Spirituality as a Source of Hope

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1645

Many critics and readers of Anthills of the Savannah are left with a sense of hopelessness at the end of the novel. Three of the novel's four main characters have died senseless deaths, and the country is left in the throes of instability. Free of one military regime, it faces another, with no reason to believe that this one will be any better than the last two. Even so, Achebe weaves a story that is not completely devoid of optimism; there are elements of hope and unity, but the reader, like the people of Kangan, must search for them. There is a subtle spirituality running through the novel, and Achebe seems to suggest that the spirit of the people cannot be defeated, even by a series of dictators and corrupt governments. This enduring spirit is what binds the people together and maintains a sense of community that offers the weary Kangans a degree of stability and buoyancy.

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Achebe is the son of a missionary and has spent much of his life in Western cultures. Therefore, he is fully aware of the significance of the number three to the Christian belief system, and he uses it twice in Anthills of the Savannah. There are three male figures who dominate the novel: the dictator, Sam; the editor, Ikem; and the Commissioner of Information, Chris. The three men met in their early teenage years while attending the same school, yet each took a very different path in adulthood. They came from similar backgrounds, which illustrates that predicting the course of a person's life is not a simple task: tossing three seeds in the same soil may result in three differing plants. Achebe's group of three main characters do not represent religious figures, but they are three aspects of the same entity, and therefore comprise a sort of trinity. They make up a political system that will not work and is destined to fail. Sam represents power driven by self-interest. Ikem represents the desire for reform. He is outspoken and admired by the people, and prefers to do things his way without compromising. Chris represents efforts to work for good within the system. He is a good man in a bad regime, and he is idealistic enough to believe that by staying in the government he can serve his people. By the end, of course, the regime has been toppled, replaced by another that will surely be just like it. When a system dies, so do its components, and as representatives of different aspects of the failed system, each of the three men is killed—Sam by another just like him, Ikem by his own peers, and Chris by an evil man who would rather murder than behave honorably.

The story also contains a female trinity in the characters of Beatrice, Elewa, and Amaechina. Beatrice is well-educated, sophisticated, and independent, and she holds an administrative position in the government. Beatrice represents the positive aspects of the present. Elewa is a common woman who is highly emotional and uneducated. She supports herself by working in a small shop. Elewa represents the past. Amaechina is Elewa's infant daughter, and although she does not appear until the end of the novel, she is potential embodied. As Ikem's daughter, she represents the meaning of her name, ‘‘May the Path Never Close.’’ She is hope for the future, even though the future currently looks grim.

Beatrice and Elewa do not seem to have much in common, and readers may be surprised by their friendship. Their commitment to each other, however, is undeniable. Upon receiving the news of Chris's death, Beatrice is in complete shock. Achebe wrote, ‘‘In spite of her toughness Beatrice actually fared worse than Elewa in the first shock of bereavement. For weeks she sprawled in total devastation. Then one morning she rose up, as it were, and distanced herself from her thoughts. It was the morning of Elewa's threatened...

(The entire section contains 5218 words.)

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Critical Overview