Realist Novel

.. that is supported by the treatment of Odili and becomes, itself, a major projected contradiction). Chief Nanga is a man who attracts drama irresistibly to him. (p. 51) He also attracts a large measure of Achebe’s attention as a figure who activates the fictive debate of values.

Both Odili and Nanga are juxtaposed against such characters as the lawyer Max, Odili’s father, and the trade-unionist who considers that nervousness is at the root of the country’s trouble. ‘We say we are neutral,’ he says, ‘but as soon as we hear communist we begin de shake and piss for trouser’. (p. 90) All these figures contribute to Achebe’s personalisation of social contradiction, a process by which the consideration of values is embedded in the realist novel form. It would appear that Chinua Achebe does attempt (or suggest) a certain degree of resolution to the contradictions that he brings under scrutiny in A Man of the People.

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In the final section of the novel, the main figures are shown against a backdrop of election riots and the downfall of the government. Yet Achebe portrays Odili as moving towards a state of bitter cynicism, rather than towards any positive hope for meaningful change. To say that the people have been moved to anger by the corruption of the politicians, Odili thinks is sheer poppycock. Rather, it is a case of the people having become more cynical than their leaders, and apathetic too. This is not a popular, idealistic revolt: No, the people had nothing to do with the fall of our Government. What happened was simply that unruly mobs and private armies having tasted blood and power during the election had got out of hand and ruined their masters and employers.

And they had no public reason for doing it. Let’s make no mistake about that. (p. 162) The overthrow of the government is projected (through Odili) as basically an opportunist manoeuvre of no real lasting benefit in the resolution of the vast socio-political contradictions that are nationally present. Achebe presents, with deliberate emphasis, what is essentially a stalemate situation.

The fat-dripping, gummy, eat-and-let-eat regime disappears in the face of a military coup. It can be seen as no mere coincidence that the novel’s publication coincided with the military takeover in Nigeria in January 1966. On the contrary, the striking parallel between the limited resolution that is projected in A Man of the People and the nature of historical events can be seen as a vindication of Achebe’s ‘realist’ presentation. To the extent that any possible resolution is suggested (albeit a deliberately minimal one), it would appear to be based on the liberal humanist ideals of personal honesty and individual integrity. But Achebe’s novel gives no indication that these values will be sufficient to shelter the Nigerian people from the rain on the horizon.

Nor does it (can it) draw, with any clarity, the future lines of battle. While the presented world of A Man of the People is analogous to that of the civilian-rule era in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy (1973)12 extends the realist picture to include the period of civil war and the years immediately following it. As one can deduce from the title, it is a time of lawlessness, chaos and disorder. It is a period of national aberration when relationships between men and men (and men and nature) have been warped into destructive patterns of hostility. Soyinka’s novel, although dealing with ideological contradictions similar to those that are projected in Achebe’s work, tends to be more intense in its questioning of values, more desperate in its search for valid answers.

The section-headings of Season of Anomy – from Seminal to Buds to Tentacles to Harvest to Spores – suggest a general movement from natural birth to fruition and then to a distributive rebirth. This arrangement has relevance on three levels. The first is on the level of ironic thematic comment, with the enforcement of the implied view that the process of national independence has worked, in fact, in the reverse of a ‘natural’ order. The second is on the level of the protagonist Ofeyi, sometime head of the government’s Cocoa Campaign (itself shown as being a most unnatural enterprise). The third and interconnecting level is that of the communalist centre of Aiyero: the symbolic generator of fruitful values, an island of sanity in the surrounding chaos, and the focal point of Ofeyi’s search for definitive values. Turning to an examination of the ideological contradictions that are under scrutiny in Season of Anomy, it is necessary to look closely at Soyinka’s remarkable village of Aiyero.

From the start, the text underlines the distinctive nature of Aiyero. It is a place quite different from the society that surrounds it. A quaint anomaly it is called, and much more besides. It is a village that has .. long governed and policed itself .. so singly-knit that it obtained a tax assessment for the whole populace and paid it before the departure of the pith-helmeted assessor, in cash, held all property in common, literally, to the last scrap of thread on the clothing of each citizen ..

. Clearly, in the encircling rush for wealth and power, Aiyero represents a radically unusual way of life. Aiyero’s existence provokes strong guffaws from the ‘outside’ world. It is dismissed (by that world) as the prime example of unscientific communalism, primitive and embarrassingly sentimental (p. 2).

There is another unusual feature which intrigues the visiting Ofeyi: the people of Aiyero always return to the place of their birth. Aiyero has a strange compelling power, too, for Ofeyi. What brings them back? The answer is to be found in the positive nature of the place itself. In many ways, Season of Anomy is the story of Ofeyi’s search for that answer. Ofeyi tells Ahime, Aiyero’s Chief Minister, that ‘our generation appears to be born into one long crisis’ (p.

6). Yet there seems to be no crisis in the traditional village of Aiyero. It is a place where the rural values of communal living are being constantly affirmed, a ceremonial centre where human activity is tuned to invocations of renewal.13 Aiyero works as a referential model of positive behaviour and, significantly, provides a point of comparison that allows Soyinka’s text a degree of affirmation.14 For, thanks to Aiyero, Ofeyi can see his goals clearly ahead. Having resigned from the Corporation (an arm of the exploiting Cartel), his dream is of .. a new concept of labouring hands across artificial frontiers, the concrete, affective presence of Aiyero throughout the land, undermining the Cartel’s superstructure of robbery, indignities and murder, ending the new phase of slavery. (p .27) With the support of the Aiyero presence (as central to the nation’s spiritual and political rearmament) the dream is set up as a potential reality, an alternative way forward.

The projected clash between the old-new ideals of Aiyero and those of the governing Cartel is designed to emphasise certain conflicting issues. A potential for ‘good’ against an actual ‘evil’, an affirmative presence against a destructive exploitation, a fruitful reality against a specious mockery15 – these are the polarities that are presented. As he carefully delineates the competing sets of values, Soyinka effectively introduces certain supplementary questions that are pertinent to the realisation of Ofeyi’s dream. For it is apparent that the dichotomy between Aiyero and the Cartel sets off a chain of oppositions that proceed from the basic clash of values. While the nature of the Aiyero dream is fairly clear, the method of its enactment is not.

There is also the possibility, deliberately canvassed by Soyinka’s narrative method, that these ideals can perhaps never be enacted on a grand scale. Once Aiyero becomes a moral thorn in the complacent skin of the national body (p. 86) the forces of the Cartel are shown as moving into a vicious counter-attack. Immediately, the implied question is raised: how, legitimately, can positive ideals of peace and harmony be defended against a destructive power? How to defend the Aiyero people (at the strategic settlement of Shage) from the Cross-river whiff of violence, rape and death (p. 89)? The framing of these questions leads straight into the timeless debate about means and ends.

Demakin (the Dentist, and professional revolutionary) asks Ofeyi: ‘What did you think it would lead to, the doctrines you began to disseminate through the men of Aiyero?’. Ofeyi’s answer is a significant one. ‘Recovery of whatever has been seized from society by a handful, re-moulding society itself ..’ (p. 117), he says. So the process that Soyinka outlines in Season of Anomy is one of recovery and subsequent re-moulding. In the debate between the two figures (the Dentist and Ofeyi), particularly around the question of the use of violence, the author constructs the text’s ideological frame of reference.16 The examination of socio-political alternatives is well under way.

In terms of the personalisation of social contradictions it is apparent that Ofeyi is Soyinka’s asker of questions, his searcher for confirmation. It is Ofeyi who deliberately engages in the constant debate regarding tactics and aims. He it is who is always present at such harrowing moments as the ghastly massacre at Kuntua church (pp. 196-201). It is Ofeyi who undergoes a process of self-examination as he searches for his woman (Iriyise), kidnapped by the Cartel. It is clearly for him that the arguments of old Ahime and the militant Demakin are meant.

Soyinka uses the figure of Ofeyi, the searcher, to fill in the details of the continuing dream of Aiyero. Ofeyi speaks to Zaccheus, his jazz-playing foil, of creating ‘new affinities, working-class kinships as opposed to the tribal’ (p. 170). Shortly after, the two friends stand and gaze at the floating, bloated corpses on the lake, vivid evidence of the Cartel’s determination to prevent the building of new kinships of the sort that Ofeyi has in mind. When Ofeyi reaches Temoko prison it is through his progress into the various areas – from the outer area of the self-imprisoned, to the Lepers yard, then past the Death Cells, and finally into the Lunatic yard – that Soyinka creates his complex analogy of national imprisonment and absurdity. Starting from his statement to Ahime that the Aiyero ‘grain must find new seminal grounds’ (p. 6), Ofeyi becomes the main traveller along the text’s fictional road. It is a road that leads to that pointed confrontation with the absurd when men, women and children (trying to escape from the murderers) begin to break into the Federal prison. Of the numerous subordinate figures in Season of Anomy, all of them filling out minor facets of the text’s total process of personalisation, Demakin (the Dentist) fulfils an important function.

Ofeyi meets him during his travels abroad, seemingly by accident. However it transpires that Demakin is one of the Aiyero men himself. He appears to represent the militant, urban-guerilla thrust of the revolutionary movement. Demakin, more than any of the other figures, clarifies the characterisation of Ofeyi (and his ideas) by a process of reflection. By presenting the Dentist as a determined, no-nonsense figure and having Ofeyi react to his various opinions, Soyinka is able to chart the progress of Ofeyi’s movement along the Aiyero road.

As that progress also represents the possibility (or otherwise) of the Aiyero ideals being realised, Demakin has a significant role to play. Ofeyi sees the Dentist as a self-effacing priest of violence .. whose single-mindedness had resusicitated his own wavering commitment (p. 22). He later remarks on the Dentist’s unassailable logic of extraction before infection (p.

92) and listens while Demakin contends that the spreading of ideals by the intellectuals is not, by itself, sufficient. ‘Rich black earth or rich blackguards – you can only shoot one’ (p. 96), the Dentist says. Demakin strives for the creation of a situation wherein the Aiyero ideas can take root. As to envisaging what will happen then, he leaves that to Ofeyi. While Ofeyi is, as the Dentist puts it, occupied with ‘seminal rounds of the distant ideal’ (p. 118), Demakin is concerned with channeling what he sees as the inevitable violence and with directing it towards the necessary targets.

By means of this continuing dialogue, the text brings under scrutiny the potential coalition of the radicalised intellectual reformer and the practical revolutionary. The narrative thrust of Season of Anomy enforces the view that such a coalition is a necessary one. During a key meeting with Ahime and Demakin at Cross-River, Ofeyi’s role is contrasted to those of the others. Ofeyi is shown wondering about the link between his work for Aiyero and his search for Iriyise. He realises that there is a connection and begins to sense that ‘the search would immerse me in the meaning of the event, lead me to a new understanding of history’ (p.

218). Demakin, for his part, is concerned with the projection of Iriyise as a ‘super-mistress of universal insurgence’ (p. 219). When the plan for a trek of the Aiyero people is broached, Ahime sees it as a cleansing act that will ‘purify our present polluted humanity and cure our survivors of the dangers of self-pity’ (p. 218). Demakin is determined that the trek should mark the route for a successful return.

The reader notes that, rather than joining this tactical regrouping, Ofeyi continues with his search for the girl. It is significant, in terms of the socio-political implications of these varying attitudes, that Ofeyi is also imprisoned and, although he does find his Iriyise, it is the Dentist (the man of action) who rescues him. In a practical sense, it is Demakin who makes possible the continued presence of the Aiyero dream. Soyinka’s novel ends on a note of partial resolution. As the men leave the walls of Temoko prison, the anonymous narrator informs us that In the forests, life began to stir (p. 320).

It is a concluding line that is informed with a sense of guarded optimism. The Aiyero ideas have not triumphed but they have not been crushed either. Pitted against the destructive forces of the dominating Cartel, the dream of Aiyero has survived intact. The coalition of militant revolutionary and intellectual idealist has been cemented and shown to be potentially effective. The text clearly suggests that the season of anomy in Nigeria (and elsewhere) is a temporary one. The values of Aiyero provide the basis for a fruitful way forward. Soyinka’s creation of the Aiyero alternative thus allows him to suggest History.


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