Achebe has been much commended for his creation and use of his naive narrator, Odili. Like Gulliver, he is a good reporter but not always a good interpreter of what he sees, and he is instrumental in creating irony and providing a satirical view of much of the action of the novel. That he is well on the way to a political career himself by the book's end is no small part of the irony.
There is obvious humor in Achebe's choice of names for the political parties, P.O.P. and P.A.P. The seriously taken political party, C.P.C. started by Max cannot be reduced to such an acronym. Political satire extends to the blundering delivery and repossession of stones and pipes for village sewer and waterworks building. A character whom the villagers have named "Couple" (ironic probably because the pipes never do get coupled), an ex con, has become a councilor and politician. He sells the villagers stones, carries them away at night, and then resells them. With Swiftian undertones, the narrator calls the project the "pipe borne water scheme."
Plot situations are cleverly used as well to further the satire on the manner and mores of 1960s Nigeria. The narrator feels cuckolded when he is not really married; he selects body guards like his rival Nanga, and then is beaten into unconsciousness by Koko's thugs. When Nanga wins the election, ironically shortly before the coup that brings him down, he tries to disband his private army, but they rebel in skirmish against Dogo, cutting off one of the one-eyed man's ears (that both body guards in the book are missing body parts themselves is yet another of Achebe's brilliant side...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
His use of a central character as the narrator of the novel provide Achebe with both a focus and an opportunity for satire. Readers will want to examine the view of the Nigerian political scene both as seen by Odili and as indicated by the author through his use of irony, satire, and the backdrop of traditional Igbo village and Christian values. As the novel preceded the Nigerian coup of January 1966, it was considered almost prophetic; readers may want to question what truths of observation of human nature and the political scene produced Achebe's uncanny wisdom. As in earlier novels, traditional village values, as well as the Christian ideals which were supposed to replace them, are largely inoperative. Readers can question whether they serve any function at all. Treatment of women and those at the bottom of the social scale may also be discussed. Furthermore, since the narrator belongs to the educated class, readers will be interested in the role of education in connection to the political and social dilemmas of the country.
1. Examine closely Odili's relationship with his father, who has served as a District Interpreter under colonial rule and is hated by some people. Does the relationship change?
2. Educated people are referred to in the vernacular as those who know "book." What advantages does "book" knowledge seem to have? How does Achebe compare "book" to other sorts of wisdom, like folk wisdom and proverbs?
3. To what...
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A Man of the People is a fictional account that recalls events that took place in post-Colonial Nigeria in the 1960s. Its central social concern, also a political concern, is the effect of corrupt government on the daily lives of Nigeria's people. The chief character, Odili Samalu, is a teacher who himself has been taught by the man who now rules the country, Chief Nanga, whose epithet is the tide of the book. The title is undercut by irony at every turn, for Nanga has put the people last and misruled the country for personal gain. In the episode that opens the novel, he has fired a well-educated finance minister whose sensible advice to cut coffee prices to curtail inflation Nanga blatantly disregards because it is an election year. Mobs condoned by Nanga then vandalize the house and car of the dismissed finance minister, and beat another dismissed minister senseless. The tyranny of such majority "rule" pervades the book—unjust taxes are extorted from Odili's father, and a hatchet man named Dogo, sinister enough to evoke Ian Fleming's Odd Job, keeps the people in line.
Political corruption has party created and greatly exacerbated vast differences in wealth and standards of living. Urban slums without sewers and where buckets of human excrement are hauled away by carters who are often on strike stand beside mansions with several bathrooms too many for the people living in them. Rural people, although poor, are freer of disease and vermin, and...
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Realistic action and dialogue and the plight of the main character acting in a corrupt world where traditional values are disintegrating tie A Man of the People to a range of modern American and British novels, and to novels written in English by other Africans black and white. The central narrating character who constantly, although sometimes inaccurately, assesses his relationship to the outside world also ties the book to French existentialists like Albert Camus, and to the pre-novel antihero Gulliver and writers of the eighteenth century satiric tradition such as Samuel Johnson and Alexander Pope. The satirical descriptions of upstart and extravagant European buildings have hilarious precedents in poems like "The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," for instance.
The backdrop of conventional wisdom provided by the seemingly superseded oral tradition of Igbo culture and the apparently inoperative Christian tradition nevertheless provide a framework by which the reader can judge the follies of the character and sympathize with their humanity so that human aspirations are not as severely undercut as they sometimes are by eighteenth-century satire. The bleakness of the prospects of the common people in times of political and social upheaval and their maltreatment by those in power evoke the great English novelists Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence, as well as Americans like John Steinbeck. A comparative literature critic has compared Achebe's...
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As in A Man of the People, No Longer at Ease (1960; see separate entry) attacks irresponsibility in government takes its toll on the personal lives of all Nigerians, including those who have benefited from the educational system, started in colonial days. Okonkwo's grandson, who by being educated in England, rises to a good position as a colonial civil servant, meets his downfall when he accepts a bribe. Achebe regards him as a victim of a complex web of circumstances and contradictions woven by Colonialism.
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