Societal Issues in Chinua Achebe’s Novels

December 17, 2020 by Essay Writer

Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist born November 16th 1930 has been described by many as Africa’s most influential writer of his generation. Achebe continues to receive tremendous praise for his “unsentimental depictions of the social and psychological disorientation” that came with the western customs and values that had been imposed on Africans through colonialism (Tikkanen, 2019).

Achebe covered a number of key topics in his literary work, common themes in his work included tales of the first contact an African village made with the white man, to tales of the struggle experienced by a young black man educated abroad that has returned home to a country under the rule of an extremely corrupt government. Going on, Achebe spoke intently of issues of tradition as a ‘hindrance’ to progression in his book No longer at ease, the duty that comes with being the educated one in the family as well as the use of education as a tool. These key topics are all explored immensely in Chinua Achebe’s literature works of: Things fall apart, No longer at ease, Arrow of God and Anthills of the savannah. The following essay will look at the key themes depicted in Achebe’s works, themes of corruption, education and tradition.

In his 1960’s novel No longer at ease, Chinua Achebe looked at the influence of education on the character Obi, a young Nigerian man that had been educated in England. The very same education he was privileged enough to be afforded made him feel like a stranger in his own country. Obi, upon his return from England soon realizes that education brought him status, and with that status very much and his absolute best was expected of him at all times. In his writings, Achebe discussed a sense of duty that was expected of a young man who had been educated abroad to provide for his family.

Further along, Achebe narrates on how a young man such as Obi with years of education could take a bribe, the irony expressed in the question by Achebe was very fitting as not only had he been accused of corruption himself but many who hold high positions in government with many years of education are frequently guilty of the very act. Obi then went on to respond by saying that, the one thing education did not teach him was how to not get caught. Taking a bribe was a constant temptation for Obi with the high levels of corruption around him as well as the ever growing pressure from his family to provide. Going on, paradoxically, Achebe goes on to discuss the use of education as a tool against colonialism by Obi’s generation. In simpler terms, Achebe was emphasizing the importance for Africans to make use of the education that was brought by their colonizers to reclaim their country’s land and take leadership and development into their own hands.

Going on, in his 1960’s novel No longer at ease, Chinua Achebe also highlighted the key theme of corruption. Throughout the novel Achebe takes his readers on a journey with the character Obi. As a young man in Nigeria, Obi succumbs to the pressures of corruption, although Achebe insures he is caught which then leads him to stop taking bribes altogether. Obi believed that by not taking bribes he could make a difference. Consequently, Achebe believed that one other way to fight corruption was to replace the ‘old’ people in the top civil service positions with a younger generation of idealistic and educated graduates. Achebe strongly believed that the critical tone he used as an author would lead others out of corruption or at least bring it to their attention.

Furthermore, a key theme Achebe looked at was that of masculinity in African societies. Achebe suggested that colonialism imposed “definitions of patriarchy and matriarchy which were designed to create hierarchy within the African society which did not exist before” (Salamone, 2006). In his novel Things fall apart, Achebe depicted the character Okonkwos masculinity as that from an ‘old system’, a system where men where not interested in acquiring private property (Salamone, 2006). Okonkwos character was that of a man with shear strength that fought for his family and people in tribal wars, he was a wealthy farmer and a husband to three wives (Salamone, 2006). Masculinity in Africa over time has been distinguished greatly from masculinity elsewhere, with the term “black masculinity’’ coined by modern day sociologists. In Africa, masculinity was measured by the “predominance of physical strength to the exclusion of intellectual capabilities and finally by political conflicts and atrocities” (Salamone, 2006). In an attempt to educate his readers on the influence of western colonies on the view of black men and masculinity, Achebe was not criticizing the western colonies but rather through his works attempted to “highlight the need to restructure masculinity” views in todays societies (Salamone, 2006). Achebe, added to the conversation through his writings of the possibilities of there being different types of masculinities, characterized by individualism, rationality, heterosexuality and extreme violence (Minga, 2006, p119). As well as the possibility that these different waves of masculinity could have been influenced by events such as colonialism and slave trade (Minga, 2006, p119).

In conclusion, as an author, Chinua Achebe covered many broad topics in his novels. It was through stories with african characters that African people could relate to and in turn question their own understandings of certain issues. Issues of education, tradition, religion and duty.


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