CHALLENGES OF POST-INDEPENDENCE AFRICA: A STUDY OF CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

CHALLENGES OF POST-INDEPENDENCE AFRICA: A STUDY OF CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

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INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

During the colonial period, the African continent suffered a great deal of subjugation and humiliation at the hands of the colonial masters. In the quest for independence, several African writers spoke strongly against colonial rule and the associated maltreatment of Africans. The fierce struggle for independence that swept through the African continent was as a result of this cruel treatment meted out to Africans by the various colonial masters. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, among others who led the independence struggles in Africa, were united by one common fact, that the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs. All these leaders were of the view that if an African was in charge of the governance of his country, he would be in a better position to improve the living standards of his people and bring development to his country. The unrelenting quest of most Africans for self-governance finally began to yield results. Eventually, the wind of independence swept through Africa with Ghana leading the way as early as 1957, and South Africa becoming truly independent as late as 1994.

With self-governance finally attained, many Africans earnestly looked forward to high standards of living, improvement in infrastructure of their countries, good governance, democracy which ensures the respect of the fundamental human rights of citizens, among others. Unfortunately, the hopes of many Africans have been dashed as successive governments have failed to better their living conditions and have rather ended up perpetrating worse discrimination and exploitation, abuse and killings than even the colonial masters. Most countries in Africa after several decades

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of independence still belong to the ‘third world’ or ‘developing countries’ group. Commenting on the appalling state of Africa’s development Abutudu posits that:

Africa is a continent in crisis. Manifested economically, socially and politically, this crisis is multidimensional and has deep-seated historical roots. If current events have a bearing on the future, and indeed, necessarily condition and shape it, there may be little cause for cheers about the prospect for the future in the next few decades or so. (19)

This statement presents a terrible picture of Africa. Many critics believe that the state of affairs on the continent is attributable to “all the past African dictators and governments that have committed atrocities against their own people – and waged seemingly endless wars and exhibited poor judgment in leading their countries.” (Johnson 65).

The non-performance of the elected governments precipitates several problems, one of which is military takeovers. For some military men, the failure of the constitutionally elected government is enough reason for them to stage a coup. To these military men, a coup is a means of ‘cleaning-up’ the system of the corruption of the civilian governments and to make life easier for the ordinary citizen. Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings, who was the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council which seized power in Ghana on June 4th 1979, is quoted to have said, “I do not know Economics, neither do I know Law, but I know how it feels to go on an empty stomach.” (Free Press 1) However, these military regimes end up perpetrating the very offences they speak against, with human rights abuses soaring high.

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Another problem that poor leadership creates is armed conflicts. There have been several cases of civil wars in some African countries. Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Nigeria are among the African countries that have experienced civil wars. These armed conflicts that occur affect the peace and progress of the respective countries.

Many insightful critics have theorized about Africa’s post-independence failures. As early as 1962, two esteemed writers, Frantz Fanon and Rene Dumont, warned the freedom fighters of Africa about the new form of colonialism that may go on after attainment of independence. In The Wretched of the Earth and False Start in Africa, Fanon and Dumont expressed the fear that:

the anti – colonialist revolution would be undermined by a national bourgeoisies which would assume the mantle of the colonisers…corrupt governing classes exploiting the poverty-stricken masses; political instability and pronunciamentos of military juntas and the dominant influence of foreign capital. (Wauthier 289-290)

People like Fanon and Dumont foresaw that post-independence Africa will be confronted with leaders whose corrupt practices will result in a politically unstable continent with a series of coups. They also foresaw that these corrupt leaders’ continuous reliance on the colonial masters for financial support will subject the continent to external manipulation. This situation will undermine the independence and development of the continent. Claud Ake also has this to say:

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Three decades of preoccupation with development in Africa have yielded meagre returns. African economies have been stagnating or regressing. For most Africans, real incomes are lower than they were two decades ago, health prospects are poorer, malnourishment is widespread and infrastructure is breaking down, as are some social institutions… However, the assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediments to development. (1)

For Ake, African leaders who are supposed to steer the development of the continent seem not to have development as part of their goals. Chido Makunike, a Zimbabwean critic also blames African leaders for the underdevelopment of Africa. He says of African leaders, “…threatening, beating, jailing and impoverishing people they may be proven masters at, but deliberately planned nation-building does not appear to be their strong point.” (3) Chinua Achebe also emphasizes the role of leadership in the challenges confronting particularly Nigeria. He says

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise up to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. (1)

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After some decades, he still feels disappointed at the state of affairs in Nigeria when at a homecoming in 2009 after ten years absence from Nigeria, he says:

I had expected that by now we should be a medium sized nation. I have been unhappy about the condition in which we are for a long time. I grew up with the nationalist movement and I know how eager we were, how passionate we felt, how great it was to be in this movement that would liberate us after centuries of denigration and deprivation; and to grow up with those hopes and find at the end of the day that you can’t really put your finger on anything and say, this is the result of freedom.” (Luther 42)

It can be seen that people like Ake, Achebe, Makunike, among others put the cause of the present underdeveloped state of Africa at the doorstep of leadership.

However, there are others like Ayi Kwei Armah who think that apart from the failure of leadership, bad systems and structures inherited from our colonial masters also account for the failure of the continent. He sees the inherited systems as being at the “root of our current structural and identity problems.” He says that it is “too sad that the structures so hastily embraced were not just non-African, but actually anti-African models.” (Armah 238) All the above quotations point to the fact that the African continent has not got much to show for the many decades of independence. This situation according to some critics is due to bad leadership while others think it emanates from bad systems and structures inherited at independence.

African writers in their writings focus on the various challenges that confront present day Africa. The challenges of armed conflicts and brutal military takeovers and regimes have attracted a lot of literary attention. Several African writers have written

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works on these two major problems. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a young African writer who has combined beautifully the causes of coups, civil wars and their devastating effects on Nigeria in her novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Many Nigerian writers have written on the Nigerian Civil War and military rule in Nigeria. The focus of this research is to examine in terms of literary techniques how differently Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun presents the factors that caused the civil war and coup d’états in Nigeria as well as their negative effects.

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

As part of the objectives of this study, the research seeks to establish through a literary examination of Half of a Yellow Sun that colonialism played a significant contributory role to the Nigerian civil war and that the civil war had devastating effects.

The study also seeks to establish through a literary assessment of Purple Hibiscus that there are various forms of dictatorships in the society and these dictatorships are unhelpful for the development of the individual and the nation.

JUSTIFICATION

Various literary works have examined the Nigerian Civil War and military rule in Nigeria from diverse perspectives. For Adichie, the issues that led to the war are still unresolved. The novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun offer, especially

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the youth, an opportunity to examine Nigeria’s history with respect to the civil war and the military takeovers in order that they will be able to effect the much needed change in Nigeria.

It is therefore hoped that this study would aid the literary appreciation and understanding of the causes and effects of the Nigerian civil war. It is further hoped that the study would reveal the various forms of dictatorship that exists in society and its effects on people.

The case of Nigeria in the two novels has implications for Ghana because there have been several examples of ethnic rivalries in the country which in recent times have resulted in serious conflicts in certain parts of the country. Also Ghana has experienced quite a number of military takeovers for which poor leadership was cited. Adichie’s novels are, thus, a great source of reflection for Ghana.

METHODOLOGY

The research is a library study using Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun as primary sources. The study will use secondary materials that focus on what literary critics have written about Nigerian and African disillusionment. Also, materials from both the print and electronic media that relate to Africa’s post-independence challenges will also be used when necessary. Postcolonial literary theory and New Historicism are the theories that will be used in the practical reading of the two texts.

STRUCTURE OF STUDY

The work will be divided into four main chapters. In the Introduction, I will look at the background to the study, the statement of the problem, the objectives of the

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study, justification of the study, methodology, review of related literature and the theoretical framework.

Chapter One deals with the writer’s presentation of the causes of the Nigerian civil war and the devastating effects of the war in Half of a Yellow Sun.

Chapter Two is a discussion of military rule and the impact of tyranny on individuals and on the development of the nation in Purple Hibiscus.

The conclusion highlights the fact that Adichie’s peculiar style is very effective in the discussion of the subjects of the Nigerian Civil War and military rule in Nigeria. Some recommendations are also given on how to prevent armed conflicts and military regimes in Africa.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The numerous armed conflicts as well as the dictatorships on the African continent have attracted a lot of attention. The Nigerian Civil War, for example, has been the focus of many literary works for some time now. Each writer looks at the war from his or her own perspective.

One of the angles from which literary works discuss the Nigerian Civil War is by looking at the factors that resulted in that unfortunate situation. Abioseh Porter in his reading of Buchi Emechata’s Destination Biafra agrees with the novelist’s presentation of the contributory factors to the war when he posits that the British ensured a Nigerian leadership under “the feudalistic, politically naïve and less radical Hausas.” He adds that “it was assumed by the British authorities that if they could

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get the more ambitious and more radical Igbos and Yorubas out of real political control (at least at the Federal level) British economic interests would be safeguarded.” (Porter 315) Grace Okereke also lauds Emechata for highlighting the causative factors of the war. She says, “Emechata systematically weaves in the sub themes that build up to the major theme of war-the corrupt Nigerian politics and colonialism.” (146) What Porter and Okereke say shows that British influence and corrupt politics are presented as some of the reasons that occasioned the Nigerian Civil War.

Another aspect of the war that has preoccupied the attention of writers is the predicament faced by women during the civil war. One critic, commenting on the eponymous story of Achebe’s collection, Girls at War and Other Stories says that Girls at War displays “one of [Achebe’s] major themes; the moral predicament of the Nigerian womenfolk in the war situation.” (Amuta 89) Ben Okri’s Dangerous Love and Festus Iyayi’s Heroes also delineate the vulnerability of women during the Biafran War. Armstrong commenting on the two novels reveals that the death of Ifeiyiwa and the rape of Ndudi by the soldiers are tragedies that the protagonists of the two respective novels are unable to represent adequately. The difficulty in articulation, according to him, is significant of the horrors faced by women in the war. (182)

Apart from the vulnerability of women depicted in war novels, some literary works specifically assess the effects of the Nigerian Civil War on the family unit. Ofoegbu’s Blow the Fire for instance projects the disruption of the family unit and the struggles that women go through to cater for the many people brought into the

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family as a result of the war. Ugochukwu observes that the novel “provides a unique insight into the plight of displaced populations, especially on the family unit: the couple and children-their own and the many they fostered and cared for throughout the conflict.” (p.238)

Another aspect of the war that has taken the fore-front in novels is the exploitation of the masses by the ruling class in the course of the war. Okpewho’s The Last Duty for instance explores the greed and opportunism of the Biafran leadership. According to Amuzu, The Last Duty is

an account of the way in which an individual(Toje) seizes upon the opportunities the war has created for evil, and by using his social position, influence and money, turns the virtues of innocent individuals into evil tools with which he subverts the moral foundations of his society and threatens its very survival as a human community. (193)

From what Amuzu says, the lower class in society becomes the ultimate victims of the war. Iyayi’s Heroes also criticizes the exploitation by the ruling class as it presents the war as that of the elite-army generals, politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen among others for national resources. This is found in the statement of the protagonist of the novel, Osime Iyere who says, “This is an investment in blood and destruction by those at the helm of affairs with the expectation of profit.” (Heroes p.64) This statement of the protagonist vindicates the stance of the critic, Adebayo who says that Heroes is an attempt to criticize “the ruling class of its insatiable monetary appetite and lusts for power.” (36) Iniobong Uko adds her voice to the criticism of the Biafran leadership. In her reading of some selected short stories on the war, she bemoans the ‘insanity’ that characterized the war. For her, the

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Biafran leadership deserves rebuke for fighting a war it was ill-prepared for. (49) She asserts that

Apparently, young boys were forced to serve in the Biafran army. They had no training, or uniforms and adequate food and arms. Malnourished and poorly armed, often abandoned by their senior officers and commanders, the soldiers become frustrated, disillusioned and desperate. (55)

Uko’s assertion here questions the essence of abusing children in the name of war.

Apart from criticizing the Biafran leadership, some war novels also question the needless killings of innocent people. Chidi Amuta commenting on Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn criticizes the Biafran leadership as well as the federal soldiers for the needless killing of innocent people. He says that Ike

writes out of a familiarity with the mechanisms of Biafra society….Just as (he) castigates the heartless strafing of defenceless civilian populations, he highlights the senseless naivety of a people who sought to confront the vilest monstrosities of modern warfare with bare hands and machetes. (Amuta 95)

One can therefore conclude that there was failure of leadership on the part of the two parties that engaged in the conflict.

Ultimately, every novel on the Nigerian Civil War does not fail to depict it as an unfortunate occurrence that destroyed the lives of individuals, families, communities and the nation. For instance, Ogunpitan commenting on Ken Saro Wiwa’s Sozaboy has this to say:

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There is no doubt that the novel embodies the profound essence of the Nigerian Civil War. It reveals the tragedy to us in a refreshing way, first as a personal tragedy of an innocent victim, and second, as a national tragedy involving everyone in the society. The futility of the war is revealed in a very personal way. The author concentrates on the down-trodden, the class of people on which the war and any war for that matter has its most devastating effects… The narrative captures the shock, confusion and dehumanization that the war produces in the young, the helpless and defenceless populations. (22)

From all indications, numerous literary works from different angles have examined the Nigerian Civil War. The issues raised in these novels include the causal factors of the war, the exploitation and lack of truthfulness of the Biafran leadership, the killing of innocent people, the suffering of women and the family unit, the use of child soldiers, among others. Many of the war novels were written a few years after the war ended. Adichie chooses to write several decades later about the war in Half of a Yellow Sun, not because there has not been enough literary discussion on the topic, but rather because she feels a re-examination of the subject is very relevant to present day Nigeria. By this novel, she seeks to get Nigerians in particular and Africans in general to examine their past and its implications for the present and future. Adichie herself attests to this fact when in an interview with BBC’s Molara Wood in July 2007 she says:

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Biafra is a subject that we are not honest about, don’t talk about. We should be asking WHY the war remains a sore subject…What I hope this book will do in Nigeria is get us to examine our history and ask questions. I hope that my generation of Nigerians in particular will talk about this period.

Though she brings her peculiar style and perspective to bear on the subject, her novel on the whole, like those of some earlier writers, “seems to suggest that war time experiences have a profound and transformational effect.” (Nwajaku 48)

In bringing up the issue of the Nigerian Civil War, Adichie brings her peculiar style and perspective to bear on the subject. According to many critics, she excels more than the earlier writers on the civil war. Her excellence is greatly due to the fact that she approaches the subject with a conscious fidelity to her artistic mission. This is what most writers on the civil war failed to do. Chinua Achebe for instance, is criticized for his show of attachment in his creative writings on the civil war. Ogungbesan states that although Achebe has “minutely recapitulated the ugly facts of life in Biafra during and immediately after the war,” he however “shows a closeness of observation and intense emotional involvement in the situation.” (51)

It is not only Achebe who is trapped in this emotional involvement. Flora Nwapa is also one writer who failed to overcome her attachment. Commenting on her novel, Never Again, one critic posits that:

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What is lacking in the novel is the fine toothbrush and smooth comb of a skilled artist who can distance herself objectively from her subject matter. There is absence of cohesion in the internal relationships that hold the various parts of the story together. The author’s voice is emotionally uncontrolled and jarring in its pedestrian excursions into trivia…….The author is unable to lift it …….to the realm of solemn imaginative narrative….. (Emeyonu 96)

Emeyonu, concluding his critique of some selected Nigerian war novels has this to say:

Without exception, they have all written about the Biafran war not entirely as impartial observers or objective artists. They have instead, written passionately as authors who were committed to a political cause at a point in time with their people…where the commitment in political terms overwhelms the artistic vision….the writer comes out with less than his artistic best….The Nigerian writers on the war must allow a reasonable period to lapse before they can objectively write about the war, no longer as active combatants in the conflict,but as writers who bring their imaginative vision to bear on the important events in the history of their people. Such works are more likely to be more aesthetically pleasing.... The great Nigerian war novel is yet to be written. (104)

With the arrival of Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, the great Nigerian war novel has been written. The novel has received a lot of acclaim for the writer’s ability to bring her imaginative focus to bear on this important event in Nigeria’s history. Some critics believe that, “Adichie’s success in part, likely stems from her distance from

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the event in time, having been born seven years after the end of the war.” (Umelo 4) Adichie, being born after the war, allows her the distance that Emeyonu advocates. She takes on the Nigerian civil war with a reduced political and emotional attachment. In the words of Bryce, “Adichie is the first to approach it entirely as historical fiction” and in doing so she “treats the civil war head on” (58) Another critic commenting on the success of Half of a Yellow Sun, compared to earlier Nigerian war novels says, “the absence of a judgemental stance or apportioning blames is part of the greatness of this novel.” (Nnolim 149) Umelo also has this to say about the novel:

When one considers the pre-ponderance of works on the subject of Nigerian Civil War, it is surprising to see a novel that probes this over trodden path with deft freshness, and that is a compelling read…. She is able to handle the historical truths of the brutalities and effects of the war without squeamishness or ouvert

melodrama. (4)

Again, Adichie in her novel is able to touch on a wide range of issues and the various Biafran experiences. Issues that some earlier writers were silent on, she vocalizes. This is the point Ugochukwu makes when he says about the novel that:

The style goes to great lengths to show how the conflict exacerbates feelings, thus contributing to voice what the other writers had kept under their breath. (241)

Evidently, Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredible Nigerian war novel that deals sufficiently with the issue. More importantly, it continues the discussion of the Nigerian Civil War. This continuous discussion is important because as Iroh puts it, “to stop writing about Biafra would be to stop writing about the history of the nation.

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You can never write enough about the tragic thing called war.” (Ugochukwu 252) The importance of the ongoing discourse on the war, according to some critics, lies in its therapeutic function. To these critics, it is “only if traumas are remembered can they lose, gradually but never entirely, their traumatic effects.” (Berger 415) Adichie’s peculiar style is very effective in the delineation of the civil war experience.

On the nature of military rule in Nigeria, a number of literary works have been written. The writers generally look at the military’s reason for intervening in politics, its susceptibility to corruption, its brutalities and excesses and the nature of life under a military regime.

Most of the time, corruption is given as one of the reasons for which military men oust democratically elected governments are ousted by military men. Some novels on military rule, however, present military regimes as equally, if not more corrupt than civilian governments. MSC Okolo, for instance, says that Achebe’s “Anthills shows that the military is equally, if not more susceptible to the corrupt influence of politics and the intoxicating effects of power.” (42)

Generally, the main issues that take the centre stage in the discussion of military rule are the life of terror and deprivation that majority of people are faced with during military regimes. Undoubtedly, the experience that the general populace goes through has an enduring effect on them. Adekoya agrees with this fact when in his reading of Soyinka’s A Play of Giants he asserts that the play is “a caustic satire on despotism and abuse of power and a lasting testament of the horror of the wound

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inflicted on Africa by foreign and local power psychopaths.” (29) Although presently the four despots presented in the play are no longer in office, the ravages of their misrule are still felt in their respective countries. Also with the recent coups that have taken place on the continent, the play becomes of immediate socio-political relevance to Africa.

Indeed, military regimes plunge nations into a life of terror and deprivation. One critic lauds Tolofari for his presentation of this fact in his novel The Black Minister. He says that the novel “reflects the trajectory of Nigeria’s postcolonial history as the country hops from one military rule to another…Specifically, the novel is the author’s critical response to Babangida’s eight years in office.” (Gbemisola 34) Also, Akingbe commenting on Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel appreciates the terror and low standard of living that citizens are faced with during military rule as he says:

The portraiture of the military in Waiting for an Angel is fore-grounded in a semiotic of deprivation and destruction. This can be seen in the deprivation of the downtrodden masses on Poverty Street, the urban debris of Lagos with its squalid slums, its suppurating sewers, its huge craters on the road and the mountain of filth and dirt of Egunje Road. Rot and dilapidation demarcate the landscapes of Nigeria during Abacha’s reign of terror. (28)

Generally, the military regimes of Babangida and Abacha seem to attract a lot of criticism in literary works. Habila in his afterword to the novel says about this period:

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It was a terrible time to be alive. Most intellectuals had only three options: exile, complicity or dissent. Needless to say, there was more of the first two than the last….nobody has a right to impose himself over others in this way. It is morally wrong. (Waiting for an Angel p.228)

A lot of literary works have examined the nature of life in Nigeria under military rule. When Adichie writes about it at the turn of the century, she does so because the subject of military rule is still relevant to Nigeria and indeed the rest of the continent. Her narrative style however brings some freshness to the discussion of the subject. Dawes says about her narrative technique that she “tells her story with something akin to the psychological disinterest of a deeply traumatized person who has cultivated the skill to seem calm as a way of holding back the emotional collapse that appears on the verge of consuming her.”(84) Probably Adichie uses this technique as a way of projecting the extent of trauma that the brutalities and excesses of dictatorships create.

A lot of critics have lauded Adichie’s style in the presentation of the issue of dictatorship. Oha has this to say about the novel:

In Purple Hibiscus, there is a critical presentation of the oddities in Nigeria as well as Africa in general, as the continent trudges in the biting tyrannical trauma of the military and anarchical leaderships. (199)

Among other devices, Adichie’s narrative technique distinguishes her novel from others that have handled this same issue. One critic has this to say about the novel, “…one of Purple Hibiscus’ most compelling features lies in its nuanced treatment of

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the notions of freedom and tyranny.” (Tunca 134) The writer’s style is able to emphasise the various forms of tyranny that exists in the society since it deals with both dictatorship and oppression on the domestic as well as the national scene. Jane Bryce confirms this when she says that: Purple Hibiscus takes the form of a Bildugsroman set in a society in which attitudes have hardened, where violence that was external has become entrenched in the family. (58)

Adichie’s way of highlighting national issues as well as domestic ones underscores the need to address the malice of abuse. It also underscores the need for the literary artist to bring variation in the discussion of the topic. One critic makes this same point when he says: …..Having told this tale in various forms, the need to get truly out of the ‘scenes’ and tell a true tale of the true situation prompted the emergence of Kambili. She is a new voice crying out to be heard because of the torture and anguish in the impediment of governance and civilization around her. (Oha 200)

What therefore distinguishes Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus from other novels on the issue of tyrannical leadership and bad governance is the novelist’s ability to merge the domestic with the national and also the first person narrative technique used. The distinctive success of Purple Hibiscus is summarized thus:

Adichie achieves a striking success in creating a sensitive character in Kambili; she neatly tucks away sensationalism that the other ‘new writers’ would have flooded their works with; she depersonalizes herself from the work thus lifting her work from the slump of personal social commentary as most of our novels are. (Oha 235)

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In conclusion, it can be said that the two texts selected for this study deal with issues that have been discussed by earlier writers. What makes the two texts worthy of critical literary attention lies in the fact that, on the civil war for instance, almost all the literary works were written within the first two decades after the end of the war by writers who in one way or the other experienced the war firsthand. It is interesting to analyse how Adichie approaches the war entirely as historical fiction. There is the need for a critical assessment on the extent that the novelist succeeds in the recreation and interpretation of the causes and effects of the civil war. Also, on the subject of the nature and effects of military rule, the success of Adichie’s approach of examining the issue without direct focus on the national scene also deserves critical attention.


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