nature and reality which go beyond the immediate fact of language as a means of communication (15).  It is used to characterize the sensibility of the characters and by extension establishes the thematic and tonal significance. However, Africa comprises of diverse traditions and languages, each with its national pride and dignity and as such cannot uniformly, that is, through one language express their peculiar experience. Hence the adoption and use of foreign code- the language of their colonizers with which they have learnt to express their reality.

This stance according to Oyebode in his essay collected in Brown (1989) creates a problem for the African writer because their peculiar concerns have to be expressed within language moulded and nurtured by a different history, climate, an attitude of mind at once arrogant and contemptuous ‘other’ that it could be said that the medium carries within it ditches to distort or kill what is real and pointed (41). A simple analogy to buttress this view is the fact that cakes will always take the shape of the pans in which they have been baked. In other words, one will be subject to another and in this regard the African content, because the adopted code will adapt the content to suit its own perspectives.

Along a similar train of thought, Irele (1981) is of the opinion that;

… this attachment of our modern literature and culture

To the European languages is at odds with the facts of

The African life today, for the truth is that none of these Languages can be said, outside of a few circles to carry full with it the reality of African experience as it exists today, and the new literature that is been expressed in them, for all its value and significance must be seen for this reason, from the African point of view, to be placed in a most ambiguous, not to say, precarious situation (44).

Following this, one begins to ask if really it is possible to express ones thought in another’s language, like attempting to speak Chinese in English.  Is it also possible to express an African content in a European language and at once communicating the intended meaning and preserving the “Africanness” of the content. In this vein, Africans cannot fully lay a claim on this literature because they do not own it in every sense of the word. African literature based on this is a contradiction in terms and as Lewis Nkosi argues:

If in trying to rehabilitate their smashed up cultures, Africans are forced to write in foreign languages, their Task must be obviously incomplete. For it is one of the bitterest ironies that even when an assault had to be made on those opposing values which the colonial masters used to control their colonial subjects, values which have constituted the very underpinning of the colonial system, the war had to be waged by Africans in this same language used to enslave them (2).

However, there is a sense in which the use of this code can be justified. For Achebe, he writes to the Europeans to “re-write and right” the preconceptions about the African society and people, others may write in their indigenous language which is good but he prefers to write in English.  In addition, this code can be adapted to suit the African context and imagination such that it at once retains its status and origin as a foreign code and also convey the writer’s own peculiar experience.  This therefore accounts for the use of language one finds in Things Fall Apart, Anthills of the Savannah, Purple Hibiscus, Arrow of God, Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horseman etc. One realizes with regards to these books that the writers have been able to achieve some sort of balance with respect to relating his imagination and sensibilities in the European language which he aims at.  By this, writers like Achebe have achieve their dual mission which is addressing the Europeans by way of projecting a positive image about the


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