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African Writing Archives


Egya Sule

E. E. Sule

Egya is the author of The Agatu Culture: Songs and Dances (2002, a study of oral poetry); Impotent Heavens (2004, a collection of short stories); Knifing Tongues (2005, a volume of poetry); The Writings of Zaynab Alkali (2005, a critical work, co-authored with Umelo Ojinmah); Naked Sun (2006, a volume of poetry); and Dream and Shame (2006, a collection of short stories). He teaches African Literature, Creative Writing and Modern Literary Theory in Department of English, Nasarawa State University. His poems, short stories and scholarly essays have appeared in both local and international anthologies, journals and e-journals among which are Asheville Poetry Review, Drumvoices Revue, Camouflage: Best of Nigerian Contemporary Writing, and Research in African Literatures. He was a 2006-2007 Fellow of the PER SESH Writing Programme in Senegal where he worked on a novel manuscript, Living with Mice, under the mentorship of Ayi Kwei Armah.


 The Novelist as Teacher: a 21st Century Criticism

I begin by clarifying my stand in making this criticism. I hold Chinua Achebe in high esteem as a legend of African literatures and the entire range of postcolonial thought. I recognise the vital position his debut, Things Fall Apart, occupies in African literatures, as a result of which today we are celebrating its fiftieth birthday. My criticism of Achebe’s concept of the novelist as a teacher, drawing textual instances from Things Fall Apart, is not, of course, aimed at debunking the claims of the novel as a classic. I come from the premise, quite common to every literary critic, that no classic is devoid of artistic flaws. My primary interest is to problematise Achebe’s concept of the novelist as a teacher, establish its extra-literary excesses and point out its negative influence on twenty-first century Nigerian fiction.

Achebe’s thesis in “The Novelist as Teacher” begins from a context which appeals to all of us as Africans reduced to a subaltern denomination by colonialism. For a writer who decided to take fiction, and not journalism or history, as a weapon against the racist Mister Johnson and Heart of Darkness, Achebe came to write fiction with a shape of mind that would see him re-orientating Africans towards the relevance of arts to society and its use in confronting human indignity in Africa. His expository essay, therefore, theoretically underpins the ideas that have been put into his early fiction, begotten of a pressing intention and given a definite goal.

Achebe’s orientation, of course, is traditional to African philosophy and orality. For, as Chinweizu et al have pointed out,

“[because] in Africa we recognize that art is in the public domain, a sense of social commitment is mandatory upon the artist.”

We know the artist’s place in African cultures to be that of a shaper of a communal psyche. We know that the traditional poet or raconteur is a custodian of what Okechukwu S. Mezu calls “a collective experience,” and his performances create a formidable relationship between him and his audience. Art, whatever its form, belongs to the public sphere; and the artist considers his voice as communal. He expresses the pains and joys, the successes and failures of his people. A novelist coming from this oral tradition would certainly find the self-complacent, supreme art of the modernist tradition quite suspicious.

For Achebe, then, it is not what the writer, iconoclastic and free, expects from his society, but “what society expects of its writers.” It is that communal sense in him that projects itself, that places him at the centre of the community, and makes him not only conscious of the communal needs but also willing to use his art as a handle with which to shift the society from a point of ignorance to that of enlightenment. Achebe recognises his audience at once as his brothers, fellow sufferers in search of where the rains started beating them. He as an artist has known where the rains started and it is mandatory on him to show them the place. It is this self-conscious knower who says

“[m]ost of my readers are young. They are either in school or college or have only recently left. And many of them look up to me as a kind of teacher.”

The texture of Achebe’s proposition shows that this is not just a matter of mere teaching, but of radical re-orientation and emancipation of a colonised society from the ineptitude, the lies and the cruelties of colonialism. So the novelist must rise to teach, and, in doing so, “help [his] society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement.” In the long run, Achebe declares, “I would be quite satisfied if my novels…did no more than teach my readers that the past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” This seeming wish, which is, in fact, a manifesto powering Achebe’s fiction, should elicit some questions: how effective is fiction – in spite of history and journalism – in educating people, especially a people, like the whites, who have long codified their illegal, wanton and dehumanising opinions on Africa? How many white people read Achebe’s novels then and are still reading them, and have been really “educated” and have changed their racist attitudes towards the black race? What effect does a work of art, say, a novel, have on its audience if it pointedly sets out to “instruct” and re-direct the perceptions of people about a particular thing?

A novel is a work of art. A work of art, to use Achebe’s bucolic metaphor, is a masquerade dancing in the market square. Everybody comes around to watch it. Everybody watches it from whatever angle he or she chooses. After watching it, everybody takes away whatever he or she pleases to take away: for some it is pleasure, for others it is a lesson; for some it is beauty, for others it is ugliness; for some it is the appreciation of skill, for others it is the condemnation of mediocrity. It is on this basis that a problem, both conceptual and exegetical, arises if a writer comes out in a self-important way to tell his or her readers that it is, of course, for so-and-so reason that he or she has created a work of art. One of the basic skills, indeed a difficult one, to attain by most writers in a postcolonial state is the ability to strike a balance between the thorny issues that have to do with the forging of nationhood, which often form the themes of his works, and the respect he must have for the dignity of art. Nobody is a novelist or a poet simply because he can scribble anything he feels about the socio-political issues in his society. “A novel,” Kolawole Ogungbesan points out, “is not saved by a great theme.”

It is admissible that given the historical process, protest-dependent, that has evolved the African nationhood and is still struggling to fully realise this nationhood, modern African literature has the temptation to succumb to burning socio-political and cultural needs. Most African writers were not as immodest (or, perhaps, courageous) as Christopher Okigbo to say, in a 1965 interview with Marjory Whitelaw, “I don’t…like writing that is committed. I think it is very cheap” at a time when it was fashionable for writers to come out and say they had written, as committed artists (or applied artists), to teach the world what it did not know about Africa. In fact, Okigbo made a more “blasphemous” statement at that time when, in 1966 while rejecting Africa’s first prize in poetry at the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, he declared, “[t]here is no such thing as Negro Arts; there is no African writing – that’s all. African literature is simply literature in Africa.” Clearly, Okigbo, here, was resisting the temptation, like a few other African writers, to define a pedagogic manifesto in the context of social commitment.

Really, the argument is not that African writers should reject any connection between art and the politics of their society; it is that the African writer, whether traditional or modern, should first of all recognise that art is autonomous and self-sufficient; that its greatness lies not in the themes or social ideas it peddles, but in the craft that is put into it. A writer, whether African or not, should avoid any gospel about his duty, his intention or any instructions he wants his audience to get from his work. If a writer writes, as Nardine Gordimer says, “to the transformation of reality, in whatever forms and modes of expression… [and is set] to make sense of life” as he knows and experiences it, then social themes naturally come in since any human being is a political and social animal. A writer does not need to laboriously work social issues into his writing, and spend his time theorising on that. Ogungbesan puts it this way:

“The writer is a member of society and his sensibility is conditioned by the social and political happenings around him. These issues will…be present in his work, but they must be more implicit than otherwise.”

The writer, smarting from the realisation of suffocating social and human ills around him, eager to point out the ills and suggest solutions, to place his ideas before the craft, to reduce art to a weapon of social change, either does not grasp the meaning of art or chooses to betray art. In a way, for implying that he is an applied artist and beginning a narrative tradition that places art beneath the trembling social issues of his society, Achebe betrays art, for, as Ogungbesan says, “[it] is a betrayal of art for the writer to put his writings at the service of a cause, even if it is such a laudable and uncontroversial cause as the ‘education’ of the people.” To set out to be a novelist should imply that one is interested in the craft, is triggered by that interest, is dedicated to the perfection of the craft; and the social issues found in the craft should come from a deep philosophy of imagination, not from the programmatic selection of the educationist.

While the argument between the artist’s dedication to society versus dedication to art is not new in literary scholarship in Africa, and may sound like the rehashing of the great debate of the twentieth-century English literature, it is still very relevant in our time because new African writers and critics have not transcended the undue attention given to societal issues to the detriment of art. The writer is eager to make his work carry the burdens of the society without giving due attention to craft. The critic is looking for nothing in a work of art other than the social burden it carries. Today, our literary prizes and judges only want to know how vociferous a woman is in projecting the struggles and suffering of the woman in the society; how a writer from the Niger Delta is able to paint the picture of degradation and inhumanity in the area; how realistic a writer from the north shows the lifestyle and culture of the northern people. Such prizes should have been meant for sociological/ anthropological writings, not creative writings. Most Nigerian writers today show those things without recourse to literariness and get the prizes. Otherwise what do you say of the Lagos-based writer who sweeps all prizes in Nigeria without little or no craft in her “creative” fiction? The problem we face with this tradition is that most of our new writings, in spite of the postcolonial accolades they get, are infantile and inadequate to cater for the entire scope of human imagination. This problem is natural to a philosophy of art that reduces creative writing to instructionalisation and pedagogy.

To return to Achebe’s fiction. It is my opinion that Things Fall Apart would have been a roundly accomplished novel if the author did not have a defined, too conscious intention for writing it or if he did not “saddle” it with a “grand” goal. A work of art, such as Things Fall Apart, ought to be a beautifully adorned masquerade, a public one dancing in the market square, and every viewer will watch its dance step with delight and take away whatever lessons he wants to take. Things Fall Apart is a novel, a story of the rise and fall of the protagonist Okonkwo and of a changing society which he belongs. The story itself is self-contained, human in perspective, fascinating to both 'high' and 'low' persons, and thematically penetrative. In human life, there are people who rise and fall every day; there are societies who are in a constant flux of change, whether positive or negative. A story such as this simply needs to be garbed in a captivating plot, exciting narration, vivid description, deep characterisation, appropriate point of view, meaningful imagery and profound theme.

To reduce such a story to backgrounds of intentional pedagogy, as Achebe has done, is to undermine the craft of the art. Taking a cue from the premise of social intention projected by Achebe, almost all critics and scholars approach Things Fall Apart not really as a novel but as a social document (laced with certain literariness though) which is foremost in prioritising the sociological and anthropological facts and embellishment of a pre-colonial Africa. Most readings of the novel therefore mainstream Achebe’s intention, moving in a direction that idolises the novel as a document that first brought to the white man’s knowledge that the past of Africa was full of glory and human dignity. While those readings fulfill Achebe’s intention for writing the novel, we need re-readings, in equal proportions, that will interrogate the validity of Things Fall Apart in showing the glory and human dignity of Africa. Some few voices have asked: is Okonkwo or Ezeulu rational enough to convey the human dignity of the past of Africa? How is Obi, in spite of his education, different from Mister Johnson when he succumbs to bribery and lacks the willpower to rise beyond the inhuman phenomenon of the osu caste?

I do think that because of the intention behind creating Things Fall Apart, Achebe chooses a point of view that is unsuited. The chief ingredient of that novel, the centre of fascination, is the story of Okonkwo – his philosophy of being great rooted in the cultural demands of his society and his idiosyncratic stance to confront, even if single-handedly, the change that comes upon the society. A suitable point of view for such a character-driven story is what Norman Friedman calls the “the dramatic mode,” which is largely demonstrated by “what the characters do and say” so that “the reader apparently listens to no one but the characters themselves, who move as it were upon a stage.” Instead of us watching Okonkwo on stage, we see more of Achebe, deafening us with what he says about Okonkwo. Consequently, the plot of Things Fall Apart is unbalanced with too much of background explanations taking up the most part of it, leaving just small for the actions that should indeed “act” out the story. A plot is activated and remains active in its lifespan through a sequence of actions; it survives on the popular view that a story-teller is to “show,” not to “tell.”

The first paragraph of the novel is no doubt an interesting narration and we may perhaps approach it with what the narratologist Roland Barthes calls “a hermeneutic code.” It is like a stage direction that presents Okonkwo the actor. Our desire is to know more about how an eighteen-year boy can beat a hugely famous wrestler like Amalinze the cat. To satisfy our curiosity, Achebe deploys the most effective mode: flashback. But alas the flashback, which ought to show, only tells the story to the reader’s dissatisfaction:

“The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath. Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water. Every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end Okonkwo threw the Cat” (3).

What we see here are summaries of things we need to see. How is Amalinze wily? How is Okonkwo slippery? How does Okonkwo throw the cat? This flashback shows nothing but merely expands a sentence in the first paragraph: “As a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat” (3). It is simply a sketch of the scene Achebe ought to have shown his readers. Such stillborn scenes are found throughout the novel and affect the balance of the plot. The beginning of chapter two of the novel is one such. Given the author’s privileging of the sociology and anthropology of the Igbo people, one expects that the first encounter the reader is having with the town crier should have been shown as a scene. But it is narrated through the eyes of Okonkwo.

Another important scene not shown is the reality of nature the people of Umuofia face when Okonkwo takes yam seeds from Nwakibie to expand his farm. The year turns out to be a bad one. The bad year, instead of being shown, is told thus:

“That year the harvest was sad, like a funeral, and many farmers wept as they dug up the miserable and rotting yams. One man tied his cloth to a tree branch and hanged himself” (17).

The showing of this scene is pertinent because it will make the reader see Okonkwo’s natural reaction to such an unfortunate year, given his attitude and inclination. Such stillborn scenes weaken Okonkwo’s characterisation. Most of the things we know about Okonkwo comes through the author’s intrusive voice. The author, for instance, does not need to tell us that “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand” (9) or “Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men usually had” (12). The ideas expressed in those sentences are central to the character development of Okonkwo and the reader is interested in seeing them shown; in seeing scenes where Okonkwo displays “a heavy hand.” In all the places Achebe ought to show Okonkwo’s “heavy hand,” he merely summarises by saying “he beat [his wife, his child] very heavily” (21), except where Okonkwo fires a gun at his wife. How does the reader create in his mind the picture of Okonkwo beating his wife or his child “very heavily” when it is the author’s duty to dramatise such a crucial habit of his protagonist?

One other pertinent shortcoming in Achebe’s handling of the character of Okonkwo is his summarization of what people say about Okonkwo, especially when it is necessary that the people’s voice should be heard. An example is: after he has beaten his wife during the week of peace and he is chastised, he, characteristically, refuses to show his repentance openly. It is an opportunity the people, especially his detractors, have to criticise him by talking among themselves. Achebe denies us the voices and dramas of those who criticise him:

“And so people said he had no respect for the gods of the clan. His enemies said his good fortune had gone to his head. They called him the little bird nza who so far forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his chi” (22).

Even Okonkwo’s wives and children do not have their voices against this husband and father who is heavy-handed. In Achebe’s peculiar manner of intruding, he does not just tell us about Okonkwo but he also seems to be sympathetic with Okonkwo as if he were one of the characters in the novel. An instance is where Achebe writes, “Okonkwo was provoked to justifiable anger by his youngest wife, who went to plait her hair at her friend’s house and did not return early enough to cook the afternoon meal” (italic mine, 21). Here, the author decides that Okonkwo’s anger is justifiable even though he has not told or shown us that the wife has stayed away out of stupidity. Elsewhere Achebe, taking his readers for granted (since he is teaching them, anyway), says, “But although Okonkwo was a great man whose prowess was universally acknowledged, he was not a hunter” (italic mine, 27). Does the author need to tell us that Okonkwo’s great power is universally acknowledged? What, for a fiction writer, is the semantic limit of the phrase “universally acknowledged?” Too much of summarization in Things Fall Apart makes it a sketch of a greater novel yet to be written.

Besides undue authorial intrusions and stillborn scenes, Achebe offers too much of sociological information, giving the novel an aspect of the instructional textbook. Textbooks are dull; novels are pleasurable. People escape from textbooks into novels in search of pleasure which art offers. The argument here is that the novelist who successfully shows the story does not need to bring in sociological and anthropological commentaries because they will be part of what the reader will naturally see. If Achebe is “showing” us, as the case should be, a life of an Igbo man in an Igbo society, does he need to “teach” us anything about the Igbo people?

The author, for instance, does not need to tell his readers that in Igboland, as in other lands in Africa, “[t]he thick dregs of palm-wine were supposed to be good for men who were going in to their wives” (15). If such an instruction must appear in fiction, it is better blended into a dialogue. Achebe, the narrator, does not, himself, need to educate us that “[b]ut the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also” (19). There are characters in the novel qualified to not only say this, but also show it. Proverbs, such as this, not spoken by the characters are misplaced. Achebe’s commentary on yam here is better suited for a textbook (not even the personification gives it a place in fiction):

“Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king. For three or four moons it demanded hard work and constant attention from cock-crow till the chickens went back to roost. The young tendrils were protected from earth-heat with rings of sisal leaves…. The yams were then staked, first with little sticks and later with tall and big tree branches. The women weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early nor late” (24).

This is a general lesson from the novelist as a teacher; he breaks up the narrative to give us the lesson. The question, for instance, of audience selectivity comes in. If Achebe’s audience is the Igbo people or Africans, do they need this general lesson? If the target audience is the white people, of course this will fascinate them because it offers them an insight into how “primitive” people cultivate yam. In another instance, Achebe educates us on how, in Igbo society, loud calls are answered. When Nwoye’s mother calls Ekwefi, the latter answers by saying “Is that me?” Achebe the novelist-educationist will not let that go without giving us a sociological/anthropological lesson: “That was the way people answered calls from outside. They never answered yes for fear it might be an evil spirit calling” (29).

This is another example of information that should be put into dialogue. For instance, the inquisitive Ezinma can ask her mother why she answers that way and the information can come from the voice of the mother. It is a matter of intention for the writer to be certain that his audience needs that additional information. Given Achebe’s propensity for instructional fiction, such commentaries are found now and then throughout the novel. They slow down the pace of the novel, distract the sequence of actions, and, in my opinion, bore the reader who is out to enjoy the story of Okonkwo.

It is worrying that these literary flaws (if you are persuaded to see them as such) continue to exist in Nigerian fiction till today. New Nigerian fiction writers come on the scene to meet an existing narrative tradition. Things Fall Apart is a pioneering agent in the formation of this tradition. In fact some critics and commentators have argued that it is the foremost agent in the formation of Africa’s narrative tradition, given its grand theme, distinctive language and its acceptance by the public. The legacy from Things Fall Apart is inherent in this tradition: a courageous theme that hits back at a one-sided narrative with a counter-narrative; a domesticated foreign language that enables the writer to feel doubly equipped for literary expressivity; and a moral duty on the part of the writer to define an intention for the evolution of a literary vision.

This tradition has continued to give rise to a literature of protest, of social commitment, of quasi-Marxist cast, and of African realism. In this narrative tradition, the novelist must have a defined goal, a proper (by all means political) intention for writing because, as Agwuncha Nwankwo says, “the relevance of the writer is located in his grasp and understanding of the interplay of social forces…within his socio-political reality and how he harnesses his talent in reaction to these forces.” From Festus Iyayi’s arresting Marxism to Buchi Emecheta’s acid feminism, down to the loud Marxist-feminism of Sefi Atta and Ifeoma Chinwuba, and to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Igbo-centric postcolonialism, the Nigerian novelist has continued to pay undue attention to socio-political theme, instead of balancing it with craft, to avoid being seen as irrelevant to his society. For this reason, the novelist is not just contented with the submergence of his ideas in the characters in his works, but is loud in making commentaries that render the novel heavily thematic.

I have decided to use Atta’s novel as example. One expects that Atta’s Everything Good Will Come, being a novel published in the twenty-first century, will shy away from sociological and anthropological commentaries. If it is for the interest of the white people, as it were, that sociological and anthropological notes are inserted into early African novels such as Things Fall Apart (in spite of the literary subalternity it implies), are the white people of this century still interested in our “primitive” anthropology? If they are, should it be our duty, as African writers, to feed them with this anthropology and then turn round to mask ourselves with postcolonialism? With this trajectory of self-pitying subaltern fiction coming even from new writers, one is tempted to agree with Titi Adepitan that “[t]he truth…is that new writers keep grinding out versions of Things Fall Apart, imagining that they are Achebe and that the rest of the world, inundated with television images of Africa as a jungle, is dying for an account of the latest ritual or superstition from the continent.”

Atta writes in the twenty-first century with the indication that she is teaching non-Nigerians, non-Africans certain things about life in Nigeria and about the sprawling city of Lagos where her novel is set. Despite her use of the first person narrative point of view which should enable the author to give up what Norman Friedman calls “channels of information,” we clearly discern Atta’s voice pushing through the voice of her protagonist in such utterances as:

In my country, we appreciate the end result, but not the craft, perhaps because we didn’t have fancy names. Paring was ‘cut it.’ Julienne was ‘cut it well.’ Chopping was ‘cut it well well,’ and so on till you had puree, which would probably be ‘mash it.’ And, if anyone was measuring any ingredient in a kitchen, it meant that they really didn’t know what they were doing” (126).

Certainly, Atta has taken leave of fiction here to teach her non-Nigerian audience a topic in Nigerian sociology. This is not a dialogue between Enitan and her foreign friend in Everything Good Will Come; it is a dialogue, instructive in such a “teachful” tone, between the author Atta and her foreign audience. Elsewhere Atta breaks up the narrative to explain to her audience how the word, “like,” is used in Lagos:

“In Lagos we used the word ‘like’ this way. You liked to stare, you liked to criticise, you liked to make appointments and not keep them. There was an assumption, bad English aside, that if you did something often, you liked it” (151).

This of course is a lesson in anthropological philology. Atta’s foreign audience will benefit from this lesson in the sense that they will know how Lagosians, Nigerians, and Africans have always been imperfect users of English, an anthropological conclusion that will further establish the second-class status of the Africans. Atta also gives her foreign readers a lesson in Linguistics:

“Yoruba is a language that doesn’t recognise gender – he the same as she, him the same as her – but respect is always important” (316).

There are more lessons about the impossible city called Lagos:

“On a Lagos street, justice happened straight away. You knocked someone’s car and they beat you up. The people would come out to watch. You knocked someone, and the people themselves would beat you up. You stole anything, and the people could beat you until they killed you” (152).

Here, Atta is not describing any particular scene, as a novelist should do, but is giving general knowledge, a phenomenon which is outside the sphere of fiction. The skill of the novelist demands that such knowledge is worked into a vivid description. The commentary above is unnecessary and damaging since Atta has, in the previous paragraphs, described a scene of Lagos-street-justice.

The new Nigerian novelist who locates his space within the theory of the novelist as a teacher labours constantly to dull his story with backgrounds and commentaries that give the novel an aspect of a pamphlet or a textbook. I have recently read two stories which would have been great novels but for the author’s indulgence on teachful thematics. I am talking of the much-praised Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie and Chinwuba’s Waiting for Maria. Remove Adichie’s essayistic insertions which she calls “The Book: The World Was Silent When We Died” and you have a great story of love, survival and self-development in wartime. In fact, what she has laboured to put in the essays are already well-blended in the narrative and as such the reader gets distracted by what Adichie thinks she has used to establish a grand theme. A more interesting story is Chinwuba’s Waiting for Maria, which, alas, is rubbished by insufficient craft. It is a good example of a novel that lacks the balance between social issues and craft; every page is heavy with one social message or the other. The feeling you have, when reading the novel, is that the writer is in a hurry to “teach” her reader a number of things about the prison situation in Nigeria and the plight of women in a nation that is metaphorically a prison.

Let me conclude by saying that in criticising Achebe’s concept of the novelist as a teacher and in demonstrating what I consider the imperfections that are inherent in fiction that takes its roots in that concept, I am taking a position which is obvious: an advocacy for the liberation of the novel and, indeed, any work of art from the undue grip of the author’s intention, sociological commentaries and the “grand” theme of postcolonial Africa. Lewis Nkosi has observed and warned against “the journalistic fact parading outrageously as imaginative literature” in Africa. The critic Solomon Iyasere has also raised fear that “judging from the increasing criticism of African literature by Africans, we Africans ourselves – with all our so-called ‘inside knowledge’ of the social realities behind the novels at our disposal – have not provided significantly more insightful criticism.”This, to him, is the result of the African critics’ failure to see that “African literature demands more than a knowledge of the social realities behind the work.” Literature, he says, “requires for successful study a specific faculty, a keen aesthetic sensibility, and a thorough knowledge of the techniques of language.”

It is high time Nigerian, nay African, writers and critics approached creative writing and literary criticism from an alternative perspective; a perspective that sees the novel or any genre of art as a self-contained craft which should not be a means of teaching people about life but a means of showing people life out of which the people may choose to take or not to take any lesson from. A novelist’s desire should be to tell (i.e. show) a good story in a good manner. If the African novelist of the twentieth century used the novel to teach because of the circumstances in which he found himself (however he justified that), we expect a shift of paradigm from the twenty-first century African novelist. This is not to advocate art for art’s sake because there was and is actually nothing of such nature. This is not to say there are not novelists who are telling good stories in a good manner in Africa. But the truth, as you and I know, is that many of what are praised as our novels today labour to teach us instead of giving us well-crafted stories.

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