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Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

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Abstract

The study investigates the relationship between the short stories; “The Early Return, Calculations, an Immigrant Diary, the Interview and the Envious” and societal problems in both texts to show how this relationship impacts on the depiction of the themes of disillusionment, betrayal, loneliness, poverty, and the conflict between tradition and modernity, the enhancement of meaning, and the aesthetic value of the stories in the texts.

In other words these literary devices are studied from a critical perspective to describe their use by the author within the limits of the structure of the short story sub-genre in advancing the themes of both collections.

1.0 Introduction

 The short story has long been treated seriously by scholars in both Europe and America, in Africa the genre has been all but ignored by critics. Despite its popularity on the continent, the African short story has never been the subject of a thorough and systematic study.

In this pioneering work, F. Odun Balogun offers a two-part look at the genre, beginning with a general survey of African short stories and an approach for textual analysis, and followed by a detailed exploration of the themes and artistic methods of two representative writers. The book provides an extensive range of coverage, as well as theoretic perspectives on the historical development of African prose, literature of the absurd, and other aspects of literary theory.

1.1 Short Story as a Genre of Literature

There have been diverse attempts at definition of the short story genre by writers and critics alike, and there is still no consensus on a definition. There are however, critical and theoretical studies on aspects of the short story genre. Viorica Patea affirms that short stories have been studied in terms of: unity (Poe, Brander Mathews), brevity, intensity and tension (Oars, Bader, Friedman, Cortazar), lyricism (Lukacs, Moravia),

theme (O‟ Connor‟s “human loneliness”), insight, vision and mystery (Ejxenbaum, May, Rohrberger), hybridity (May, Pratt), fractals (Leslies, Marmorm Silko) and closure (Lohafer, Gerlach).(2012:8) There are also a few attempts by some theorists and critics at defining the short story. In the words of Edward Quinn, “a short story is a fictional narrative in prose, ordinarily containing less than 20,000 words; anything longer might be called a novella; the story usually attempts to show what the leading character is like by demonstrating how he acts under some form of stress” (2014:5).

Emeaba Enuma quoted in Ikupa (2006:48) says that the short story ranges “from the short – short story of 500 words to the long – short story of between 12,000 to 15,000 words”. While, Ikupa opines that “the short story must not be too long that it cannot be read at a sitting”. Quinn, Emeaba and Ikupa belong to the school of thought that identifies the short story by length and characterization. Some scholars find this restriction to an exact number of words faulty and delimiting.

The short story genre has an identifiable set of characteristics which set it apart from other genres like the novel, although there are some common terms used in discussing both the short story form and the novel. This is aptly stated by M.H Abrams when he says that “most of the terms for analysing the component elements, the types, and the narrative techniques of the novel are applicable to the short story as well”(2009:331). The terms include plot, themes, character/characterization, narrative techniques, setting, and language.

Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

In addition to the characteristics mentioned above, the short story genre has some unique inherent features which are found both in its structure and form. Chief among the inherent features is brevity. Allan Pasco in Viorica Patea summed it up when he said that: Brevity constitutes the most significant trait of this particular genre. In large measure, it determines the devices used and the effects achieved. Certainly brevity constitutes the short story‟s greatest limitation.

For a short story to succeed, the author must overcome the restraints of limited length and communicate not a segment, a tattered fragment, but a world. (2012:127) Some identified effects of brevity are tension, intensity and relevance. In order to make his short story effective, the writer is forced to eschew elaborate details by deploying strategies of brevity so that the ordinary is invested with significance.

This perhaps is the reason why Patea states that “strategies of brevity and concentration are responsible for the highly formalized style of the short story” (2012:13). Brevity could also be said to be responsible for the “lyric nature of the short story” (May Charles 2012: 26). Lyricism as a poetic element is associated with the short form because of the form‟s “high degree of suggestiveness, emotional intensity” (May 2012: 26) and inferences which is achieved with as few words as possible.

Because of the lyrical nature of the form, experiences that are narrated are presented in a highly patterned and stylized manner. Narrations in the short fiction focus on epiphany rather than causal relationships or sequence of events. The shortness of the form demands that the reader reads in between the lines and according to Charles May, “go on a quest for something that is hinted at, obscure or hidden behind the texture of words” (2012:13).

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Background of the study

For the past four decades or so, the short story genre has been thriving in Africa. But critics gave very little notice to the creation of the indigenous short story, dismissing it as not having any literary value because short stories tended to appear in popular magazines and were, therefore, rated very low on the literature totem pole, and short stories by Africans were regarded as the work of apprentices in creative writing. They were also scorned as being too derivative of the European or western model.

The African short story, however, has gained more and more popularity, especially in African countries where English is spoken. African short stories have found their way into major anthologies used by colleges and universities in the United States. The reputable Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, and others, suggest that a difference exists between the African short story and the short story as it is defined in the West. This is of course applicable to the modern mode of the short story.

Also to Achebe (and Innes), both the novel and the short story in Africa have “drawn from a common oral heritage” (Achebe & Innes, 1985). Stephen Gray, however, does not draw any distinction between the short story, the myth, the fable, and the legend (1985, p.8). He perceives these classifications as being mutually inclusive. He declares that they are interdependent and coexist and are always available to the writer. Another critic, J. de Grandsaigne, rejects such notions by saying that it is not possible to grant wholehearted support to what Charles Larson’s statement that “the modern short story in Africa belongs to an oral tradition centuries old and still very much alive in Africa today” (1977, p. 7)

or to Gary Spackey’s that “the contact between oral literature and the short story have been – and must remain minimal” (de Grandsaigne, 1985, p. 10).  De Grandsaigne suggests that it is essential to keep in mind the distinction between the tale and the African short story. The tale can be defined as a loosely plotted story with an avowed moral purpose, free from formal constraints, bringing real or strange happenings as it chooses, emphasizing events more than characters, and keep close to oral tradition.

He short story, on the other hand, models itself closely on reality (and therefore does not necessarily draw any moral). It follows a well-defined pattern and sheds all superfluous elements. The difference between the tale and the short story is not a matter of length but one of form and content. Again, it needs to be stated that the two genres – the oral tale and the short story – are quite different.

While the story-teller held, and may still hold an honored place in traditional African society, the short story writer has not; but, fortunately, it is gaining more and more popularity. Motifs in the African short story are generally needs, aspirations and anxieties. Also, the old and new ways of life are never reconciled: instead they are engaged in perpetual conflict. Themes underlying the African short story include:

  1. The city
  2. Rural life
  3. Colonialism and its implications
  4. War and its results
  5. Religion and witchcraft
  6. Love
  7. Political corruption
  8. Hunger and poverty
  9. Treachery
  10. Race relations

Odun Balogun¹ lists similar topics: art, religion, tradition and culture to urban life, politics, apartheid, and life’s the ironies (1992, p. 24). Instead of dealing with all of these topics, this paper focuses only on two major issues surfacing in the African short story: the conflict between tradition and modernity, and the city up to the early 1980s. In Balogun‟s short stories, ideas, details, events and situations are not only elided but are also compressed with his skillful use of ellipsis as a strategy of brevity and the effect of brevity according to Viorica Patea is “ relevance, intensity and tension” .Tension is one element in the short story which advances the themes.

 Again, the author uses ellipsis as narrative strategy to condense time and space, thus making the narration shorter and establishing the appropriate mood. The end effect of the application of this technique is a tight dramatic patterning of events which according to Barry Pain in Charles May creates “a very curious, haunting, and suggestive quality”(25) in the stories. Having stirred up this feeling of pithy for both mother and son for example, the readers are better positioned to grasp fully the message being conveyed to them.

Thus, Balogun with a minimum of means is able to evoke in the reader various emotional responses but with a greater intensity, what a novelist would do through detailed and elaborate description.

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Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

Statement Of The Problem

Over the years the major challenge facing the short story writers have been the inability of the society to admire and value short stories. In Africa the genre has been all but ignored by critics. Despite its popularity on the continent, the African short story has never been the subject of a thorough and systematic study.

In this pioneering work, F. Odun Balogun offers a two-part look at the genre, beginning with a general survey of African short stories and an approach for textual analysis, and followed by a detailed exploration of the themes and artistic methods of two representative writers. The book provides an extensive range of coverage, as well as theoretic perspectives on the historical development of African prose, literature of the absurd, and other aspects of literary theory.

 Purpose Of Study

The purpose of this study is to examining Odun Balogun as a short story writer using The Late Visitor, The Early Return, Calculations, An Immigrant Diary, The Interview and The Envious to reveal his ideology behind his short. The purpose of this study shall then be show negative impacts of corruption in African literature and how it destroys the lives, hope and dreams of the masses in particular and the societal at large.

Significance Of The Study

The study will be significant in the following ways:

  1. It will reveal the ideology behind Odun Balogun sort stories
  2. It will also help the students and the entire society to embrace short stories
  3. It will also reveal how Balogun short stories portray the ills of the society through proper analysis of the themes in the six selected short stories
  4. It will save as tools and back up material for students of literature to study other short stories of Balogun.

Theoretical Framework

Although Poe plays an important role in the early history of short story theory, it was Brander Matthews who first claimed the short story as a distinct genre and called it “one of the few sharply defined literary forms” (cf. Ahrends 2008: 10). Sharing most of Poe’s assumptions, Matthews formulated several criteria which distinguished the short story from the novel and other narrative forms (e.g. the sketch), and which reinforced the normative criteria suggested by Poe (for a discussion of major differences between Poe and Matthews, cf. ibid.).

Matthews’s shorthand definition of the short story became quite famous and influential: “A Short-story deals with a single character, a single event, a single emotion, or the series of emotions called forth by a single situation.” (Matthews 1974: 33) Moreover, Matthews also reinforced the emphasis on plot: “The Short-story is nothing if there is no story to tell; – one might almost say that a Short-story is nothing if it has no plot.” (ibid.: 36) This strong emphasis on plot is arguably one of the most characteristic features of the American short story of the 19th and early 20th century.

A national contribution to literature, and the ballad is a communal product, the short story, which in the last analysis proves to be the base of all our literature, excepting only the lyric and the critical essay, is distinctly an individual contribution. This theory of the development of an oral literature which makes the short story a primary unit does not rest entirely upon conjecture.

Oral literature is to be found today wherever there is a more or less primitive state of race culture. In Hawaii, where even an alphabet was unknown until the arrival of the missionaries in 1820, a well defined oral literature, rich in truly epic material, still survives, and it is possible to observe in that Territory at first hand the actual process of literary development suggested and outlined above. The same statement holds true in a degree of the Voodoo tales current among the Southern negroes, fragments of a great body of spoken stories brought from the African jungles.

It is much easier to produce evidence to support a theory of the antiquity of the short story as a type than it is to unearth the connecting links to make complete the chain of evidence to prove that the short story as it is known today  is not only the oldest of all literary types, but had also had  a continuous existence from the very beginning of time to the present day in essentially the same form as we know it now. The difficulty of this latter task is due to the fact that until comparatively recent times the short story has been to a very large extent an oral genre, preserved as spoken and not written literature.

 The reasons for this are not hard to find. The output of ancient scribes and mediaeval printers was too limited to warrant the wasting of much of their time in the preservation of short stories, which everyone told and everyone knew. Such stories and ballads as were written, or at a later date printed, were as a rule valued so lightly by the scholars of the day that no serious effort was ever made to preserve them.

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Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

In the case of the literatures of Western Europe, with which we are most familiar, the wide gap existing between written and spoken languages, taken together with the fact that only a very small portion of the population was at all familiar with the written language, tended, for centuries, to set the folk literature far apart from the literature of the scholars. The tales told in prose and verse by the people using the vulgar tongue was never considered as literature.

When the dialects of the common people became national languages the number of stories written down was greatly increased; but still it was only very rarely that any effort was made to preserve collections of tales. The attitude toward folk literature that had been built up through so many centuries could not readily be changed. In this connection it is of more than ordinary interest to note the extent to which this popular conception of the short story as anything but literature moved Boccaccio, who thought so lightly of the Decameron that, although it was first given to the public in Florence in 1353, he did not submit it to Petrarch, his dearest literary friend, until after a lapse of nineteen years, in 1372.

1 Practically no one could read, so that collections of stories, even in the popular tongue, were of little use. It was only occasionally, and then more often by a series of happy accidents than because of any recognition of merit, that the work of the masters of the short story was preserved. Nevertheless tales were told in those days just as they had been from the beginning and will be to the end;

and we know that Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Rabelais, far from standing alone as exponents of their genre, were merely the master craftsmen in a host of story tellers. Even with our very imperfect knowledge of the periods when they lived and wrote, we are able to discover the works of long lists of forgotten lesser lights that preceded and came after hem in the field of story telling. Modern students of the

Decameron have succeeded in compiling a list of no less than twenty-eight collections of stories, the work of hundreds of authors — Greek, Latin, Oriental, Provencal, French, and Italian — from which much of the material for the immortal hundred tales was derived, while the list of immediate followers and imitators of Boccaccio is even more formidable than the array of his predecessors.

These few early works which are still known to present-day scholars are, of course, but fragments of the great body of oral short stories which existed during the twenty centuries or more that they represent.

Odun Balogun as a short story writer a case study of the Late Visitor and others

Bio data of Odun Balogun

Dr. F. Odun Balogun,  was born on April 21, 1946 Oka, Ondo, Nigeria professor of literature at Delaware State University, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture at the University of Benin in Nigeria during the 2012-2013 academic year, according to the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Dr. Balogun will teach American Literature and Culture at the University of Benin in Nigeria while also working to complete a book, titled “Place and Self Identity in Black Literature.” The book deals with the topic of land alienation during slavery in America, the colonization in Africa, and the effect it has had on character formation as represented in narratives by African and African American writers. A DSU faculty member since 1992, Dr. Balogun is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2012-2013.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given approximately 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, education, and athletics. Forty three Fulbright alumni from 11 countries have been awarded the Nobel Prize, and 75 alumni have received Pulitzer Prizes.

Mr. Harrison

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