Writing Protest Obliquely: Articulating the Burden of a Nation in Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah
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Chinua Achebe's most recent novel, Anthills of the Savannah poses new challenges, which have to be responded to in new ways. Achebe in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God exposed the narrowness of Western perceptions of African traditions. In No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People, Achebe underscores the limitations of traditional African values vis-a-vis the Western criteria of twentieth century modernity. But in Anthills of the Savannah, however, society has reached an ambivalent stage in which the issues identified in the previous eras have mutated into a crisis which encompasses the difficulties and tensions of those eras, in addition to the peculiar problems that are particular to it. As Nigeria's social, political and economic problems became pronounced, the nature of the protest within Nigerian literature became harsher and more explicit, a development that was facilitated by the increasing Marxist ideology among its second and third generations of its writers. Over time in the Nigerian literary corpus, protest has come to be seen as a useful yardstick for measuring the seriousness of the average Nigerian writer and assessing the depth of his commitment to progressive social, political and economic change. Writers who did not espouse radical ideologies were often unfairly dismissed as pro-establishment writers who did not wish to disrupt the status quo. But in Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, protest is somewhat implicit, since it is often indirect in its criticism and usually a-specific. In other words, protest is inherent in the depiction of negative social situations rather than explicitly stated in the novel. This paper argues that Achebe's choice of oblique protest over overt protest in the novel ensures that protest is ubiquitous as the motif that defines the setting of the novel, and as a mode for assessing the relationship between art and social consciousness. The novel is interspersed with moral fables or parables, which sum up prevailing situations and contemporary attitudes in a very concise manner.