The function of custom and tradition in establishing cultural identity in Chinua Achebe's fiction

Date

1996-08

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Publisher

Texas Tech University

Abstract

In examining any piece or body of literature, especially those collectively produced from a single nationality, community or society, it becomes prudent at times also to examine the symbiotic relationship between fiction, the society and the author. In more established communities, literature can either respond to, conform to, or rebel against the norms of that society. In an attempt to change what an author sees as being wrong with a community, that author's fiction will target those societal flaws, enhancing them and magnifying them for the reader to recognize. Yet in more newly formed societies, or, in some cases, newly re-formed societies, an author's fiction will give a view of what that writer sees as what that society should become. In some cases such work may be seen as "utopian," but in others the vision is much more grounded in a sense of what the community can accomplish. Such would be the case with newly formed nations or nations which have recently gained independence from a larger power. In the case of nations gaining independence from colonization, often the literature of the newly independent state urges that society to break away from the imperial mind-set, while the literature itself struggles to free itself from the mold of cultural imperialism. In an attempt to break this mold, the post-colonial author may hearken back to the pre-colonial past to recapture the cultural identity that a nation possessed before that identity was diluted by colonialism. Such is no doubt the case with the fiction of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958, two years before Nigeria gained its independence from Britain. In this and in his succeeding novels, all published after independence was achieved, Achebe makes use of folklore and tradition to remind Nigerians that they had a cultural history before the advent of British domination, and becomes social critic by examining the corruption and ineptitude of the factions of Nigerian society trying to replicate British social mores in an independent Nigerian society. In this project I will attempt to examine and explore in depth the relationship and interplay between a reemerging society and the author as an agent of cultural rediscovery.

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Keywords

Folklore in literature, National characteristics in literature, Achehe, Chinua -- Criticism and interpretation, Nationalism in literature

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