Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770

Nigerian corruption has become high tech, mechanized, and institutionalized. The henchmen for the generals in power now have military rank themselves and have been trained in Latin America. Their techniques have been refined: the dreaded Ossai is able to extract confessions by torture done with office staplers, making his predecessors in A Man of the People (1966), Dogo and Boniface, look incompetent and inefficient. At the very opening of the book, there is a public execution of so-called criminals which has drawn huge crowds, children among them; the narrator of that section, Ikem, notes that the
‘‘criminals’’ have just been imitating the behavior of the leaders of the country, who ‘‘openly loot’’ the treasury.

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Such looting has also been expanded and refined. The illicitly funded Presidential Retreat, led up to by a road shaped like a spiral (recollective of the Tower of Babel?), and bordered by a huge artificial lake, is Chief Nanga's seven bedroom house. While it is beautiful, Beatrice recalls Ikem's objections, with his reminder that the people do not have clean water to drink. In startling contrast to the Retreat and what it represents is the myth of Idemili told later in the Beatrice section. She, a water/huntress deity and daughter of the sun, has descended in a pillar of water and ‘‘has wrapped around Power's rude waist a loin cloth of peace and modesty,’’ making the River Niger wind through the country to provide the people with water. The Idemili myth is part of the larger theme of the redemptive power of women.

Scams of personal aggrandizement at the expense of the common good are rife even among lesser government workers. Civil servants get their steady checks, doing as little as possible, and insisting on being driven in Mercedes rather than Peugeot.

Radio stations and newspapers, of course, are censored, although Ikem is frequently able to leak the news, and also make speeches, notably the one at the University of Bassa, ‘‘The Tortoise and the Leopard—a political meditation on the imperative of struggle.’’ Yet censorship has changed to outright fabrication and falsification by the end of the novel, when the authorities publicly pretend that they have not murdered Chris and Ikem.

The role of the writer or storyteller, and the crucial role of storytelling, not to just get the story straight, but also to provide an ethical and spiritual reference point for the striving characters and the reader is also a major theme. The two contrasting myths of Idemili and Ikem's ‘‘Hymn to the Sun’’ are both necessary to an understanding of the realities and hopes for Nigeria Achebe wishes to communicate, and the reader, like the characters, is caught up in seeing their relationship to the events. In addition, since all three of the major male characters are writers, the role of writing and speech in politics is continuously examined in the novel. Innes notes that at the beginning, ‘‘effective writing and speech are thought to be the kinds which are directed to those in power,’’ but as the book progresses, it is seen as a tool of self-examination and connection with the larger audience, really whole electorate, the people.

Because women, especially Beatrice, but also the refreshing, down-to-earth pidgin-speaking Elewa, are the custodians of Chris's and Ikem's writings after their deaths, and are connected to storytelling in other ways, they are seen in a more important light than in the earlier novels. This crucial role makes them more than objects of romantic pursuit. Indeed, by the end of the novel, their men have been murdered, and although sadly, they take over center stage.

While one theme very prominent in earlier novels seems to have faded somewhat—that of conflict between and sometimes synthesis of religious beliefs,...

(The entire section contains 1510 words.)

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