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THE AFRICAN NOVEL AS A MIRROR OF THE SOCIETY: A STUDY OF JOHN MUNONYE’S A KIND OF FOOL

 Format: MS-Word   Chapters: 1-5

 Pages: 85   Attributes: Detailed Review

 Amount: 3,000

 Aug 28, 2018 |  08:58 am |  4926

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1     Background to the Study

African literature is a literature of commitment. In that regard it has utilitarian value. African Literature is socially, economically and politically committed and over the years, it has become the catalytic tool for a changing society through the expression of realistic issues. It has also become a social commentary showing the road in which the writer must guide his audience or readers. The contemporary African novel is an extremely large phenomenon that has not only passed through the cultural circumstances,thus serving as a tool for celebrating the legendary act of the African past, but has also endured the colonial period as it was used as a tool for anti - colonial struggle, it’s now a veritable weapon for reflecting and refracting the sociopolitical and economic events of the post- colonial disillusionment in African nations. The great literary icon, Wole Soyinka observes in his essay titledThe Writer in a Modern African State that “one of the traditional responsibilities of the African art and artists is to be prods and guides of their societies” (15). He further articulates his view more succinctly where he describes the artist as “one who always functions in the African society as the record of the mores and experience of society at the same time the voice and vision of his time”(15).This gives legitimacy to the complementary relationship between the artist and the society as it shows the didactic role of the African writer asa voice which must be heard.

Africa is a continent that God has endowed so much with natural resourceswhichareenough to make the continent wealthy. But, it is ironical that as a result of the wrong politicization of the economy bythe top political figures,Africansare not enjoying these natural resources theway they should. This and other issues are therefore, the concerns of African novelistswho see literature as an avenue for the protest against the socio-political ills in the continent.

Literaturein Africa is beyond aestheticism, this is because Africa is bedeviled with multiplicity of socio-political and economic maladies, the focus of the African writers is to thus, reflect all these maladies for the purpose of societal purging and reformation. The African writer is committed to depicting the daily realities in his society through his literary works. Art in Africa is committed to the service of humanity. Africans equate the beauty of any work of art with the society that it helps to build - its social value. Nothing in Africa is done just for the fun of it. A writer is moved to write because of the quest to speak his mind on the happenings in the society.

Literature is one of the branches of art. The other branches are music, sculpture and painting. All these branches of art are not engaged in for their own sake. So many African musicians have used their songs to attack the high handedness and corruption of African leadersat different times. Music has not just got to do with musicality alone but also on the content of the lyrics which embodies the singer’s message (s). A sculptor produces a piece of sculpture for some reasons. Sculptures are used as historical artifacts. A particular piece of sculpture may exist to remind the people of their heroes who laid down their lives to see the community through. Sometimes it can be used as a means of projecting the identity, ethos and beliefs of the people. In any case, the art work does not exist in a vacuum.

Literature is one of the non-material aspects of culture. And every cultural element is used to project the particular society that produces it. As a cultural product, a literary work by an African is usually clothed with African togas of sentiments, sensibilities and cultural values. This is why one can easily distinguish between African novels and English novels. For instance, one can easily distinguish between Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and William Golding's Lord of the Flies. When one reads the two novels, the experiences portrayed in them are different. It, therefore, means that one of the distinguishing features between the African novel and other novels from literature across the world is the peculiar African experiences that are couched in the African novel. Some experiences are peculiar to the African people and the Blacks in general.Colonialism was one of the peculiar African or Black's experiences.Colonialism and series of other social vices such as corruption, electoral malpractices, war, violence, etc equally speak of an identity for the African novel.

The African novel which has the African folktale as its forerunner is realistic in nature. When closely examined, the novel has an intrinsic nexus with the folktale. This is because most of the critical tools like theme, setting, characters and characterization etc which we employ in the analysis of the novel can equally be applied to the analysis of the African folktale. The major difference between the two literary forms however, is that while the African novel is realistic in nature, the folktale is not. This is why the African novel from the time of its emergence has been anchored on the literary concept of realism. Realism as a literary movement believes in the depiction of everyday realities. It does not believe in embellishmentof facts. Everyday realities are depicted using characters that have human attributes.

Owing to the peculiar nature of Africa's experiences, the celebration or appreciation of novels that are basically for entertainment is not possible.The African novel shapes our perception about the African past,present and future and makes familiar that which is alien to us. S.E Ogude in his essay, African Literature and the Burden of History gives credence to this thus: “the first Africans to write in English were all unwilling exiles and children of unwilling exiles. And they all wrote in response to historical conditions that denied them their humanity”. (1). Even though this work is not aimed at chronicling the often sung Africa's historical experiencesas portrayed in the African novel, it is important to mention that the African writer from OlaudahEquiano to the present time has always couched the social, political and economic realities in the African continent. NgugiwaThiong'O aptly summarizes the nexus between literature and Africa's experiences in his classical bookHomecomingthus:

Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum. It is given impetus,shape, direction, and even area of concern by the social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature and other forces cannot be ignored especially in Africa, where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialismand neocolonialism. Our culture over the last hundred years has developed against the same stunting, dwarfing background. (8)  

 

Ngugi in the above quotation amplifies the fact that African literature is a product of Africa's social, political and economic experiences. All these can be regarded as the content of African literature.

John Munonye is a contemporary African novelist whose novels reflect the daily realities in post- independence Africa. The author through his novels comments on the social, political and economic realities in his society. Munonye’s novels including the one that has been chosen for this work, A Kind of Fool, reflects the society and times that produces them. In this work therefore, we shall try to validate the assertion that literature does not exist in a vacuum but it is given impetus, shape, and area of concern by the social, political, and economic forces in the society.

1.2     Statement of the Problem

Some critics in African literature argue that literature should not have anything to do with the social, political and economic issues in the society. In fact, such scholars would not accept the fact that the social, political and economic forces in a particular society give direction, shape, impetus and area of concern to literature. A literary scholar like A.N. Akwanya would frown at a topic like this, just like he has in several of his books, essays, articles, and lectures stated categorically that a work of literature should not be studied with reference to the social, politicaland economic realities in the society. According to him, all those are not the concern of literature. In his essay, Aristotle's Double Bequest to Literary Criticism and Two Discourses of Truth, Akwanya states: 

Today, political issues and social problems are regarded especially in Africa as the reason for writing things like novels and the critics are to show that any work at all, knowingly or not, voluntarily ornot, is about these things. (2)

 

It will be foolhardy of any critic of African literature to ignore the social, political, and economic issues that are portrayed in the African novel while being preoccupied with the appreciation of the literary form of such a novel. The African novel, by and large is a reflection of the social, political and economic realities in Africa. So, any critic of African literature must bear in mind that African writers are writers with social vision and that the notion of art- for- art’s sake can never thrive on the African literary soil. This is because a wise does not leave his house on fire to pursue the rats that emerged from the ruins (Achebe, 5).

It is highly essential to make reference to the fact that, the writer is a social thinker who pre-occupies himself with the issues ofknowledge and the essence of living. The function or business of an imaginative and creative Africanwriter is not just that of a writer who reflects his society, but as a social thinker himself. Ngugi states that the novel projects the society in such a way that it mirrorsit and also reflects upon it.There are so many problems in Africa for the African writer to grapple with in his work which will not let him become an art- for- art’ssadist, otherwise he will be likened to that absurd man that left his house on fire to pursue the rat that emerged from the ruins. There is a meeting point between the form of artthat produces them and practical realities.

In this work, therefore, in our reading of John Munonye’sA Kind of Fool, effort will be made to validate the assertion that the African novel is a reflection of the social, political, and economic realities in Africa.

1.3     Research Questions

In line with the background of the study and statement of problem above, this long essay hopes to find answers to the following questions:

1.       Why is it impossible to separate the African novel from the social, political and economic realities in Africa?

2.       What is the nexus between literature and society in Africa?

3.       To what extent has John Munonye portrayed the social, political and economic realities ofthe post-independence Africa in his novel, A Kind of Fool?

 

1.4     Aim and Objectives of the Study

This long essay is aimed at discussing the African novel as a reflection of the social, political and economic realities in Africa, using John Munonye'sA Kind of Fool as an example. In that regard, the work shall critically explore how the African novel reflect the social, political and economic events in Africa .The objectives of the study shall, therefore, include the following :

1.       To investigate, using Munonye'sA  Kind of Fool, the assertion that literature does not exist in a vacuum but is given impetus, shape, and area of consideration by the social, political and economic forces in the society.

2.       To discuss the social, political and economic issues that are reflected in John Munonye'sA Kind of Fool.

3.       To critically explore the realistic tendency of Munonye'sA Kind of Fool.

 

1.5     Justification of the Study

In commerce, production they say is not complete until the goods produced get to the final consumers. The same thing is applicable to literature. An author cannot be called a successful writer if his works have not been given adequate critical attention. So many novels by African authors are lying peacefully undisturbed in various bookshops and English shelves in different librarieswhile few popular ones are being over worked. And it has been said that, that book is good in vain that is thrown into the waste bin. John Munonye is a prolific contemporary African writer who has written so many novels. But unfortunately, most of his novels have not been given adequate literary attention especially in this part of the country.

This work is, therefore, justified because it hopes to critically analyze John Munonye'sA Kind of Fool, thereby calling attention to the novels of this African literary genius. This work is equally important because it hopes to join voices with the works of African scholars who are on the side of “content” in the over flogged debate between content and form in African literature.

Most importantly, to the best of the researcher's knowledge and thorough research, no critical work of this magnitude has been carried out before on John Munonye's A Kind of Fool. In fact it looks as if nothing at all has been written on this novel just as the researcher could not find any material on the novel, even on the internet. The researcher noticed with dismay that as rich in content as this novel is, it could not be found in many English departments'libraries across the country.

1.6     Scope of the Study

African literature is in itself contemporary. African literature in the written form began to gain popularity at a time when English literature was already at its postmodern phase. Most of the issues that are treated in African literature are issues that are still fresh in the memories of the living. Most of the pioneers of African literature are still living and those who are dead, died recently. So, when the contemporary African novel is mentioned, all the novels by African authors are supposed to be inclusive. This is because all of them are contemporary. All contemporary African novels undoubtedly reflect the social, political and economic realities in Africa.But then, this long essay cannot exhaust all the African novels, considering the length and time of this research. In that light, this long essay is limited to the study of John Munonye's A Kind of Fool. The above novel shall be used to establish the fact that the African novel is a reflection of the social, political and economic realities in Africa.

 

1.7     Research Methodology

In carrying out a research, the nature of the problem that one is out to solve or investigate determines the tool of data collection that one will employ. This long essay makes use of both primary and secondary sources of data. The method of data collection in this work is the use of a literary text - John Munonye's A Kind of Fool. The above novel shall be critically analyzed to get the primary data for this long essay.

Apart from the above novel, other secondary materials such as literature textbooks, articles, essays, journals and the internet shall as well be made use of in this work. All these materials shall be the basis for drawing inferences and conclusion on the research findings.

The theoretical framework that will be employed in this work is the sociological approach to literary criticism i.e. Sociological Criticism. The approach and why it has been chosen in this work shall be explained in the chapter two of the work.

1.8     Biography of John Munonye

John Munonye, (born April 28, 1929, Akokwa, British Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria [now in Imo state, Nigeria]—died May 10, 1999), Igbo educator and novelist known for his ability to capture the vitality of the contemporary Nigerian scene.

Munonye was educated at Christ the King College in Onitsha (1943–48) and attended the University of Ibadan, graduating in 1952. He worked for the Nigerian Ministry of Education until 1977, when he left to teach and devote more time to writing.

Munonye’s novels are animated by the clash between African traditions and European beliefs. In The Only Son (1966), Munonye’s first novel, a widowed mother navigates traditional expectations for Igbo women as she raises her son, who then attends a Western-oriented school and converts to Christianity. Obi (1969), a sequel to The Only Son, broadens the theme to an extended family. In both books the family emerges as a source of strength in times of turmoil. Munonye’s later novels include Oil Man of Obange (1971) and A Wreath for the Maidens (1973). His novel A Dancer of Fortune (1974) is a satire of modern Nigerian business. Munonye returned to the family of his first two novels in Bridge to a Wedding (1978). Thereafter he published little.

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