- The Structure of the Modern Nigerian Novel and the National Consciousness
In "Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard and Oral Traditions," Bernth Lindfors makes the following observation:
The Palm-Wine Drinkard's neat cyclical superstructure rests on a very loosely coordinated inner structure. The hero is involved in one adventure after another but these adventures are not well integrated. Like boxcars on a freight train, they are independent units coupled with a minimum of apparatus and set in a seemingly random and interchangeable order. . . . Tutuola appears to be improvising as he goes along. . . . To search for an orderly system or well-developed artistic pattern in the chain of disjointed episodes in The Palm-Wine Drinkard is to search for symmetry in chaos, for deliberate design in chance.(46)
Thus does Lindfors highlight the novel's "neat cyclical superstructure" resting on "a very loosely coordinated" structure and relate Tutuola's art wholly to the African storyteller's improvisation of technique and material. Tutuola is a storyteller as well as a novelist—that is, a conscious craftsman of the novel as a genre. It is my purpose here to show that the "very loosely coordinated inner structure," the episodic, digressive, cyclic plot structure is characteristic of modern Nigerian fiction in general. This complex inner structure is to be found, for example, in the works of almost all the major Nigerian novelists—Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, T. M. Aluko, Gabriel Okara. [End Page 45]
When Achebe published Things Fall Apart in 1958 and explained the creation of his novel as an African artist's contribution to the act of decolonization ("Novelist" 185), the novel was classified as a nationalist achievement (Thiong'o 44). His use of oral techniques such as episodicity, proverbs, folktales, and digressions seemed to be of a piece with it. His other novels—No Longer At Ease and A Man of the People —use the oral techniques of song, proverb, and folktale to suggest the erosion of native values in Westernized Nigeria. Although Arrow of God is more obviously traditional in its theme and form than the earlier novels, it displays the same episodic and digressive mode of narration. Likewise Okara, Soyinka, Ekwensi, and Aluko, writing novels on a variety of themes not to be categorized as "nationalist" or nostalgic about past African glory and culture, have all borrowed from the oral structures of traditional African literature in the creation of their fiction, fictions that like most modern Nigerian novels are structured around the native African storytellers' technique.
As examples of this technique, I propose to discuss Okara's The Voice (1964), Soyinka's Season of Anomy (1973), and Aluko's Wrong Ones in the Dock (1982). My choice is determined by two factors: the chosen novels are "successful" novels, and they represent novels written in three different decades: the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s. The form of these novels, however, appears to be no different in structure from the novels of Achebe and Tutuola written in the 1950s. The aim of this paper, then, is to show that the "loosely coordinated inner structure" of the modern Nigerian novel differentiates it from the modern Western novel. It is not a defect of form as is generally alleged but a technical innovation inspired by the African oral structural mode and by the national world view and consciousness.
In the Preface of the revised edition of Arrow of God, Achebe says that he modified the novel because of certain "structural weaknesses." The major revision is the deletion of the four-and-a-half page story told in Chapter Sixteen by Ugoye, Ezeulu's junior wife, to her children reflecting her bitterness with the behavior of Metefi, the senior wife. The story has, as Robert Wren has pointed out, no "associative connection" with the rest of the chapter (53). Achebe himself supports the view that the story has been deleted because of its irrelevance to the priest's state of mind and because, although it is a well-told and interesting folktale, it is out of place (quoted in Wren 54). Somehow, I find Achebe's explanation for the revision not very convincing, for it seems...