LITERATURE AND SOCIETY: A CASE STUDY OF THINGS FALL APART AND PURPLE HIBISCUS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
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1.1 Background of the study
In the beginning was oral literature, the root of African literature. Nigerian literature, in particular, began with the oral tradition, pioneered by the unsung heroes of her literary past, like royal bards, warriors, story tellers, priests and many others. Literary elements like folklore and proverbs were originated by these unknown literary soldiers (Darah, 2008: 43).
According to Bade Ajuwon in his article, ‘Oral and Written Literature in Nigeria’, in Nigerian History and Culture, pre-literate Nigeria once enjoyed a verbal art civilization which, at its high point, was warmly patronised by traditional rulers and the general public. “At a period when writing was unknown, the oral medium served the people as a bank for the preservation of their ancient experiences and beliefs. Much of the evidence that related to the past of Nigeria, therefore, could be found in oral traditions.” He cited the instance of Yoruba community where “as a means of relaxation, farmers gather their children and sit under the moon for tale-telling… that instruct the young and teach them to respect the dictates of their custom”. This was the practice across the cultural groupings that form Nigeria today (Urama, Evelyn, 2010: 426). Furthermore, Uramamaintained that a literary work must, therefore, derive from these basic traditional elements to be adjudged as African literature. Nigeria, therefore, owes her present giant strides in the international literary scene to her rich oral tradition.
Literature is important to societies because it is a mirror of things that are happening or have happened within a society. Literature can also be a way for people to learn more about the past and can even be a way for people to reduce certain amounts of stress in their own lives.Literature provides both a getaway and a gateway. Depending on the type of literature that is being studied, there are many things that people can learn from writings. Literature can be focused around history, art and can even be a direct reflection of a society. Literature that is properly written will provide a clear account of things that have happened and things that people can learn from those events (Eagleton, Terry, 2012: 35).
Literature also provides people with the opportunity to relieve stress. There have been many great leaders who simply enjoyed reading a piece of literature to reduce the amount of stress that they had in their life. Literature provides an opportunity for anyone to take a look into a life that is different from their own. It can be somewhat of an escape and will give the reader the chance to step out of their own lives while reading (Betiang, Liwhu, 2004: 27).Literature is the creation of another world by a writer, a world that we can only see when we read such literary pieces. EgyaSule, a poet and literary critic teaching at the University of Abuja, states that creative or literary writing can be defined in just one word: “metaphorisation.” According to him, this entails the art of making familiar words and expressions unfamiliar, surmising that:
This is the root or basis of all creative writing. All creative writing must task our senses, must demand from us extra attention, and must mystify our daily realities. Only few people writing today understand the strategy of literary creativity (Akubuiro, NLNG Prizes has not…”) (Akubuiro, Henry, 2011).
Incidentally, Nigerians have made quite an impact through this literary genre. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has become a reference point in world literature, just as 50 years of his second masterpiece, Arrow of God, is currently being celebrated around the world. EgyaSule’s observation that, “the novel or the novelist has succeeded in being the best window through which the west can glimpse at Africa,” cannot be more apt. Modern Nigerian novelists, the likes of ChimamandaAdichie, HelonHabila, KaineAgari, Dele Momodu, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Vincent Egbuson, Wale Okediran, AbubakarGimba, Sam Omatseye, and YahayaDangana, among others, have grown to be some of the foremost novelists in the country (Onukaogu, Allwell&Onyerionwu, 2009: 32). Some of them have shown enough evidence of their capability to not just approximate the accomplishment of their predecessors, like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, T.M. Aluko, Gabriel Okara, Chukwuemka Ike, BuchiEmecheta, ElechiAmadi, John Munonye, Festus Iyayi, Chinweizu, Ken-Saro-Wiwa, IsidoreOkpewho, Ben Okri, Mabel Segun, Flora Nwapa, KoleOmotosho, AkachiAdimora-Ezeigbo, and Zaynab Alkali, among others, but to surpass them as they can be sure of leaving the stage for an equally gifted and dedicated group of younger writers, who have all it takes to extend the frontiers of the Nigerian novel. For instance, ChimamandaAdichie has become a global phenomenon with her novels, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah. Her first novel,Purple Hibiscus, released in October 2003, received wide critical acclaim. It was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize in 2004 and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Her second novel,Half of a Yellow Sun,published in 2006, has also earned her several prestigious literary awards, among which is the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2007 (Ogunbiyi, Yemi. 2001: 49).
The history of literature dates back to the dawn of human civilization .The societies were formed by the human beings with objectives of fulfilling the human needs and aspirations. Setting aside which came first— the literature or society—both have remained inseparable from each other, for literature cannot sustain without society, and likewise the society too cannot be unnoticed in literary pieces in one way or another (Akubuiro, Henry 2011).Literature mirrors society. What happens in a society is reflected in literary works in one form or another. The literal meaning of literature is the art of written work in different forms, such as, poetry, plays, stories, prose, fiction etc. It may also consist of texts based on information as well as imagination (Eagleton, Terry, 2012).
However, a society is a group of people related to each other through their continuous and uninterrupted relations. It is also a group of likeminded people largely governed by their own norms and values. Human society, it is observed, is characterized by the patterns of relationship between individuals who share cultures, traditions, beliefs and values etc. If one looks at the history of society, one will find that the nature of different societies has gone through changes from the Palaeolithic period to the present age of Information Technology (Joshi, Heather 2008: 23). The people‟s living style, faiths, beliefs, cultures etc. have never remained uniformly consistent. With the passage of time, owing to changes taking place in environment and with emergence of new technologies, we observe that the societies have not remained stubborn with regards to their norms and values, the reflections of which can be found in different forms of literature. Kalidas, a great poet, ever born in Indian history, is first afraid of the uncertain attitude of the people, but then pleads his own points of views that provide us union of the old and the new (Teachman, Jay, 2002: 6).
In Malavikamitam, his first play, the poet shows his humility and becomes uncertain whether people would accept his play. Therefore, in the beginning of the play, he pleads, PuranamityekNasadhusarvam,Nachapikavayamnavmityavadyam “Every old poem is not good because it is old; nor is every new poem to be blamed because it is new; sound critics, after critical examination, choose one or the other, the blockade must have his judgment, guided by the knowledge of his neighbours.” In other words, everything old is not bad; nor is everything new bad. There may be something, which may not be of much use in the old, and the new may also be good. That what great men and wise people say and follow become good during all time (David, 2008).
In respect of literature too we notice that it has remarkably gone through changes with regard to its theme and style. The subjects of literature have been changing as they cover multiple spheres of life and society. So has been the case with the case with the language of literature also. Language is one of the tools or mediums of expressing ideas and thoughts, both in oral and written forms. Different societies have used and are still using different languages for the fulfilment of individuals „and societies‟ aspirations. Sometime it is noticed that many charges are labelled against literature as well as society. A literary writing is banned because an opposite section of society finds it mirroring beliefs and norms against that society. The examples of Salman Rushdie‟sthe Satanic Verses and TaslimaNasrin‟sLazza provide testimony to suchcharges. The paintings of MaqbulFidaHussain were banned and burnt by a section Indian Hindu society with the charge of tarnishing their religious devotion.
In the world of film industry, both in India and abroad, many films have been banned; there has been protests and demonstrations against the films for wrongly presenting the themes and using undesired language which appear hostile to the feelings of a section of society. Literature in a society is not only banned or attempted to be banned because of mirroring the norms and values, not found in conformity with that society, it is sometime marginalized or vehemently opposed due to another form of language it is written by, and which is different from what people have been using (Tucker, Joan et al, 1997: 381).
In the context of depicting or portraying the Epics in a language commonly used by the people during that period, examples of strong opposition by a different section of society, who not only use conventional or traditional form of language but they feel proud of it considering themselves as elite group, can be seen the world over. Thus, it appears that society acts like back up for culture and tradition of the people it reflects upon and the inhabitants of a group of society share certain similarities with regard to, assumptions, beliefs, caste, creed, myths, religion etc. Literature, when combined with culture and other facets –both abstract and concrete– of society, not only presents impalpable subjects like alienation, assimilation and transformation in society but also reflects the palpable issues ,such as ,historical, political and social facts (Betiang, Liwhu. 2004: 68).