Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

A map of Nigeria, showing the countrys location on the coast of Central Africa. Published by Gale Cengage

History of Nigeria
Achebe belongs to an ethnic group known as the Ibo, who have had a civilization in West Africa for centuries. Unlike many other African civilizations, the Ibo were a decentralized people who maintained a largely village-based culture rather than one governed by a king or an emperor Achebe has based much of his writing on the Ibo culture and its interactions with the British colonial administrations, as well as its conflicts with the central Nigerian government.

In the early 1800s, British traders interested in palm oil began to travel to the region that later became known as Nigeria, and there they encouraged the slave trade. The British maintained their influence in the area until 1914, when the British government assumed direct control of the land (which up until then had been under the administration of the Royal Niger Company). They united the northern and southern halves of the country and administered the territory from the city of Lagos, which remains the capital.

Ethnic differences made governing the country difficult, and the three regions developed at different paces. The British granted Nigeria independence in 1960, but not until they set up a constitution that guaranteed the rights of minority ethnic groups. After a honeymoon period of approximately two years, in which Nigerians celebrated their newly-won independence, the country began to have political troubles. Elections were disputed...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
"Vengeful Creditor" is told by a third-person narrator who focuses on the viewpoints of various characters at different points in the narration. The story opens with Mrs. Emenike doing her marketing in a modern supermarket. She is pleased by the deference accorded her by the staff; the checkout clerks compete for the privilege of serving her, and even the paper receipt politely thanks her for her patronage. But when the only "boy" available to carry her groceries to her Mercedes is less than eager to serve and less than grateful for the tip she offers, Mrs. Emenike displays her impatience and irritation with members of the lower class. Although the reader is given Mrs. Emenike's version of these events, she is not presented in a favorable light. For example, the narrator's description of Mrs. Emenike's painstaking search through the many coins in her wallet for a three-penny piece to confer on the waiting bag boy, or the "grumbling cripple" as she refers to him, makes the reader sympathize with him rather than her.

Midway through the story, the narration shifts to Veronica's point of view. Again the narrator is not completely objective, but in this case the evaluation of the character is positive. The gal's destitute condition combined with her enthusiasm for education make her a very sympathetic character, especially when her hardships are contrasted with the relatively minor ''problems'' of the Emenike family. These contrasts are emphasized by the narrator's shifting perspective, between Mrs Emenike's "nightmare" when Abigail leaves and Veronica's impatient calculations of how long it will take an infant to achieve independence. At the end of the story, Martha's point of view is presented. Although she initially blames Veronica for trying to poison the baby, Martha slowly becomes aware of the horrible injustice of a system that has driven her daughter to such a desperate state.

The story's setting is an unnamed African country in the postcolonial period, though the description of the government's "free primadu" is reminiscent of Nigeria's education policy in the mid-1950s. The British colonial government has been replaced by native officials and bureaucrats who have adopted their predecessors' love of privilege and contempt for the poor. Government policies and programs, therefore, are based on expediency and self-interest rather than on the welfare of the citizens. The story also makes use of the contrast between city and country.

One of the ways in which Achebe indicates the deep class divisions in his story is through the use of dialect. The Ememkes speech is depicted as standard English, while the poor speak a dialect that combines elements of their native language and...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Innes, C. L., and Bernth Lindfors. Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1978.

A collection of essays on Achebe that concentrates primarily on his novels However, many of the essays provide interesting context for Achebe's work, detailing the cultural and political events on which he is commenting.

Bonetn, Kay. "An Interview with Chinua Achebe," in The Missouri Review, Volume 12, No. 1,1989, pp. 63-83.

An interview with Achebe, conducted in the United States, in which he delineates his view on art and on his place m world literature.

Rowell, Charles H. "An Interview...

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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1974: In the heavyweight boxing title bout Muhammad Ali defeats the younger George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, bringing big-time Western sports to sub-Sahara Africa. With his charisma and fast-talking persona, Ali charms the people of Africa, and becomes probably the best-known Westerner on the continent.

1996: Former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield regains the title by defeating the much-feared Mike Tyson—then successfully defends his title in a rematch held in June, 1997. Ironically, an aging George Foreman still holds a rival boxing organization's heavyweight title after making a comeback in the early 1990s.

1966-72: After persecution of the Ibo people in northern Nigeria commences, Achebe resigns from his post in the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and moves to the breakaway province of Biafra. He becomes a spokesman for the eventually defeated Biafran cause.

1995: Writers in the Third World experience increased danger for their political views. In 1990, the Iranian government issues a' 'fatwa,'' or death sentence, against the Indian writer Salman Rushdie for the purported blasphemy of his book The Satanic Verses. Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian writer Naghib Mafouz has his life threatened by Islamic militants. In Nigeria, writer Ken Saro-Wiwa...

(The entire section is 254 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Investigate the history of Nigeria since 1970. What complaints do the people of Nigeria have against the government? How have the Nigerian government and other countries responded to these complaints? Is there hope for change?

How do people benefit when they are allowed to have an education? Examine the economic effects of free public education in a developing country. Does it make the workforce more or less productive? Do wages go up or down?

When did the United States introduce free public education? Research the decision to institute public education, and look at some of the arguments offered for and against it.

The novella "A Simple Heart" by nineteenth-century French writer Gustave Flaubert also concerns the fate of a young, uneducated woman who goes to work m a middle-class household. In what ways are the two stories similar? How are they different?

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Things Fall Apart (1958), Achebe's first and most famous novel, traces the life of a man in an Ibo village. Okonkwo tries to overcome the shameful legacy of his father, Unoka, by rejecting everything his father stood for. The book is not just a story of a man, though, but of traditional Ibo culture preparing to come into contact with the colonizing forces of Britain and the West.

No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) continue the story begun with Things Fall Apart. In these two novels, Achebe tells the story of two later generations in the same family as they deal with British rule and with Nigerian independence.

A Forest of Flowers, by the murdered Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, is a collection of stories that convey the vitality of everyday Nigerian life. Characters live in close-knit families, and their lives are dominated by tradition, superstition, and the corruption of the country's politics; the collection was highly praised by critics when it was published in 1986.

"The Train from Rhodesia," written by Nadine Gordimer and first published in 1952 is a story that examines the differences between the British ruling class and the African cultures they govern.

"Sleepy," a story by Russian writer Anton Chekhov written...

(The entire section is 289 words.)