Chinua Achebe Short Stories as a Periscope to Igbo Worldview
Human beings cannot function in chaos, and out of the chaos of life they create an ordered existence. The basic ideas of the world, physical and metaphysical, held by a people have vital influences on their perceptions and approaches to life. Their conceptions of the universe and nature of existence determine the basic belief which reflect in their cultural, religious and social values that sometimes mold and guide their behaviour and actions. Africans generally and the Igbo in particular are known for their well-articulated and distinctive worldviews. Admittedly, western civilization has made considerable impact on some of their worldviews; while some have lost essence, some are over-looked or trampled upon and others forgotten outright.
This work discusses Chinua Achebe’s Girls at War and Other Stories using them as searchlight into Igbo worldview. It offers an exploration of the dynamics of the socio- cultural and religious values that encompass the Igbo worldview revealing the individual, social, cultural, and religious factors that give it shape and meaning. It is therefore the exploration of the philosophy, social, cultural and religious values that make a people and the education of the masses that Achebe demonstrates in his stories, that this dissertation dwells on.
By the diverse portrayals of Igbo worldview in his short stories, Chinua Achebe has served as a teacher of culture, events, trends, values and concepts that prevail among the people. Following the trends of this literary icon, Africans should be custodians of their culture so that the dignity of African Culture which has been trampled upon be restored.
1.1 Background of the Study
A short story, also known as a nouvelle, is a piece of prose fiction that can typically be read in a single sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a single effect or mood. The short story is one of the oldest types of literature and has existed in the form of legends, mythic tales, folk tales, fairy tales, tall tales, fables and anecdotes in various ancient communities around the world. The modern short story developed in the early 19th century
The short story is a crafted form in its own right. Short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components as in a novel, but typically to a lesser degree. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel or novella/short novel, authors generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques. The short story is sometimes referred to as a genre.
Determining what exactly defines a short story has been recurrently problematic. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846).
H.G. Wells described the purpose of the short story as “The jolly art, of making something very bright and moving; it may be horrible or pathetic or funny or profoundly illuminating, having only this essential, that it should take from fifteen to fifty minutes to read aloud.” According to William Faulkner, a short story is character-driven and a writer’s job is to “…trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.
Some authors have argued that a short story must have a strict form. Somerset Maugham thought that the short story “must have a definite design, which includes a point of departure, a climax and a point of test; in other words, it must have a plot”. Hugh Walpole had a similar view: “A story should be a story; a record of things happening full of incidents, swift movements, unexpected development, leading through suspense to a climax and a satisfying denouement.”
This view of the short story as a finished product of art is however opposed by Anton Chekov, who thought that a story should have neither a beginning nor an end. It should just be a “slice of life”, presented suggestively. In his stories, Chekov does not round off the end but leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusions.
Sukumar Azhikode defined a short story as “a brief prose narrative with an intense episodic or anecdotal effect”. Flannery O’Connor emphasized the need to consider what is exactly meant by the descriptor short. Short story writers may define their works as part of the artistic and personal expression of the form. They may also attempt to resist categorization by genre and fixed formation.
The Short Story is one of the most spontaneous and one of the most entertaining of literary forms. For ages in each and every country of the world, short stories have been in existence in different forms like anecdotes, jokes and brief narratives. According to M H Abrams, the Short Story
Chinua Achebe Short Stories as a Periscope to Igbo Worldview
is a brief work of fiction…and like the novel, it organizes the action, thought, and dialogue of its characters into the artful pattern of a plot… presented to us from one of many points of view; and it may be written in the mode of fantasy, realism, or naturalism (286).
Edgar Allan Poe, the originator and first known theorist of the Short Story as an established literary genre, defines the Short Story as a narrative which can be read at one sitting from half an hour to two hours, and is limited to a certain unique single effect to which every detail is subordinate (286).
These definitions, however, account for reasons why Eileen refers to the Short Story as “the art of writing less but meaning more” (146).
As an art form, the Short Story properly developed during the 19th Century with such writers as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the United States; Guy Maupassant and Pazan Balzac in France; Pushkin, Gogol and Anton Chekhov in Russia and Sir Walter Scott in England. In Africa, we have such short story writers like Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo,
Barbara Kimenye, Abioseh Nicol, Gabriel Okara, Sambene Ousmane, Richard Rive, Cyprain Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, among others. Eileen writes that
The African writer was not just wholly content to leave the Short Story the way he found it. Rather, as with other forms of African writing, he has stretched it a bit by injecting a healthy dose of his own cultural and aesthetic values into a traditional western genre and created in the process a frequently new and radically different form (147).
From birth to death, man as a social animal does not live his life in isolation but as a member of a society or a group; and for one to live in a society means to be under constant social, cultural, and religious influences. This is so because the core characteristic of a society is that, it is, according to Krech , “an organized collectivity of interacting people” (309), whose activities are centered on a set of common goals, and who tend to share common beliefs, attitudes, norms, values, modes of action, etc. These things are introduced and believed to be part of a people’s worldview.
Africans are unique people. What makes one African is not just his colour but the “Africanness” in him which gives him aspiration, inspiration, culture, religious belief, reverence to the supernatural powers, ethos, morality, knowledge of metaphysics, well-being, creativity, acceptability and rejection of issues, etc., which makes him distinct from other people of the world. This in reality is as a result of African worldview.
The Igbo people are known among other ethnic groups in Nigeria for their well articulated cultural, social and religious worldview which is rooted in their oral tradition. Culturally, the Igbo from their worldview are able to explain reality, life and the human environment, and predict space-time events that exert control over the community. In this way, according to Ejizu,
The force of Igbo religion as any other religion or ideological system rests with cosmology, which guides it. In the case of traditional Igbo, all forms of individuals and group traditional religious practices occur within the broad outline of their worldview (3).
While some aspects of the Igbo worldview linger till date some are believed to have been eroded by the ideas of western civilization. In his collection of short stories, Girls at War and Other Stories, Achebe puts forth some of the worldviews of this group of people. As a literary giant of his time, Achebe is able to ‘inject a healthy dose’ of the Igbo worldview into his stories offering a complex exploration of the dynamics of the socio-cultural and religious values of the Igbo people by revealing the individual, social, cultural and religious factors that give it shape and meaning.
“Like a type of lamp which throws images of non-transparent objects such as photographic film or pages from a book onto a surface” as stated by Egwuda, so is Achebe who is deeply rooted in Igbo culture through his creative writing. Through his writing, “he is able to carry his reader along as he unfolds the meaning of the myth and content of the Igbo culture to the world” (131).
Achebe’s works have garnered a lot of criticisms. His short stories have been viewed by scholars from a thematic perspective and otherwise but it is contented that an approach to his collection of short stories on this ground is yet to be fully undertaken. It would be interesting then to take a glance at how Achebe has portrayed the Igbo world in each of his short stories hence, seeing them as a periscope to Igbo worldview.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Over the years, the impact of short stories cannot be over emphasized. Many researchers like Balogun Odun; Wilfred Feuser; Felix Egwuda-Ugbeda; and Ann Taylor; have explored the themes and other critical issues in Achebe’s Short Stories. Ode Ogede and others have also examined the integration of oral form in these stories but an in-depth analysis of this kind is yet to be undertaken.
While these studies have made insightful interpretations of the subject matter and possible meanings underlying these stories, the bases of the customs and tradition of the Igbo people employed by these stories are yet to be fully explored. Hence, this research deems it fit to explore how Achebe mirrors the Igbo society in these stories through the individual, social and religious factors that give these stories shapes and meanings.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
By the end of this research, the following objectives would have been achieved/ attained.
- The Igbo cosmology as related to Chinua Achebe’s short stories would have been effectively discussed and analyzed.
- A comprehensive analysis of the Igbo worldview in relation to the short stories in discourse would have been done.
- The concept, content, and aesthetics of the stories in relation to the Igbo culture would have been identified and analyzed.
- The essence of projecting the people’s culture through creative art work would have been sufficiently treated.
1.4 Significance of the Study
As pointed out earlier, one can argue that Achebe’s short stories have received a handful of criticisms. It can equally be argued that those studies are not quite concerned with viewing these stories as tools that reveal the mores of the people. By attempting to critique each of these stories as objects that portray the Igbo worldview, this study has tremendous contributions on the study of Igbo people and culture in Literature and as well formulate a new dimension of viewing Achebe’s stories.
On the other hand, it suggests novel ways of approaching Igbo philosophy. Again, the study will be of immense importance to future scholars and researchers on Igbo worldview. This study will also serve as a template to understanding the relationship of the Igbo ethnic nationality with other groups in Nigeria and will educate and re-educate readers on some of the ideals, values and ethos of the Igbo and rekindle interest in the study of culture and tradition in Literature.
1.5 Scope of the Study
The study of Achebe’s short stories as a periscope to Igbo worldview is delimited in the following areas:
- The exploration of the mores that shape the Igbo world as portrayed by Achebe in his short stories.
- It covers all of Achebe’s short stories in Girls at War and Other Stories (1977).
- The short stories will be analyzed and identified according to Igbo worldview.
- The analysis will be seen as a searchlight on the Igbo concept of existence and the spiritual.
1.6 Limitation of the Study
This study is limited to Achebe’s short stories in Girls at War and Other Stories (1977) and does not touch every aspect of Igbo worldview due to paucity of written works and information on some specific aspects of Igbo worldview which cannot be explained by an ordinary person. Secondly, limited time factor has made it impossible for this study to delve in detail into every aspect of Igbo worldview mentioned in this work.
Again, the researcher not being a native speaker of Igbo and one not well grounded in every aspect of Igbo culture makes the process of collecting and understanding data somehow limited. However, these do not undermine the effectiveness and authenticity of this work.