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The tragic and the supernatural are key issues in African literature. The sense of the tragic is embedded in the belief that man is not happy by nature. The concept of the supernatural and the tragic have been explored by writers and critics of African literature from different perspectives. This study however looks at the tragic as a mode of experience. The influence of fatalism on the characters in the selected texts suggests that man is helpless before external powers that determine his destiny. The actions and inactions of the characters bring them to the fulfillment of their destinies. Amadi in the selected texts presents the supernatural as a force that regulates the activities of men within his fictional world. The researcher’s examination of concepts such as the quest myth, fatalism and determinism brings to the fore the relationship between the tragic and the supernatural.
1.1 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
Tragedy and the tragic can hardly be discussed as independent variables. A brief review of tragedy is necessary to introduce the tragic concept. The tragic and the supernatural are both recurring themes in African literature. Tragedy is used in the mundane sense to refer to situations that induce fear and sympathy. In this regard, an auto crash is referred to as tragedy thereby making tragedy a close synonym for accident. This mundane conception of tragedy is responsible for loose expressions such as human tragedies, domestic tragedies, highway tragedies etc
Tragedy in relation to literature, involves actions that go beyond accidents and strange coincidence. Aristotle in The Poetics presents tragedy as
an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament….with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions…(27).
Aristotle goes further to state that: “tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but an action and of life, and life consists in action, and its end is a mode of action not a quality…” (27).
The plot of the Aristotelian tragedy has two major parts: the reversal and recognition, and “the scene of suffering” (32). Aristotle posits that:
A well constructed plot should, therefore be single in its issue, rather than double as some maintain. The change in fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty, in a character… (33-34).
M. H. Abrams in A Glossary of Literary Terms on the other hand is of the view
that tragedy is “broadly applied to literary and especially to dramatic representations of serious actions which eventuate in a disastrous conclusion for the protagonist” (371). Tragedy as an experience of life transcends the Greek and Roman views on tragedy as involving men of high social standing whose fall from royalty and power induce sympathy from their loyal subject. The tragic hero in contemporary literary productions is that character whom the author chooses for the tragic experience social status notwithstanding. The tragic however consists of all experiences that limit human happiness.
Richard L. Rubens in “Psychoanalysis and the Tragic Sense of Life” is of the view that:
The central, defining characteristic of the tragic sense of life is its insistence on the balance between the striving for rationality on the one hand, and the recognition of the underlying irrationality of existence on the other (2).
Rubens’ opinion on the tragic sense of life provides a functional definition of the tragic. This “insistence on the balance between the striving for rationality on the one hand and the recognition of the underlying irrationality of existence on the other” shapes the scope of the experience of the tragic hero. It is this search for rationality in a seemingly irrational situation that builds up the tragic myth.
This myth makes the tragic hero to push beyond his limit as a mortal being. The tragic myth also sets the tragic hero on course to explore territories that are a reserve for the supernatural and the man of courage. Rubens further states that:
In tragedy, there is a tremendous value placed on the attempt to find
answers and to understand one’s experience rationally…. It is in tragedy
that the most fundamental questions of existence are repeatedly raised. It is job asking, “What is man? And Oedipus, “who am I?” These most basic of existential questions form the foundation on which tragedy is constructed (2).
In trying to find answers to these basic existential questions the tragic figure crosses the boundary line set for mortals to the realm of the supernatural. At this realm of the unknown the tragic figure becomes aware of his mortal nature and the irrationality of human existence. However he is unable to retrace his steps because the thirst for answers which is a strong force operating within the tragic figure, structures his psyche to remain on the quest for truth no matter how irrational the situation around him might be.
The tragic experience according to Rubens is “created ….in between the time
when there is both a commitment to the search for rational understanding and the recognition that not all of experience is reducible to rational understanding “(3). Sewall’s opinion that the rational world is “secure only to those who do not question too far” is relevant to the understanding of the concept of tragedy.
The tragic figure is set apart from other characters in a literary text by his ability to “question too far”. This search for answers brings the tragic figure to the boundary line which should be his limit. This confrontation with the human limitation is what Karl Jaspers describes as the “boundary situation” which upholds a confrontation with the rationality of human existence than resignation to absolute fatalism.
Rubens quoting Paul Tillich states that “the human boundary situation is encountered when human possibility reaches its existential limit, when human existence
is confronted by an ultimate threat” (3). The tragic therefore is a “mode of experience”
involving a protagonist or protagonists driven by the tragic myth to cross the boundary
lines set for mortals, to the realm of immortality. Once this boundary line is crossed the
tragic hero emerges, now aware of his mortal nature but unable to restrict himself from
getting to the end of the road which is his tragic end.
The supernatural is also a broad term with no absolute definition. It suggests the possession of qualities which are beyond human comprehension. It also suggests a sense of the divine. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines supernatural as “relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe, especially relating to God or a god, demigods, spirit or devil”.
The concept of the supernatural is one of the key themes in African literature. The African moral and religious belief system is influenced by the concept of the supernatural. This concept also shapes the ideological inclination of the characters in the texts selected for evaluation in this research work. The belief in the One Supreme God is central to the African religious belief system.
This belief in the one Supreme God has been explored by writers of African literature. The relationship between man and the supernatural is part of the African literary experience. This relationship has been explored in different ways by writers and critics of African literature. Some writers present the One Supreme God as an omniscient guardian of the African race whose actions or inactions affect the wellbeing of man. Some writers however present these supernatural forces as capricious beings meddling in the affairs of men.
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