This article is written jointly with Dr. Archana, Associate Professor, BBDGEI, Lucknow, U.P.
Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People published in 1966 is far more pessimistic in tone than his earlier novels and casts a critical eye on the politics of newly independent West African country in the 1960s. It examines questions of power and leadership in the emergent nation state. The government of the country is nominally in the hands of the people but there is no responsible leadership. It deals with modern Nigerian society unrestrained by the traditional taboos and a rigid religious force and imperialism. Achebe portrays on a grand scale the infectious nature of corruption in Nigerian, political and civil life in – rural and urban parts as well. There is a measure of change in his novel A Man of the People.
The novel is his brilliant satirical farce and exposes the inadequacies and follies of his society and the cynical attitude of political opportunists to exploit their tradition for personal ends. The book has exposed the social and political maladies of young Nigeria of 1960’s. The people were becoming more and more selfish in their attitude. Corruption in every field was at its height though here were some weak forces, working against this. But corruption was very infectious and it was swallowing up the whole nation.
The novel opens in 1964 with the official visit of Chief the Honourable M.A. Nanga M.P. to Anata Grammar School where he himself was a teacher and where the narrator Odili is now teaching. The visit is seen through the sceptical eyes of Odili, who has been thoroughly disillusioned by the political events of the last few years. His disillusionment embraces both the politicians and the electorate who have cynically entered into a conspiracy of self-interest. The politicians safeguard their own interest by providing their local supporters with a slice of ‘the national cake’. Things have finally fallen apart in this general moral decay. The novel reads, “As I stood in one corner of that vast tumult waiting for the arrival of the Minister I felt intense bitterness welling up in my mouth. Here were silly, ignorant villagers dancing themselves lame and waiting to blow off their gunpowder in honour of one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation. I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder, to hush this ridiculous festival and tell the poor contemptible people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. Tell them that this man had used his position to enrich himself and they would ask you – as my father did – if you thought that a sensible man would spit out the juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth.” (A Man of the People, pp. 2, 3)
But the bustle and vitality of the scene, with women dancing, the hunter’s guild in full regalia, and old ‘Grammar - phone’ herself singing, make themselves heard about the narrator’s disapproval. His concern over economic inflation and political immorality pale into academic insignificance. Here is the tribal Chief making a triumphal return and this surely merits a local celebration. And yet, for Odili it is precisely the success of this attempt to turn a national politician into a clan leader which causes dismay and disillusionment. It means that national interest will always come second; the government resolves itself into a squabble of local loyalties and interests.
Consequently, Odili has opted out of politics, and he describes in a flashback how it occurred. His adolescent hero-worship of Nanga, dating from 1948, was finally destroyed by the 1960 economic crisis in which his hero first came to the public notice. On his first and last visit to Parliament he witnessed the political assassination of the minister of finance, ‘a first-rate economist with a Ph.D. in Public Finance’, by a government unwilling to face up to the stringent and unpopular measures he proposed. Nanga was well to the fore in hounding and condemning. But what was so disillusioning to Odili, an undergraduate at the same time, was the way in which the minister of finance was discredited, for being un-African, “decadent stooges versed in text-book economics and aping the white man’s mannerism and way of speaking.” The quotation from the official party organ continues, “We are proud to be Africans. Our true leaders are not those intoxicated with their Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard degrees but those who speak the language of the people. Away with the damnable and expensive university education which only alienates an African from his rich and ancient culture and puts him above his people ….” (p.4.)
Odili’s European political concepts of Parliamentary democracy could be irrelevant, even dangerous, and he, like the minister of finance, could be labelled a member of “the hybrid class of Western educated and snobbish intellectuals who will not hesitate to sell their mothers for a mess of potage.” (p. 6) And Odili is a hybrid who views with distaste not only the corruption but many other features of his society. His ambition is to take a postgraduate diploma in London and be accepted in a European society.
Odili’s political views are shown to be inseparable from his character. The personality which adheres to these high-minded yet disillusioned concepts is by nature cold-blooded, egocentric and alienated. The narrator, of course, does not describe himself in these terms. As far as he is concerned he is simply unwilling ‘to lick any ‘Big Man’s boots’, “In fact one reason why I took this teaching job in a bush, private school instead of a smart civil service job in the city with car, free housing, etc. was to give myself a certain amount of autonomy.” (p. 17) Autonomy in the political sphere may be admirable but when it is transferred to the local community and to personal relations it becomes alienation and selfishness.
He exemplifies his personal selfishness most clearly in his relations with his girl friend, Elsie. She is his proudest trophy, the biggest boost to his self-esteem. He admits that he is not usually lucky with women, but with her it was different. “Elsie was, and for the matter still is, the only girl I met and slept with the same day – in fact within an hour.” (p. 24) Elsie’s main attraction, apart from providing proof of his sexual powers, is her undemanding availability, “I can’t pretend that I ever thought of marriage . . . Elsie was such a beautiful, happy girl and she made no demands whatever.” (p. 25) This is what autonomy becomes in the world of Odili’s private affairs.
Two major clues to be uncovered about Odili's personal life are that his mother died at his birth and his father was a district interpreter (a powerful government post in those days). Both circumstances fostered the loneliness and alienation of the sensitive child. He was known as the ‘bad child that crunched his mother’s skull’, “Of course as soon as I grew old enough to understand a few simple proverbs. I realised that I should have died and let my mother live. Whenever my people go to console a woman whose baby had died at birth or soon after, they always tell her to dry her eyes because it is better the water is spilled than the pot broken. The idea being that a sound pot can always return to the stream.” (A Man of the People, p. 28)
The second clue means that Odili was the son of the most unpopular man in the district. In the days of his childhood, “The District officer was like the Supreme Deity, and the Interpreter the principal minor god who carried prayers and sacrifice to Him . . . so Interpreters in those days were powerful, very rich, widely known and hated.” (A Man of the People, p. 28) From the moment of his birth Odili grew up in a world full of enemies. Odili’s political views can be so immaculately high-minded, so uncontaminated by personal allegiance because his detachment from his fellow human beings is virtually complete.
Nanga’s values are equally ambiguous. At first sight he is a political opportunist whose only concerns are survival and self-interest. Without detachment of any kind he has no concept of political morality or of national good. As the narrator realises, his concerns are local and immediate. “People like Chief Nanga don’t care two hoots about the outside world. He is concerned with the inside world, with how to retain his hold on his constituency and there he is adept.” (A Man of the People, p. 23)
Nanga has an instinctive grasp of how to do this, and he is prepared to call to his assistance bribery, corruption and intimidation. Unlike the village where the unscrupulous Josiah is quickly and effectively outlawed, the country as a whole has no kind of political morality by which to judge and condemn a Nanga. His self-interest and false promises of share of a slice of the national cake to the people of his constituency results in recurrent political and economic crisis with which the events of the novel are punctuated. In the context of the local scene, however, Nanga assumes a vitality and stature which are very compelling. As we see him speaking and joking with the villagers in Pidgin English, sharing their values and expressing their political hopes, he becomes A Man of the People in a less ironical sense. Nanga does speak ‘the language of the people’, and has not undergone “a university education which only alienates an African from his rich and ancient culture and puts him above his people.” (A Man of the People, p. 4)
The alienated Odili and his friend Andrew sneer at Nanga’s parochialism, “Just think of such a cultureless man going abroad and calling himself Minister of Culture. Ridiculous. This is why the outside world laughs at us.” (A Man of the People, p. 23) But in his own vulgar, vital way he possesses more culture than the disinherited class to which they belong. It is through dance, gesture, dress and language that Nanga comes to life, for his culture is inseparable from his electric personality. He is welcomed back to his constituency like a Chief who will always safeguard the interest of his people, “As soon as the Minister’s Cadillac arrived at the head of a long motorcade the hunters dashed this way and that and let off their last shots, throwing their guns about with frightening freedom. The dancers capered and stamped, filling the dry-season air with dust. Not even Grammar-phone’s voice could now be heard over the tumult. The Minister stepped out wearing damask and gold chains and acknowledging cheers with his ever-present fan of animal skin.” (A Man of the People, pp. 7,8) It is a triumph of style unaffected by the sneers of the narrator. Nanga becomes increasingly attractive as we move from his doubtful political ideals to his personality. Eventually Odili too begins to succumb to the infectious charm, “The man was still as handsome and youthful looking as ever – there was no doubt about that . . . the Minister had a jovial word for everyone. You would never think – looking at him now – that his smile was anything but genuine. It seemed bloody-minded to be skeptical.” (A Man of the People, p. 8)
Odili is taken further aback when the Minister recognizes him from his school days and embraces him. For Nanga, this is where values and ideals come alive. Now Odili comments on current political corruption “A common saying in the country after Independence was that it didn’t matter what you knew but who you knew” (A Man of the People, p. 28) seems far less sinister in its implications. Odili and Nanga are two main characters of the novel. At public level, the self-interest of the political opportunist is contrasted with the ideals of the disillusioned narrator; at private level, the opportunist’s warmth and vitality are contrasted with the alienation and selfishness of the idealist. The rest of the novel plots the implications, the ironies and the resolution of the choice between idealism and detachment, and involvement.
At the first meeting of the two men their characteristic styles are contrasted. The narrator is disapproving and on the defensive. “I held out my hand somewhat stiffly. I did not have the slightest fear that he might remember me and had no intention of reminding him.” (A Man of the People, p. 8) When Nanga does recognize him his need for affection and popularity makes him secretly delighted. Nanga free from any hesitations slaps the narrator on the back and chides him for not having sought his help, “Don’t you know that Minister means servant? Busy or not busy he must see his master.” (A Man of the People, p. 9) Nanga quickly invites Odili to stay at his house in the capital, Bori, and offers assistance. The final comment reminds us that the novel as a whole is arranged in retrospect by the mature narrator who has had time to digest the significance of the events he is describing. In the uncertain world of the first-person novel the narrator’s comments upon his earlier self exercise the chief control on the trajectory of the novel as a whole. Odili has come under the influence of the Nanga charisma so that he now begins to explain sympathetically the temptations of the men of power, “A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation – as I saw it then lying on that bed – was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say ‘to hell with it.’ We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in.” (A Man of the People, p. 37) The cook was seeking to preserve his self-respect by adopting superior European customs; the Englishman shows his superiority by adopting what he thinks are African criteria. When the other guests leave. Odili is alone with the American hostess, Jean. They dance of highlife together, and we are treated to a further variation of cultural misunderstanding, “I must say she had learnt to do the highlife well except that like many another foreign enthusiast of African rhythm she tended to overdo the waist wiggle. I don’t say I found it unpleasant – quite on contrary; I only make a general point, which I think is interesting. It all goes back to what others have come to associate us with. And let it be said that we are not entirely blameless in this. I remember how we were outraged at the University to see a film of breast - throwing, hip-jerking, young woman which a neighboring African state had made and was showing abroad as an African ballet. Jean probably saw it in America.” (A Man of the People, p. 52) Not only do we find it necessary to impose stereotypes on other people; they in turn strengthen the stereotypes by acting as we want them to act. An additional irony is when Odili tells us Jean’s husband is always on business, advising African government how to improve their public image in America. The permutations multiply. Jean wrongfully attributes sexual motives to Odili which he is delighted to acknowledge, and next we see them in bed together. But the chapter ends in complete misunderstanding. Jean takes him on a tour of the city as she drives him home, “She certainly knew the city well, from the fresh-smelling modern waterfront to the stinking, maggoty interior.” (A Man of the People, p. 54) Despite their intimacy, Odili begins to mistrust her motives was it simply for curiosity’s sake or was there “some secret reason, like wanting me to feel ashamed about my country’s capital city?” (A Man of the People, p. 55) He laughs uneasily at the signs of corruption and inequality in Bori, signs which he had enjoyed with unconcealed pleasure when alone. This sequence of incidents has two effects on the narrator. He now understands the difficulty of trying to interpret or judge any alien culture or area of experience in which one has not participated directly and intimately. And secondly, as he has sought to correct the most blatant errors of the Europeans, Odili has become increasingly protective and defensive about his own African society. On some occasion as the theme of this section of the novel is developed Odili seems to speak directly for the author. The trouble is we are not certain. The focus which the character of the narrator should provide is not sufficiently clear. Odili’s sympathy for Nanga and uncertainty about his own loyalties end abruptly when he takes his girl friend Elsie to stay at Nanga’s house.
Characteristically, he has given the minister the impression that she is, “…simply a good-time girl, I suppose what happened was that Chief Nanga and I having already swopped many tales of conquest I felt somehow compelled to speak in derogatory terms about women in general.” (A Man of the People, p. 60) In the absence of his wife, Nanga doesn’t wait for niceties of definition to be cleared up. He is in Elsie’s bedroom before the narrator, “would muster up sufficient bravado to step into the sitting-room and up the stairs.” (A Man of the People, p. 70) Then, when he hears ‘as from a great distance Elsie deliriously screaming my name’, Odili suffers a crisis of inertia, “I find it difficult to retrospect to understand my inaction at that moment. A sort of paralysis had spread over my limbs, while an intense pressure was building up inside my chest. But before it reached raging point I felt it siphoned off, leaving me empty inside and out. I trudged up the stairs in the incredible delusion that Elsie was calling on me to come and save her from her ravisher. But when I got to the door a strong revulsion and hatred swept over me and I turned sharply away and went down the stairs for the last time.” (A Man of the People, p. 71) The politician has acted decisively; the fastidious intellectual has been outmaneuvered and now observes exactly the details of the scene. After the period of disclaim and sympathy with Nanga, comes this detachment. The later Odili comments in retrospect, “It was strange perhaps that a man who had so much on his mind should find time to pay attention to these small, inconsequential things; it was like the man in the proverb who was carrying the carcass of an elephant on his head and searching with his toes for a grasshopper. But that was how it happened. It seems that no thought – no matter how great – had the power to exclude all others.” (A Man of the People, p. 72) Sex becomes a significant theme, here also, we can say it’s a sort of conflict as Chief Nanga was once Odili’s teacher, whom he so much respected and treated him like a father figure in his life. He now returns to confront and denounce Nanga in a characteristically half-hearted way, “What a country!” I said, “You call yourself Minister of Culture? God help us.” And I spat; not a full spit but a token, albeit unmistakable one.” (A Man of the People, p. 74)
Nanga, understandably baffled by his reaction, offers Odili other girls in exchange for Elsie, but the break has now occurred and open hostility continues for the rest of the novel. Chief Nanga seduces Elsie; Odili’s girl friend thus igniting a bitter feud for ministers’ mistress. The rivalry between men spills into the nations politics and reaches its climax in a coup d’ etat. After the race for money and power, the theme of lust dominates the story. In my opinion sex is the dominant theme of the novel, as stealing of Elsie by Chief Nanga becomes the leitmotiv for revenge, all other themes are mere supporting factors. Odili is left hurt, he says, “... another man had wrenched my girl friend from my hand and led her to bed under my very eyes, and I had done nothing about it – could do nothing. And why? Because the man was a Minister bloated by the flatulence of ill gotten wealth, living in a big mansion built with public money, riding in a Cadillac and watched over by a one eyed hired thug.” (A Man of the People, p. 76) He further adds, “I was just flapping about like trapped bird when suddenly I saw the opening. I saw that Elsie did not matter in the least. What mattered was that a man had treated me as no man had a right to treat another – not even if he was master and the other slave; and my manhood required that I make him pay for his insult in full measure. In flesh and blood terms I realized that I must go back, seek out Nanga’s intended parlour-wife and give her the works, good and proper.” (A Man of the People, p. 77) Theme of revenge dominates the novel till the end. Unexpectedly he gains support for his revenge from his friend in Bori, Max, who is about to form a new political party, the Common People’s Convention, to rescue their ‘hard–won freedom’ from corruption. Odili agrees to become a founder member, “It would add a second string to my bow when I came to deal with Nanga.” (A Man of the People, p. 79)
From here to the end of the novel the narrator’s public concern and his private vendetta intermingle in a double campaign against the minister. Apparently it is a failure at both levels, but it brings self-knowledge to the narrator. Both the planned seduction of Edna and the political campaign begin rather unsteadily. Odili first insults Edna’s father, who is delighted with the prospect of Nanga as a son-in-law, while in the political sphere the conspirators shed nostalgic tears over Max’s piece of poetry written “during the intoxicating months of high hope soon after independence.” (A Man of the People, pp. 81, 82) When they turn to political action one of the first things Odili discovers is that their new party is backed by a junior minister in the present government. He wonders why he does not resign, ‘“Resign?” laughed Max. “Where do you think you are – Britain or something?”’ (A Man of the People, p. 83) Odili does not want to appear naive, and yet his early idealism persists as he thought it would have been better if he would have started a new party clean, with a different kind of philosophy. He now returns to the attack with Edna and also, to everyone’s amusement, announces that he is going to contest Nanga’s seat at the imminent election. Ominously at this point the outlawed Josiah comes to offer his services in the election campaign. He sees their positions as analogous, ‘they are both outlaws. The irony is, of course, that Josiah is outlawed because of his low principles in the village, Odili because of his excessively high principles in national politics.’ Odili turns him down gently, “I had no position to offer him.” (A Man of the People, p. 102) Even now Odili makes very little headway against Nanga’s private and public popularity. At the inaugural meeting of his constituency Nanga’s hirelings make a fool of him to the great delight of the crowd, and then he is threatened by Edna’s father first with a machet and then with an allegory, “My in-law is like a bull, and your challenge is like the challenge of a tick to a bull. The tick fills its belly with blood from the back of the bull and the bull doesn’t even know its there.” (A Man of the People, p. 107) In addition and in quick succession, he is sacked by his headmaster, abused by Mrs. Nanga and intimidated by Nanga’s supporters. He begins to see that the danger and insults he had been prepared to undergo in his pursuit of Edna are significant. And at that very moment I was suddenly confronted by a fact I had been dodging for some time. I knew then I wanted Edna now (if not all along) for her own sake first and foremost and only very remotely as part of a general scheme of revenge. (A Man of the People, p. 109)
Odili has now moved from his defensive position and can acknowledge his love for Edna. He then turns to his political motives, ‘Having got that for in my self-analysis I had to ask myself one question. How important was my political activity in its own right?’ The answer to this isn’t clear, “It was difficult to say; things seemed so mixed up; my revenge, my new political ambition and the girl. And perhaps it was just as well that my motives should entangle and reinforce one another.” (A Man of the People, pp. 109, 110) His love for Edna has already been separated from his desire for revenge, and now his political ambition is at last recognised as a genuine desire to destroy Nanga and the corruption he represents, “Although I had little hope of winning Chief Nanga’s seat, it was necessary nonetheless to fight and expose him as much as possible . . . .” (A Man of the People, p. 110) Odili expresses this hope in terms of the proverb which is repeated so many times, “and maybe someone would get up and say; “No, Nanga has taken more than the owner could ignore!” But it was no more than a hope.” (A Man of the People, p. 110) Odili has thus begun to disentangle and purify his motives. As he does so the two halves of his character move closer toward reconciliation.
As he sets off on his political campaign, Odili looks back on the earlier stages of his career and sees them as a reflection of the changes in the country as a whole. ‘I could not help thinking also of the quick transformations that were such a feature of our country, and in particular of the changes of attitude in my own self.’ He recalls that on entering university his one ambition was to become, ‘a full member of the privileged class whose symbol was the car.’ After an “intellectual crisis” (A Man of the People, p. 110)he rejected this in favour of the disillusioned idealism he displays at the beginning of the novel, ‘Many of us vowed then never to be corrupted by bourgeois privileges of which the car was the most visible symbol in our country.’ Now as he drives off in his new car acquired through party funds he scrutinizes his present position, “And now here was I in this marvelous little affair eating the hills like yam – as Edna would have said. I hoped I was safe, for a man who avoids danger for years and then gets killed in the end has wasted his care.” (A Man of the People, p. 111) This does not represent a reversion to his earlier materialism, but rather a difficult attempt to synthesize the two earlier stages of his development.
It soon becomes apparent that it is going to be difficult to keep his idealism untarnished during the campaign. First, he must have bodyguards. Then reluctantly he agrees to their carrying weapons. Finally he has to provide money for bribing important officials. His objections are answered very firmly by his bodyguards, ‘Look my frien I done tell you say if you no wan serious for this business make you go rest for house. I done see say you want play too much gentleman for this manner . . . Dem tell you say na gentlemanity de give other people minister . . .?’ His father too, convinced as he is, “that the mainspring of political action was material gain”, (A Man of the People, p. 115)expects some material advantage from his son’s new career. He imagines the big opportunity has come when Nanga, who wants to be reelected unopposed, appears with ?250 to bribe his son to stand down, “Take your money and take your scholarship and go and learn more books; the country needs experts like you. And leave the dirty game of politics to us who know how to play it . . . .” (A Man of the People, p. 120)
The climax of the novel, Odili’s opportunity for the grand gesture, occurs at Nanga’s inaugural campaign meeting. There he sees Nanga in full regalia with his wife and Edna, and there he experiences again the desire to denounce this man of the people. The novel has come full circle, and we are back at the opening episode with the narrator’s angry fantasy, “What would happen if I were to push my way to the front and up the palm-leaf-festooned dais, wrench the microphone from the greasy hands of that blabbing buffoon and tell the whole people – this vast contemptible crowd – that the great man they had come to hear with their drums and dancing was an Honourable Thief. But of course they knew that already.” (A Man of the People, p. 139) And he is exercising his fantasy in this way; he is spotted despite his disguise, by Josiah now an ally of Nanga. He tries to escape but as he hears the cry ‘Stop Thief!’ he pauses, “I wanted to know who called me a thief.” (A Man of the People, p. 140) Nanga summons him to the dais and, surrounded by his supporters, ridicules the narrator whom he now sees as a ludicrous rather than a dangerous figure. Odili, his fastidious detachment a thing of the past, reacts unexpectedly, “My panic had now left me entirely and its place I found a rock-cold fearlessness that I had never before felt in my heart. I watched Nanga, microphone in one hand, reeling about the dais in drunken jubilation. I seemed to see him from a superior, impregnable position.” (A Man of the People, p. 140) At this final confrontation, they each recognize the other with complete clarity as the antagonist. Nanga begins with his own account of the events of the novel, “This is the boy who is thrusting his finger into my eye. He came to my house in Bori, ate my food, drank my water and wine and instead of saying thank you to me he set about plotting how to drive me out and take over my house.” (A Man of the People,p. 140)
In this political turmoil, in the midst of which Nanga is arrested trying to escape disguised as a fisherman, Odili at last commits fully to his personal relations. Edna’s covert sympathy and support turn out to be an index of her true feelings, so that when he insists she succumbs and acknowledges she had never wished to marry Nanga. Public events come to his assistance. After Nanga’s convenient arrest, the opposition to the marriage from Edna’s father crumbles. Finally, politics provides the means of paying back all the money Nanga had spent on Edna’s education, “I had already decided privately to borrow the money from C.P.C. funds still in my hands. They were not likely to be needed soon, especially as the military regime had just abolished all political parties in the country . . . .” (A Man of the People, p. 148) Perhaps it is that amid the final welter of hypocrisy and selfishness. Odili knows that everything is subordinate to his love for Edna. Despite the military coup Odili knows that everything has remained the same. The fickle public has deserted the deposed leaders – “Chief Koko in particular became a thief and murderer” (A Man of the People, p. 149) and again switched allegiance in the service of self-interest. The murdered Max has become overnight a hero of the revolution. Odili visited Eunice in jail – “Max was avenged not by the people’s collective will but by one solitary woman who loved him. Had his spirit waited for the people to demand redress it would have been waiting still, in the sun?” (A Man of the People, p. 149)
The narrator’s disillusioned political idealism and his private alienation have realigned themselves by the end of the novel. In his final sentences he draws the extreme contrast between public and private values. Against the background of self-interest created by political anarchy, any gesture of love or loyalty is of inestimable value. This is why the dead Max is ‘lucky’, “And I don’t mean it to shock or sound clever. For I do honestly believe that in the fat-dripping, gummy, eat-and-let-eat regime just ended – a regime which inspired the common saying that a man could only be sure of what had put away safely in his gut, or in language ever more suited to the times, ‘you chop, me self I chop, palaver, finish,’ . . . in such a regime, I say, you died a good death if your life had inspired someone to come forward and shoot your murderer in the chest-with-out asking to be paid.” (A Man of the People, pp. 149, 150) In the final analysis, the story of Josiah the trader must been seen as a parable which anticipates the final destruction of a way of life which has been celebrated with pride, affection and concern. Josiah steals the blind man’s only support, his stick, to concoct a juju medicine which will turn his already exploited customers into, “blind buyers of his wares.” (A Man of the People, p. 87) He is stopped and punished by the villagers in one effective social gesture in the novel. But his national counterpart, Nanga, is rewarded for his crime. He has stolen from the constituency its traditional ethic, its only guide in the complexity of the modern state. He has turned this against the people by cynically corrupting it into the ethic of the national cake. Now they are completely dependent upon him, what was once their strength has become their weakness. The only language the villagers now understand is that of self-interest, and they assess their representative in his over terms, by the amount of loot he brings back to the constituency. In their apathy and cynicism the people have become the blind buyers of the politicians’ wares.
Chinua Achebe, A Man of the People, NewYork, Anchor Books, 1989.
David Carroll, Chinua Achebe Novelist, Poet, Critic, London, Macmillan, 1980.
Chinua Achebe, The Novelist as Teacher, New York, New Statesman, 29, January 1965.