Chinua Achebe Short Fiction Analysis
Chinua Achebe is an African English-language writer. As an author, Achebe uses the power of English words to expose, unite, and reveal various aspects of Nigerian culture. His subjects are both literary and political. In general, Achebe’s writings reflect cultural diversity in twentieth century African society. He focuses on the difficulty faced by Africans who were once under the rule of British colonials but later had to struggle with issues of democracy, the evils of military rule, civil war, tribal rivalries, and dictatorship.
Achebe seeks to preserve the proverbs and truths of his Ibo tribal heritage by incorporating them into his stories, whether they be in his contemporary novels or his children’s tales. His works do more, however, than entertain; they reveal truths about human nature and show the destruction of power corrupted. Achebe’s writing does not cast blame but delivers a message to his readers, concerning unity and the necessity for political stability in Nigerian culture.
Achebe’s “Vengeful Creditor” is a story that seems to be about what a misconceived government decree guaranteeing free education to all can lead to, including some rather comic developments. It appears to be a story about class struggle, and then, as the reader sees layer after layer of meaning stripped away and one theme leading directly to another, it seems to be—and is—about something really quite different from either education or the class system.
Mr. and Mrs. Emenike are part of the Nigerian upper class: He is a parliamentary secretary, and he and his wife own a Mercedes and a Fiat and employ servants from the still-uneducated masses, most of them from the village of their birth, to which the Emenikes return periodically to shower largesse upon the populace. At the beginning of the story, a free-education bill has caused a mass desertion of servants, even those of college age, all of whom wish to go back to their villages and qualify for an education. Apparently many others have the same idea, for the turnout for free schooling is double what the government statisticians had predicted. The reader sees Emenike and his running buddies at the cabinet meeting at which it is decided to make everyone pay, after all, because the army might have to be called out if new taxes are announced to pay for the unexpected costs of the program.
The Emenikes, finding themselves with this “servant problem,” return to their native village and ask Martha, a village woman known to them, if her daughter Vero will be their baby nurse for the princely sum of five pounds per year. Martha has led a rather sad life: She was educated at a Christian school whose reason for being was the education of African girls up to the standards expected of the wives of native pastors. The woman in charge of her school, however, by way of furthering her own romantic aspirations, persuaded Martha to marry a carpenter being trained at an industrial school managed by a white man. Carpentry never came into its own, however, at least not as much as preaching and teaching, and Martha had a “bad-luck marriage,” which eventually left her a widow with no money and several children to support, although she was a Standard Three (beginning of high school) reader and her classmates were all married to prosperous teachers and bishops.
The withdrawal of the free-education decree has cast Martha’s daughter, Vero, back onto the streets. When Mr. Emenike says that one does not need education to be great, Martha knows he is patronizing her; she knows exactly what the fate of an uneducated person usually is, but she needs the money from this job. Mr. Emenike rounds out his recruiting pitch by saying he thinks there is plenty of time for the ten-year-old girl to go to school. Martha says, “I read Standard Three in those days and I said they will all go to college. Now they will not even have the little I had thirty years ago.” Vero turns out to be quick, industrious, and creative, but there also begins to be a connection between her charge’s maturing and her own chance of an education. Finally, as she comes to realize the child will need care until hope of an education has past her, she tries to poison him by making him drink a bottle of red ink.
Mrs. Emenike, one of the least sympathetic Africans in any short story ever written by an African, beats Vero unmercifully. They drive back to the village where they were all born and pull her out of the car. Martha hears from Vero that she has been fired, sees the blood on her daughter, and drags her to the Emenikes. Called one who taught her daughter murder, she retorts to Mrs. Emenike that she is not a murderer. Mr. Emenike, trying to break up this confrontation, says, “It’s the work of the devil. I have always known that the craze for education in this country will one day ruin all of us. Now even children will commit murder in order to go to school.”
“Uncle Ben’s Choice”
“Uncle Ben’s Choice” is a ghost or magical story which involves the element of human choice. A succubus-goddess known as the Mami-Wota, capable of many disguises, is both a seducer and a betrayer. She makes it possible for a young girl who offers herself to a man to guarantee not only sexual relations but also success, riches, and whatever material things the man desires. The only condition is that the Mami-Wota...
(The entire section is 2224 words.)
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