Anthills of the Savannah

by Chinua Achebe

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What are the themes in "Anthills of the Savannah" by Achebe?

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Achebe's work deals very directly with the issues of post-colonial Africa. Countries that had their own cultures and systems of government found themselves occupied, with new cultures and languages forced upon them. Then, European countries withdrew, leaving chaos in their wake. Imagine walking up with amnesia. You have no idea of your past life and so begin a new one. Many years later, you get your memory back. Do you go back to your past life or stay in your new one? Imagine the amount of conflict you might have about your own identity. It is a simplistic comparison, but it is a snapshot of what Achebe is trying to show in Anthills. A country is left with no stability and a mixed sense of culture.

In addition to showcasing these truths, Achebe also highlights social inequality. Achebe attacks capitalism and materialism, focusing on the problem of haves and have-nots in society. Consider this quote from the book:

Charity … is the opium of the privileged; from the good citizen who habitually drops ten kobo from his loose change and from a safe height above the bowl of the leper outside the supermarket; to the group of good citizens (like youselfs) who donate water so that some Lazarus in the slums can have a syringe boiled clean as a whistle for his jab and his sores dressed more hygienically than the rest of him; to the Band Aid stars that lit up so dramatically the dark Christmas skies of Ethiopia. While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.

While charity can seem altruistic, Achebe targets the haves with continuing a system that keeps people oppressed. If the haves really wanted to help the disadvantaged, they would work to fix the system. Instead, they keep the system going that keeps them in power. The conflict Chris goes through in his position in Sam's cabinet shows this. He understands that Sam is becoming power hungry but doesn't want to step down from his role as a "have." Chris is our eyes on the conflict between the two classes, and he narrates moments that show the state of the county's poor. He will finally let go of his power, and he dies trying to protect a have-not.

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The difficulty of overcoming a system of political unrest is one of the central themes of the novel.  Under a rule driven by power as opposed to respect, the people are unable to figure out how to establish a government built upon justice.  The citizens in the society depicted have few political rights, but significantly, they retain their sense of community, maintaining hope that someday, despite the seemingly impossibility of the task, things will be better.

The corruptive aspect of power is another theme explored in the book, especially in the character of Sam.  Unprepared and inexperienced, Sam becomes "a full-fledged evil dictator" when he comes to power, illustrating "the dangers of blindly pursuing power...

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at the expense of the community".

The importance of storytelling is an important theme because through stories, a civilization retains its "sense of history and tradition", providing it an anchor and a guide by which it can direct its future.  The tribal elder in the book recognizes that story is more powerful than battle, grounding a society in its identity and in truth.

The important role of women in modern society is a theme clearly addressed by the author.  Women are portrayed as "the keepers of tradition", and as such maintain a connection with the past, keeping the culture alive and embodying the qualities of "moral strength and sensitivity".

Check out the second Enotes link referenced below for a much more comprehension discussion of themes in the book!

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