Anthills – Characters

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Sam

Sam is the new president of the military regime in power following a coup, a position he holds due in no small part to the efforts of his schoolmates Chris and Ikem. He is described as being very athletic and very charming, having adopted the ways of an English gentleman. Early in the novel, Ikem comments on Sam’s “sense of theatre,” adding that Sam “is basically an actor and half of the things we are inclined to hold against him are no more than scenes from his repertory to which he may have no sense of moral commitment whatsoever.” Although he attended the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Sam is fully aware that he is unprepared for his new government leadership role.

However, he soon becomes blinded by power, insisting on being called “Your Excellency” and seeking to be elected “President for Life.” Military school trained Sam and his fellow cadets to remain aloof from political matters, and Sam was, at first, quite terrified in his new role. His solution was to gather together his friends and give some of them government positions from which he could seek their advice. Once he overcame his fear, however, he began to relish his power, becoming extremely upset at even the mildest demonstrations against him. Chris can see that Sam is now a dictator−in−the-making and considers him a “baby monster,” but Sam is only concerned about securing as much power for himself as he can without interacting with the people of the country. In fact, he is starving a dissident province in hopes of forcing them to comply with his authority. He soon becomes consumed with paranoia, anger, and insecurity, and when his political ambitions are disappointed, he recalls being told how dangerous boyhood friends can be. After he arranges for Ikem’s murder and Chris has fled, Sam himself is killed during a coup and buried in a shallow grave.

Beatrice Okoh

Chris’s fiancee, Beatrice is one of Achebe’s most fully developed female characters. She works for Sam and is an old friend of Ikem’s, so, through her connections to Chris, Ikem, and Sam, she plays a significant role in the action of the novel. She was born the fifth daughter to her parents (one sister has died). Her father had been hoping for a son, so she was named Nwanyibuife, which means “A Woman Is Also Something” As an adult, Beatrice is well-educated, having earned a degree with honors in English from the University of London, and she holds an important civil service position as an administrator in a state office. She also enjoys writing short fiction, which Ikem reads and admires for its “muscularity” and “masculine” qualities.

Beatrice is characterized by sophistication, intelligence, and independence, but she is also attuned to the common people on an intuitive level. Never having planned on a career in the government, she is very disturbed by accusations that she is ambitious. In reality, she desires what she has desired since childhood—to be left alone in her peaceful solitude and not attract any attention. Achebe places her firmly in the mythic tradition of the people, making her a sort of manifestation of Idemili, a goddess sent to Man to oversee morality. Although Beatrice is unaware of the myths regarding this goddess, she grows into a woman possessed with wisdom, self-knowledge, and compassion as she connects with the culture of her land. At the end of the novel, she participates in the naming ceremony for Ikem and Elewa’s baby girl by naming the infant Amaechina, a boy’s name meaning “May the Path Never Close.” This is bold not only because she has given a boy’s name to a girl, but also because the responsibility of naming traditionally belongs to a man.

Christopher Oriko

In his youth, Chris attended Lord Lugard College with his friends Ikem and Sam. Even then, he served as the “buffer” and mediator between the athletic and outgoing Sam and the intelligent and pensive Ikem. As adults, the three occupy prominent roles in Kangan’s new military regime, and Chris’s role as Commissioner for Information again puts him in the position of go−between as Sam and Ikem engage in a contest of wills. Chris stepped down as editor of the National Gazette to accept his position on Sam’s Cabinet, after which Ikem became the newspaper’s editor. Chris is now Ikem’s boss, but he himself reports to Sam, which puts him in the uncomfortable position of trying to get Ikem to comply with Sam’s will. Although Chris sees Sam becoming mad with power, he is reluctant to give up his position in the Cabinet. Chris finally asserts himself when Sam orders him to fire Ikem, thus beginning a harrowing series of events. Fleeing for his life, Chris comes into contact with the “people” and begins to understand his country better. Chris is killed trying to save a girl from being raped at a chaotic party, and his last words are, “The last green.” This is a reference to a running joke he, Ikem, and Sam shared in the early days, when they imagined themselves as three green bottles arrogantly situated on a shelf, each bound to fall.

Ikem Osodi

Ikem is the outspoken and reform−minded editor of the state−owned National Gazette, a position that often puts him in conflict with his boyhood friend, Sam, who is the president of Kangan. Part of his duty is to broadcast Sam’s messages to the people, which are Sam’s way of feeling that he is radiating power from the capitol out to the people. Ikem, on the other hand, believes strongly that the press should be free and independent of government regulation. He and Chris often debate the effectiveness of Ikem’s editorials, but Ikem feels that even if they are futile, he should continue publishing them.

Despite the fact that he is a London−educated intellectual, Ikem is very sensitive to the needs of the common people. His editorials are often harsh in their criticism of the new ruling regime, which makes Sam regard him as treacherous. Ikem states that the best weapon against ineffective or unjust governments is not facts, but passion. Unlike Chris, Ikem is an extremist who is not interested in working gradually toward progress and so uses his powerful position as a journalist to call for change. Speaking to a group of students, Ikem discusses the role of the storyteller in depth, insisting that it is the role of the writer to ask questions and make challenges. He concludes his speech to the students by proclaiming, “Writers don’t give prescriptions. They give headaches!”

Ikem also makes a joke about putting Sam’s head on the country’s coins, which leads to false reports that Ikem called for the beheading of the president. His fate already orchestrated, Ikem is taken in the night by government secret police and killed. Still, his presence continues to be felt among the people and his friends—a presence strengthened by the fact that he leaves behind a girlfriend close to giving birth to their child.

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Quotes from Anthills in the Savannah

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“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”

“Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.”

“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.”

“It is only the story…that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence.The story is our escort;without it,we are blind.Does the blind man own his escort?No,neither do we the story;rather,it is the story that owns us.

“It is the story that owns and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbors.”

“Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.”

“In the vocabulary of certain radical theorists contradictions are given the status of some deadly disease to which their opponents alone can succumb. But contradictions are the very stuff of life. If there had been a little dash of contradiction among the Gadarene swine some of them might have been saved from drowning.”

“Charity … is the opium of the privileged; from the good citizen who habitually drops ten kobo from his loose change and from a safe height above the bowl of the leper outside the supermarket; to the group of good citizens (like youselfs) who donate water so that some Lazarus in the slums can have a syringe boiled clean as a whistle for his jab and his sores dressed more hygienically than the rest of him; to the Band Aid stars that lit up so dramatically the dark Christmas skies of Ethiopia. While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”

“…she was sensitive enough and intelligent enough to understand, and her literary education could not but have sharpened her perception of the evidence before her eyes: that in the absurd raffle-draw that apportioned the destinies of post-colonial African societies two people starting off even as identical twins in the morning might quiet easily find themselves in the evening one as President shitting on the heads of the people and the other a nightman carrying the people’s shit in buckets on his head.”

“Ife onye metalu’ [‘what a man commits’] – a statement unclear and menacing in its very inconclusiveness. What a man commits…Follows him? Comes back to take its toll? Was that all? No, that was only part of it … The real burden of that cryptic scripture seemed to turn the matter right around. Whatever we see following a man, whatever fate comes to take its revenge on him, can only be what that man in some way or another, in a previous life if not in this, has committed. That was it! So those three words wrapped in an archaic tongue and tucked away at the tail of the bus turn out to be the opening segment of a full-blooded heathen antiphony offering a primitive and quite deadly exposition of suffering. The guilty suffers; the sufferer is guilty. As for the righteous, those whose arms are straight, they will always prosper!”

Anthills – Role of Women

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Role of Women

Even before Europeans arrived during the colonial period, Achebe’s native Nigeria was a maledominated society. Ikem explains to Beatrice that their culture initially regarded women as lowly and unworthy of respect and then elevated them to a pedestal, where they could remain beautiful and admired but inconsequential. Similarly, the worship of goddesses was an important part of a village’s spiritual life but had little to do with decisions regarding power structures. The colonial period widened the gender equality gap by providing African men with educational opportunities while African women received schooling in utilitarian skills to prepare them for domestic work. Anthills of the Savannah, published in 1987, came at a time when women around the world had made great strides in asserting their relevance in and value to society.

Anthills – Reception

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After a twenty−one−year hiatus from writing, Chinua Achebe published Anthills of the Savannah in Great Britain in 1987. It was published in the United States the following year. The novel just prior to Anthills of the Savannah was A Man of the People, a book that foreshadows the military coups that would figure largely in Nigerian politics in the coming years. To many of Achebe’s readers, Anthills of the Savannah is the logical extension of this novel as it depicts the inner workings and consequences of such a coup.

Critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, and many critics regard this novel as Achebe’s best to date. Achebe was already respected as one of the founding fathers of Nigeria’s literary comingof− age, so the success of Anthills of the Savannah only confirmed his place among Nigeria’s leading intellectuals. In 1987 Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist for the Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award.

Anthills of the Savannah tells the story of three schoolmates who become major figures in a new regime in the fictional West African land of Kangan. Achebe addresses the course unbridled power often takes and demonstrates how the fierce pursuit of self−interest comes at tremendous cost to the community as a whole. Critics note that this novel is a departure for the author in that he creates fully developed female characters and suggests that the women are sources of moral strength, tradition, and hope in the face of violence and deception.

Anthills – Plot Summary

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Part I

Set in the fictitious West African country of Kangan, Anthills of the Savannah opens with a meeting of the regime’s president and his Cabinet. The government has been in place for two years, since a coup overthrew the former dictator. Three men, friends since childhood, have assumed important positions in the new system. Sam is the president, Chris Oriko is the Commissioner of Information, and Ikem Osodi is the editor of the government controlled newspaper, the National Gazette. Ikem is an intellectual and a poet who is very outspoken about the need to reform the government. Chris acts as a mediator between Ikem and Sam.

Sam has become a leader without regard for his people, seeking only to acquire more power for himself by any means necessary. Chris and Ikem realize that Sam is rapidly becoming a dictator. They helped get him appointed to the position, even encouraging him when he felt that his military background was inadequate preparation for a position of such importance. Now, Chris and Ikem regret their previous support of their friend and seek to control Sam in their own ways. Meanwhile, Sam’s obsession with power has made him paranoid and temperamental. When Sam decides he wants to be elected “President−for−Life,” a national referendum is called but the region of Abazon refuses to participate. Sam in turn denies the region access to water despite a drought, expecting that without water or food the people will give in. When delegates from Abazon arrive at the capital on a mission for mercy, Sam suspects that they are actually planning an insurrection. In fact, his paranoia leads him to believe that the insurrection is being assisted by someone close to him.

Although Chris is aware of how dangerous Sam is becoming, he believes that by staying in his government position he can serve his country. Meanwhile, Ikem’s editorials are becoming more radical, and Chris tries to convince him to tone them down.

Ikem has a girlfriend, Elewa, who is semiliterate and works in a shop. She is pregnant with his child. Chris’s fiancee, Beatrice, is a well−educated woman who holds a position as administrator for one of the state offices. She has known Ikem since youth and works for Sam, so she has connections to all of the major characters. She observes the government’s activities and Chris’s and Ikem’s reactions, and feels that she is the only one sensitive enough to truly understand the situation. She expresses to Chris and Ikem that they are approaching the problem incorrectly because they are not really connecting to the people and the land.

Part II

Sam commands Chris to fire Ikem from his position as editor, at which point Chris responds in a highly unusual way—he refuses to obey Sam’s order. Sam believes that Ikem is involved in the “protest” staged by the delegates of Abazon, but Chris knows better. Still, Ikem is fired and soon after addresses a student group at a university. Never one to hold his tongue, he is very vocal about his criticism of the government. He makes a joke about the regime minting coins with Sam’s head on them, which is turned into propaganda claiming that Ikem has called for the beheading of the president. Ikem is taken from his home in the middle of the night and shot and killed by the state police.

Part III

Chris realizes just how dangerous Sam has become and goes into hiding after using his contacts within the international press to publicize the truth about Ikem’s murder. With the help of Emmanuel, a student leader who greatly admires Chris; Abdul, a sympathetic cab driver; and a small covert network of supporters, Chris is able to escape the capital city of Bassa by bus and head for Abazon. Meanwhile, the government orders Chris’s arrest and threatens anyone found to be withholding information about him.

On the bus trip, Chris begins to feel reconnected to his native land and Emmanuel meets a beautiful student named Adamma. The bus is stopped by a mob caught up in a drunken frenzy. They are celebrating the news that Sam has been killed and his regime overthrown in another coup. As Chris and the other bus passengers make their way through the crowd, gathering bits of information, Chris sees Adamma being dragged off by a soldier to be raped. Chris rushes to her rescue, and the soldier shoots and kills him.

Part IV

Emmanuel, Abdul, and Adamma return to Bassa to tell Beatrice and the others what has happened. Although grief−stricken, Beatrice hosts a naming ceremony for Ikem’s baby girl, born after his murder. Men traditionally perform the ceremony, but Beatrice fulfills this role, naming the child Amaechina, a boy’s name that means “May the Path Never Close.”

Anthills of the Savannah: Multiple Choice Quiz

 

Dear Students,

Having now read the book at least twice… You’ll find the following questions very easy to answer. Please go through and try your best.

1.

What does the powerful man have, according to the expression used by the Abazon elder? (from Chapter 9)

 The yam and the knife.
 The palm oil and wine.
 The lightning bolt.
 The ear of God.
2.

Which of the following best describes Ikem’s speeches? (from Chapter 12)

 They are not typically controversial.
 They make listeners feel good about themselves and their land.
 They can be shocking and even offensive to their listeners.
 They are serious speeches with little or no humor.
3.

What do the people of Abazon do to anger the President? (from Chapter 9)

 They voted against his becoming President for life.
 They tried to overthrow him.
 They took over a neighboring territory, brutally murdering the inhabitants.
 They wanted to become an independent state.
4.

At the end of Chapter 8, what does Chris say he won’t do? (from Chapter 8)

 Resign his job.
 Lie low.
 Give up the things he loves.
 Abandon his friend, the President.
5.

What is one of Beatrice’s nicknames? (from Chapter 7)

 Bea.
 Baby.
 Mama B.
 BB.

 

6.

According to Professor Okong, why has the President been upset with both Chris and Ikem for the past two years? (from Chapter 11)

 They have been leaking information about him to the foreign press.
 He is still bitter about the way they gossiped about his English girlfriend.
 They did not help ensure his election as President for life.
 He thinks they have been working behind his back to have him overthrown.
7.

According to the National Gazette, Chris is spotted wearing what disguise? (from Chapter 14)

 A cap and sunglasses.
 A nun’s habit.
 A turban.
 A false beard.
8.

According to Chris, which of the following describes Ikem?(from Chapter 8)

 Cautious.
 Diplomatic.
 Fanatical.
 Cowardly.
9.

What ceremony is Beatrice planning to hold in her apartment at the beginning of Chapter 18? (from Chapter 18)

 A naming ceremony for Elewa’s baby girl.
 A wedding ceremony for Emmanuel and Adamma.
 A welcoming ceremony for the new government of Kangan.
 A funeral ceremony in memory of Chris and Ikem.
10.

Which best describes the religion practiced by Agatha? (from Chapter 7)

 Animism, or spirit worship.
 Ancestor worship.
 She is a devout Muslim.
 She is an evangelical Christian.

 

11.

What does Lou Cranford say the President should do? (from Chapter 6)

 Increase aid to the people of Abazon.
 Limit aid to the people of Abazon.
 Decrease the debt owed to the United States.
 Maintain high levels of debt to the United States.
12.

What shocking news is given over the radio at the end of Chapter 11? (from Chapter 11)

 Ikem has been sacked from his job.
 The President is ill and is in the hospital.
 The leaders from Abazon have mysteriously disappeared–likely kidnapped by the SRC.
 The six leaders from Abazon are under arrest for staging an illegal protest.
13.

What typically happens at police and army checkpoints? (from Chapter 17)

 The guards ask for every passenger’s identification papers.
 The guards rifle through the passengers’ belongings and confiscate any valuables.
 The guards take a bribe from the bus driver and send him on his way.
 Everyone must get off the bus for questioning.
14.

What does the President say is true of all African chiefs? (from Chapter 6)

 They are greedy.
 They can never trust anyone.
 They are polygamists.
 They are dictators.
15.

What, according to Ikem, is the enemy of art? (from Chapter 7)

 Apathy.
 Orthodoxy.
 Freedom.
 Intelligence.

 

16.

What common convenience can the poor people Chris is staying with not afford? (from Chapter 16)

 Bug spray.
 A stove to heat water.
 Beds.
 Electricity.
17.

Which of the following is NOT true about the Director of the SRC, Johnson Ossai? (from Chapter 6)

 He speaks obsequiously to the President.
 He is friendly and talkative.
 He looks strong in a very disagreeable way.
 He is young and good-looking.
18.

What happens to the President? (from Chapter 18)

 He was kidnapped, tortured, shot, and buried in the bush.
 He fled to England.
 He committed suicide when he learned the coup was imminent.
 He was kidnapped by “unknown persons” and is presumed dead.
19.

What should political leaders NOT do, according to Ikem? (from Chapter 11)

 They can do anything they like.
 Pretend to be like the poor by wearing aged jeans.
 Drive luxury cars or otherwise show off their wealth.
 Mingle with the poor or make friends with poor and low-class people.
20.

How does the landscape change as the bus continues on its journey? (from Chapter 17)

 It changes from flat plains to rolling hills and valleys.
 It changes from arid desert to lush rainforest.
 It changes from flat plains to rugged mountains.
 It changes from rainforest to increasingly dry grassland.
21.

What is the meaning of the word nneka? (from Chapter 7)

 Mother is supreme.
 Mother is weak.
 Mother is love.
 Mother of God.
22.

How do the members of the Abazonian delegation receive Ikem? (from Chapter 9)

 With shouts of anger.
 With jeers of derision.
 With murmurs of skepticism.
 With a tremendous ovation.
23.

What other piece of false information is given by the newspaper about Chris? (from Chapter 14)

 He is wanted by security officers.
 He is missing and presumed dead.
 He may have fled for London.
 He is now in police custody.
24.

What kind of car does Ikem drive? (from Chapter 10)

 A Peugeot.
 A Datsun.
 A Toyota.
 A Mercedes.
25.

What does Chris say the modern leaders of Africa must be like in order to build up their nations? (from Chapter 6)

 Democratically-elected Prime Ministers.
 Medieval tyrants.
 Bloody reformists.
 Marxist crusaders.

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Anthills of the Savannah – Review in Washington Post

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Washington Post Review, by Charles Johnson, Feb. 7, 1988

The novels of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe present an essential guide to colonial African history and to the tragic characters this history of mutual misunderstanding has created. Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe’s first novel in more than 20 years, continues his exploration and condemnation of political corruption in post-colonial Africa, an Africa that is the product of (though not excused by) its past.

Achebe’s first novel, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), portrayed the downfall of Obi Okonkwo, a village leader who opposes the erosion of traditional Igbo society by the arrival of Christianity in the 19th century; his second, “No Longer at Ease” (1960), internalized this collision of cultures in Okonkwo’s grandson, who in the 1950s is sent to study in England and returns home to a civil-service job, where he finds his newly acquired Western individualism in conflict with his village’s demands that he give preferential treatment to his own tribesmen. “Arrow of God” (1964) steps back a few decades to present the shift from direct to indirect colonial rule by way of a complex, multi-layered study of a traditional priest struggling to consolidate his power and a British administrator, who are thrown into an alliance neither fully understands. And “A Man of the People” (1966) sardonically explores political cynicism and corruption through two political rivals, an idealistic schoolmaster and a popular despot, in a newly-independent West African country.

The post-colonial world of “Anthills of the Savannah” is a world like that of “A Man of the People.” The novel is set in “a backward West African state called Kangan,” and concerns three English-educated friends who, after a military coup, abruptly find themselves in the roles of president, commissioner of information and editor of the nation’s principal newspaper — and friends no longer.

His Excellency, called Sam by his old classmates Chris Oriko and Ikem Osodi, has surrounded himself with a ludicrous executive council, “a solid wall of court jesters,” one of whom, the attorney-general, proclaims, “We have no problem worshipping a man like you.” He insinuates that Chris, the commissioner for information, is not “one hundred percent behind you.” Added to Sam’s fear of betrayal is his anger at the failure of Abazon Province, the home of his classmate Ikem, to approve a referendum to make him president-for-life. And now, as the novel opens, a delegation from a village in the province has come to demand help for their drought-stricken land. “Your greatest risk,” says the Attorney-General, “is your boyhood friends, those who grew up with you in your village.”

And how true this is, for Ikem, now editor of The National Gazette, is a crusading poet-journalist who, in scathing editorials, opposes the circus-like public executions in Kangan as well as Sam’s personal bids for deification by having his face placed on the national currency. He is also Achebe’s alter-ego, believing that “a genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.” Ikem longs for union “with earth and earth’s people.” His love of truth and people transcends political ideology, and he becomes a popular hero among students after Sam dismisses him from the Gazette. In a speech at the University of Bassa, his passion rises to the level of poetry:

“You must learn for a start to hold your own student leaders to responsible performances; only after you have done that can you have the moral authority to lecture national leadership . . . I see too much parroting, too much regurgitation of half-digested radical rhetoric . . . Revolutions are betrayed just as much by stupidity, incompetence, impatience and precipitate actions as by doing nothing at all.”

DURING THIS speech Ikem severely criticizes His Excellency. Sam retaliates by making him and the Abazon delegation scapegoats for all Kangan’s ills, then has Ikem arrested. His “accidental death” follows. Chris, his lover Beatrice Okoh, a secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and Ikem’s pregnant lover Elewa, know their incarceration is next. As Chris goes into hiding, hoping to escape to Abazon Province, Achebe’s novel achieves nearly unbearable suspense, as the entire country collapses into student revolt, midnight raids by Sam’s secret police — the State Research Council — and a coup d’etat. As in Shakespeare’s portrayals of the endless succession of kings to the throne, Achebe shows African revolutions as a tragic, surreal cycle of the powerful and self-serving devouring each other, with the people and their wisdom untouched.

Considered in terms of Achebe’s body of work, Anthills of the Savannah replays familar scenarios. There seems, however, to have been a maturing of his perceptions about politics and the human condition. The novel’s only flaw is Achebe’s unwillingess to fully develop Sam by entering as thoroughly into his heart as he does Ikem’s, Chris’ and Beatrice’s. In every other way, however, Achebe has written a story that sidesteps both ideologies of the African experience and political agendas, in order to lead us to a deeply human, universal wisdom expressed so succinctly by Ikem:

“We always take the precaution of invoking the people’s name in whatever we do. But do we not at the same time make sure of the people’s absence, knowing that if they were to appear in person their scarecrow presence confronting our pious invocations would render our words too obscene even for sensibilities as robust as ours?”?