Anthills – Style

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Here below are reflections on four aspects of style used in the novel (can you think of more?)

Point of View

Anthills of the Savannah provides a complete view of the action of the novel by offering multiple points of view. Achebe allows the reader to see the situation from the points of view of Ikem, Chris, and Beatrice, and also, in some passages, from that of a third−person, omniscient narrator. This technique enables the reader to make judgments for him/ herself rather than relying on a narrator or a single character to supply descriptions of people and events. This also is a way in which Achebe retains the part of his African literary heritage that focuses on the community rather than on the individual.

Setting

The novel takes place in the fictitious West African land of Kangan. Its borders were arbitrarily drawn by the British colonialists. Some critics maintain that the country is modeled after Achebe’s native Nigeria, while others see it as a version of Idi Amin’s Uganda. Regardless, Kangan is a contemporary African nation struggling to find stability in postcolonial times. Although the setting is contemporary, there are elements of tradition that reflect consistency in the community and among the people.

Tradition is perhaps the strongest source of security and gives the people a feeling of unity. The setting also takes the reader into the government headquarters—a privilege not afforded to the citizens of Kangan. Whereas the public is forced to rely on hearsay and the press to learn what is happening within the government, the reader can see first−hand how the regime is being run, how it is changing, and how the various forces work together or against each other in the unstable military regime.

Language

Most of the dialogue of the ordinary people of Kangan is written in the dialect of Pidgin English. The unusual grammar and unfamiliar words of this dialect can be difficult for Western readers, but its inclusion gives the novel a strong sense of realism. In addition, it is easy to identify a character’s level of education or social standing based on his or her manner of speech. Chris, Beatrice, and Ikem are sympathetic as characters, as they are able to interact with common people by speaking Pidgin English and with powerful political figures by speaking British English. Rather than distance themselves from the ordinary citizen, as Sam does, Chris, Beatrice, and Ikem routinely abandon their British English in favor of being able to communicate in a meaningful way.

Blending of Old and New

Achebe is often praised for his skillful blending of folklore, myth, proverbs, and customs with modern Western political ideologies and Christian belief systems. By presenting these two approaches, Achebe asserts his belief in the power of the past to ease the excesses and confusion of the present.

In a similar vein, Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to apply the conventions of the novel to African storytelling. Well aware of the strong oral tradition of African literature, Achebe found a way to write honestly about Africa in a way that is accessible for an international audience. Anthills of the Savannah was originally written in English, and by adopting a structure that is familiar to his English−speaking audience, he makes his African storytelling available without compromising the integrity of his heritage. At the same time, Nigerians can benefit from his writing because English is their official language.

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