PROJECT TOPIC- SOCIETY AND CORRUPTION IN SELECTED AFRICAN NOVELS: A CASE STUDY OF ACHEBE’S “A MAN OF THE PEOPLE” AND AYI KWEI ARMAH’S “THE BEAUTIFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN”
1.0 Background of the Study
A literary artist is not always at home with some of the activities he observes in his society. And due to certain corrupt practices and moral decadence that pervade his society, he uses his work to express some of these corrupt practices.
The theme of corruption in literary works is used by the literary artist to fully expose and at the same time frown at such moral devaluation. As the literary artist who are not comfortable with the gravity of corruption in their society, Achebe and Ayi Kwel Armah use their works A Man of the People and The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born respectively to expose and at the same time create in the minds and hearts of the people a hatred to such corruption practices with the aim of proffering solution to them.
The society is a known steady feature in the setting of a novel because the novel deals with the interaction between the individuals in the society and the society itself.
To lay minds, society means a collective experience which arises when an individual has related with another in order to have a common identity. It marks the coming together of the individual. In this effect, society forces an individual to control himself and amend their ways when necessary because we are in a restless society that wants a constant change.
In addition, Kendall (1998), commenting on society states thus:
Society is a stable, orderly system composed of a number of interrelated parts, each of them perform a function that contributes to the overall stability of society. These interrelated parts are social institutions such as families, the economy, education and government. And each institution performs a unique function, contributing to the overall stability of society and the well being of individuals. (P.106).
Here, society cannot exist without an individual. For instance, the government is responsible for coordinating activities of other institutions, maintaining law and order, dealing with unmet social needs, and handling international relations and warfare.
But on the contrary, corruption and decay have eaten deep into the moral base of society. This is because the social institutions do not fulfil the functions they are supposed to perform. However, the coming of whitemen created the myths about Africans through which they denigrated and reduce the personality of Africans. But the nationalists movement came up to fight against prejudice and to defend African integrity.
The effort to achieve independence gave hope to the desires of the people. The people now believe that their own son will occupy the prominent positions hitherto occupied by the whitemen and hence use such position to better the lost nation. But unfortunately, the military era was a year of holocaust, when the whole fabric of Nigerian society was torn apart. It was a period of monumental corruption. A period when bribery and corruption became an official means of state craft.
More so, the BBC English Dictionary defines corruption as “Dishonesty and illegal behaviour by people in position of authority or power”. (P.261).
Corruption is a social malaise which eats deep into the fabric of individual or society. The government of post-independent Nigeria and Ghana witness this ugly trend. It was an era of public looting, bribery, indiscipline in the lives of government workers and eroding of ethnics and moral values in the citizenry.
During this period the standard of education was reduced. The military became very important in the Nigeria context and it created a lot of crises in the country. It was a time when extra judicial killings became rampant and a means of managing the country. It was equally a time when a few persons (generals) became richer than the country itself. It was the same period that saw the close down of the refineries through the allowance of multinational oil company and Nigeria National Petroleum Cooperation (UNPC).
Even in the religious field, corruption is greatly frowned at and this is why it is placed at the negative side of actions found in the Holy Book. The Holy Bible recorded that the Jews were able to crucify Jesus Christ because they succeeded in bribing (corrupting) one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ (Matthew 26). Ananias and his wife, Saphire, greedily conspired and made to the church community a false presentation of the amount they realised from the sale of their land (Acts 5).
In addition, Webster Encyclopaedia of English (1977) defines corruption thus:
The act of corrupting or the state of being corrupt. Moral pervasion depravity from a state of purity, debasement as of a language, a debased from the word. (P.125)
Man lives in a society with many sub-systems. He allows the system to shape partly his character, so as to fit into the society. He does not live in isolation from the system of the society. Environmental reactions and experience shape one’s character in a particular society. But corruption has changed this fact into a more bad norms and values than good. As Chukwu V. O. in his additional comment on The Legacy states thus:
Corruption is unfortunately the only creed that has survived in this society. It occurs in different shades, embezzlement, misappropriation of public fund which are the quickest ways open to the public servant who wishes to change class, dupery and economic wealth and indecent living. (P.50)
Achebe’s A Man of the People is a portrayal of the theme of corruption in Africa in relation to the Nigerian contemporary society. He paints a vivid picture of the African view of power and life in general as well as people’s avowed nature to a quest for material and political power. Armah’s The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a great milestone, in that it represents at best the coming of age of African literature. It is individualised in style and language, radical in thought, and frightening in its frank and fearless realism. Throughout the novel Armah nauseates us to force us see corruption and filth within our environs, references to smells in the book, especially excreta which was frequently used.
Ironically, we are told at the end of the novel that only the wicked survive. “The man” as used in the book, has a family and is able to survive in an era of crass materialism. The teacher ran away from his family because his loved-ones would make him try his hand in the corrupt practices of the society. It is disheartening to note the pivotal rate of corruption in Africa, especially among those in authority. Armah and Achebe took a look in their societies, where they criticised the practices of the Africans involved in corruption.
1.2 Objective of the Study
The foundation of this work is based on Lindfors (1973); he postulated:
Armah and Achebe make us believe that in Africa nothing has changed after independence. They sought to expose political deployment of images and symbols. Images of life and meaningful movements associated with pristine African way of life which were used to expose the extent of decay and corruption in resent day Africa. The novelist makes us feel the true nature of society because they focus attention on the events which society plague society after independence. (P.57).
Based on this statement therefore, the research is to analyse level of decadence and corruption that pervade the African society before and after independence using the two novels under study and also to finding out the extent to which Africa has changed or has remained corrupt.
1.3 Statement of Problem
Before the advent of colonialism African society has a culture which maintained the moral value of society. However, the coming of the whitemen entrenched a system of oppression and dehumanization. But the coming of independence gave hope to the desires of the people. Unfortunately, however the African elite who occupied these positions turned to be worse than the European oppressor. This disillusionment – the loss of expectation formed the basic problem of this research.
1.4 Limitation of the Study
In the course of carrying this research the researcher encountered some difficulties which tended to affect the progress of this work. One of the difficulties is lack of relevant materials that dealt with the topic under study. Again, there was the problem of finance. The researcher had not enough money to cope with the demands of moving from one library to another in search of materials. This made it difficult for the researcher to exhaustively deal with the topic.
1.5 Significance of the Study
This work examines decay and corruption in the novels of Armah and Achebe. The works of these authors have not been fully analysed. As such, it is hoped that this study will help in contributing to the analyses of the works. It is equally hoped that the students in the English department will benefit immensely in this study.
1.6 Research Methodology
In the course of this study, there is extensive use of secondary, supplementary data obtained from different libraries. To start with, review of textbooks and studies on the problem. Other supplementary information was obtained from materials such as the Holy Bible, newspapers and journals. These provided the necessary literature utilized for analysis and review of the study.