Tobe Osigwe: Deconstructing Chimamanda Adichie and her sense of poetic justice

by Tobe Osigwe


Is she directly or indirectly proposing that all unhappy couples should divorce their spouse to marry their ex? What is Chiamanda trying to pontificate when she allowed Jaja to go free after admitting responsibility to the homicide committed by his mother in her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus? Please do not get me misconstrued, I am in no way suggesting to Adichie how to end her story.

It will be an understatement if I say Chimamanda is one of the most celebrated young Nigerian lately. To say that she is a sound and deep story teller is clearly stating the obvious. But to say that she is an overrated writer is a cheap improvised definition of lie. Chimamanda to me, is a ring bearer for most young writers and a lucid Nigerian epitome of Yes We Can. Like an Amazon, she is bestriding our literary milieu in the charitable spirit of; my success is other people’s success. Like a heroine she is making a case for so many strangled voices. But, like all Greek heroes and heroines, Adichie has her poetic tragic flaws.

The Igbo people of Nigeria have a saying; Aru gba afo oburu omenala (if an abomination is allowed to repeat itself it becomes a tradition). Going by this philosophical thought, I dare say that there is a stylistic trend which has become evident in Adichie’s storytelling technique, precisely, her concept of resolution. This stylistic form of resolution surfaced in her debut novel Purple Hibiscus and like an Abiku, it reincarnated in her last work Americana. For the comprehension of those who must have not observed or those who must have observed but may have waived it aside, this frailty in resolution is Adichie’s style of sacrificing morality on the altar of happy ending.

To understand the import of this one needs to go back to the etymology of tragedy. Tragedy was first recorded to be defined in ancient Greece. Aristotle in his treatise: aristotle’s poetics defined tragedy and went further to lay down guidelines on the structure and form of tragedy. One of the several elements Aristotle enumerated which is crucial to this piece is his rule that tragedy should be about a hero or heroine of noble birth. And, tragedy should have the element of catharsis (purgation of the emotion of fear and pity). Aristotle was of this opinion because he believed that if the ordinary citizens of Greece see the tragic end of a hero of noble birth it will evoke pity and fear in the heart of these citizens. Therefore, these citizens will leave the theatre a changed person or better put a renewed citizen after seeing the suffering of a great personality.

It is clear from the foregoing that Aristotle saw tragedy-drama- as a vehicle for social rehabilitation and surgical transformation of the citizens’ behavioural attitude. One might ask, what is the correlation between drama and fictional novel (prose)? My answer will be a whole lot. Drama and novel are forms of writing. All forms of conscious writing falls under Literature. And, the chief purpose of Literature is to educate and to entertain. This purpose of Literature is like the two end of a stick; you cannot dialectically or practically divorce one from the other.  This means that once you consciously or unconsciously pick one end of a stick you have inadvertently picked the other end. Simplistically, what this also means is that once a writer sets out to write, the writer has unconsciously set out to educate and entertain.

Chinua Achebe posits in one of his essays: if the society is sick the role of the writer becomes enormous. The writer in this context, I believe includes inter alia: Sciptwriters, Playwrights, Novelists, Authors, Journalists, and Poets.  Therefore, writers are the vanguards and moral fibre of the society. Through their works, they mirror the ills of the society. They do not stop at that, they show the society what should and supposed to be. I believe this is in tandem with the perspective of Ben Okri when he opinionated; The decline of a Nation begins with the decline of its writers, writers represent the unconscious vigour and fighting spirit of the land. Writers are the very sign of the psychic health of a people: they are the barometer of the vitality of the spirit of the nation.

In the light of the foregoing, there is one undercurrent insinuation that Aristotle, Achebe and Okri have unconsciously underscored: Writers are teachers and healers. If this is true, then I ask, what is Chimamanda trying to teach the society in Americana when she allowed Obinze to divorce his legally married wife with no case of infidelity to marry Ifemelu, his first love? Is she directly or indirectly proposing that all unhappy couples should divorce their spouse to marry their ex? What is Chiamanda trying to pontificate when she allowed Jaja to go free after admitting responsibility to the homicide committed by his mother in her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus? Please do not get me misconstrued, I am in no way suggesting to Adichie how to end her story.

Be that as it may, I believe a griot should end a story in a way that will cure societal malady. It behooves me that in a society laced with volatile marriages, proliferation of divorce and family crisis that our fiery writer cum teacher will dabble into a sensitive niche, plot beautiful conflict out of it but create a grotesque resolution, a resolution that seems easy and nihilistic, a resolution that stifles the didactic voice of reason. The German writer, Ludwig Van Goethe says that; To act is easy, to think is hard. Therefore I can wager a coin that somehow somewhere that there is a husband/wife who will opt for divorce- without thinking his action through- after reading a certain award winning book called Americana. I believe that there is a youth romancing the idea of committing patricide or matricide hoping in the future he will be granted amnesty for such a justifiable homicide.

Now, this is the part I ask, does Chimamanda Adichie really understand the concept, “Error of Judgment”, on the part of a protagonist? Does Chimamanda really think that Achebe liked the idea of making his lovable character Okonkwo commit suicide? I believe these two questions will aid our writer of the moment in understanding the importance of poetic justice. No writer likes to make his lovable protagonist suffer but they are forced to do it so that people will learn from the dire consequences of their beloved characters irrational actions. Story telling from ancient to modern has been a vehicle for teaching morals. If any writer or griot fails in this duty, then, I believe such person has unconsciously validated one unknown listener or reader of his sins.

To this end I say, no writer will ever know the impact, influence and reach of his writings. I believe if someone will tell Saint Paul that thousands of years after, religious men will still be consulting his epistles as foundation for religious doctrine and dogmas or that it will be a guideline for conflict resolution he will not have believed it. If someone had told Confucius that score of century later, his writing will aid in rebuilding a tottering oriental nation I doubt if he would have believed it. On the contrary, if someone had told Karl Marx that his Communist Manifesto will be a foundation for one of the most vicious government the world has ever witnessed. Perhaps, he would have stopped in his track. Or, If someone had told Joseph Conrad that his Heart of Darkness, will be a book that will ignite protest writing among Africans, I believed he might have soft-pedaled in his use of words and imagery. If someone had told Salmon Rushdie that his novel Satanic Verses will spark series of murderous protest may be he would have……

Therefore, it calls for tact, circumspect and discretion whenever a writer sits down to pen his stories, thoughts and fables. Writing is not just an art of telling beautiful stories, plotting suspense filled conflict, using finely tailored elevated language. No, it is much more than that. Writing is also about consciously factoring a resolution that will create catharsis. Writing is an art of putting on the light in a room where mass of people grope around in darkness. Yes, writing is a process of saying; LET THERE BE LIGHT!

May GOD open our eyes of understanding.




Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (4)

  1. tobe osigwe…..i honestly agree with this piece,as a student of literature i understand every great advice you have given.I was shocked that amanda books are studied in secondary schools,she is a great writer but her morals sold should be frowned at the educational level but then again how many people can say i stand for truth?i wouldnt mind it been studied at a university level but secondary?

  2. i completely agree with this statement, let the africans speak… we have already been browbeaten by the white man’s misleading rhetoric, the jews and the gays and all the so-called minorities who are really the punishers, let the africans speak.. as african woman i know i see i, feel

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