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CHARACTER FORMATION IN CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND KAINE AGARY’S YELLOW-YELLOW

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1.1                   CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

In recent years, some of the innovative and formative trends that dominate the 21st century African literaturefocus extensively on character formation. In literary parlance, a novel of formation also called Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story is a literary sub-genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to maturation, andin which character change/transformation is thus extremely important. The emerging development covers the creative hiatus of colonial and postcolonial experiences that previously dominate African literary canon. Hence, contemporary writers have been ingeniously and eruditely locating the coming –of­-ageethos to emphasize that growth and development are universal human phenomena. Talking about the resurgence of growing-up motif in contemporary Africa, especially Nigeria, Maxwell Okolieopines that:

This privilege phase of growing up is often used as intimate, passion-packed subject matter in fiction; to render poetically, its complex vision was once the yearning of some African novelists who consider it essentially not only to the understanding of African personality… but also to the remaking of Africa (141).

By implication, the writers are clearin their ingenuity to locate the process of human growth and development as germane to understanding human personality.More writers are subscribing to this ethos, as will be featuring in the focal texts:Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adiche and Agary Kaine’s Yellow –Yellow.The texts present characters that come of age by virtue oftheir transformations. Kambili in Purple Hibiscustransforms froma stuttering voiceless teenager to a self-assertingadult, while Zilayefa in Yellow –Yellow transforms from a village teenager to a gorgeous coquettish and profligate woman.

Human character can be bewilderingly complicated. In order to appraise the dilemma of the 21st century Nigerian child, the writers, as the conscience of society, have adopted the Bildungsroman dialect to investigate the protagonists’ trajectories in their processes of “becoming”. The hallmark of our studyis the contemporary Nigerian youth(as reflected in the texts) who are caught in socio-psychological comatose. In a situation where “growing up” in consistently modernizing Africa (Nigeria) has meant a gradual but steady departure from the ethos of nobility and innocence, one  would not hesitate to question the benchmark as well as the blueprint for the formation of  these characters in their journey  from         infancy            to adulthood. Character, according to ancient Greek scholars such as Plato and Aristotle, is predicted on a person and it must be acquired and cultivated. By implication, one learns and acquires good character when one recognizes an ennobling role and wishes to practise it. Character formation entails the acquisition ofhabits. Broadly, it is the expression of the personality of a human person which reveals itself in his/her conduct. In a narrower sense, character implies a certain unity of qualities with arecognizeddegree of constancy or fixity in mode of action. It refers to the fixed, repetitive,and organized psychological formations, which is  determined by the person’s values and find expressions in and through the overt and covert aspects of his or her life.When a person has developed a character, he/she can accomplish something by him/herself.Character comes from the mind and enables the person to carry out a task with self-direction. The interaction of nature-nurture dichotomy dictates to a large extent the pattern of character formation and manifestation.

1.2     BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

The birth of the Bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1795.  Etymologically, it is German in origin, comprising two words: Bildung meaning“formation” and “roman”meaning “education”. The term therefore describes the novel of formation or novel of education. The term was coined in 1819 by the philologist, Karl Morgenstern, in his university lectures, and later famously reappraised   by Wilhelm Dilthey, who legitimized it in 1870 and popularized it in 1905.Although the genre arose in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world. Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it such as: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Thomas Mann’s TheMagic Mountain, George Eliot’sThe Mill on theFloss, Charles Dickens’sGreat Expectations, James Joyce’s The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man,Somerset Maugham’sOf Human Bondage anda hostof others.

The genre is further characterized by a number of formal, topical and thematic features. The term Coming-of-Age novel is sometimes used interchangeably with Bildungsroman, but its use is usually wider and less technical.Within the 20th century, it has spread across the seas of Germany to Britain, France, and several other countries around the globe. A pertinent question has been about the origin of Bildungsroman in Africa. Its origin in Africa has been a controversial issue similar to the origin of feminism.Recent researches by African scholars in contextualizing the Bildungsromanic conceptdraw attention to the predominance of the Coming –of-Age motif in African oral narratives. Teresa U.Njoku observes that “Though the term Bildungsroman is German,narratives which dealwith the development of a character and his society through the informal educationprocess existed in Africa even before colonialism” (271).

One would sayemphatically that Bildungsroman structure has its root in Igbo folktale suchas NwaenweNneand Iduu na Oba from the Nigerian Igbo lorebefore its use by modern African writers. It is evident that these new writers have grabbed the Bildungsroman tradition fromwhere the oral tradition stopped. There are reasonablenumbers of works that feature Bildungsroman structure in African novel, such as Camara Laye’s The African Child, Mongo Beti’sMission to Kala, Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, The Slave Girl, Double Yoke Christ Abani’s Becoming Abigail,as well as Sade Adeniran’s Imagine This.

Consequently, there are great many definitions of the literary sub-genre,Bildungsroman. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the Bildungsroman as “a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character”(2009). It can be defined as a novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, spiritual and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character. It could also be seen as the novel of personal development or of education. Susanne Howe on her idea about formation defines it on the basis of what she terms the “Apprenticeship pattern” while Franco Moretti in his classic The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture locates the genre on “transient pattern” that describes a process of development through different stages.Therefore, Moretti, interprets Bildungsroman as “a symbolic formby which Europe rethinks the advent of modernity” (5).Moretti’s inference suggests that the need to give meaning to change made the youth the most meaningful part of life. This is to say that the youths are the most relevant and indispensable form of human existence, since they are growing and have the suppleness to adapt and discern change. Therefore, a novel that is characteristic of the Bildungsromangenre describes a young protagonist’s developmental trajectory, or overall development, from childhood to maturity. Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a German literary term, a class of novel that deals with the maturation process; by investigating how and why the protagonist develops as he does, both morally and psychologically. The literary prototype of the Bildungsroman protagonist is the German author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s 19th century hero, Wilhelm Meister, who embarks on a spiritual journey “…to seek self-realization in the service of art…” (9).The aim of the young artist’s quest is self-development through a series of hardships encountered along the way. However, the focus of thiswork will be the Bildungsroman, or the novel of growth and development.Theparadigmatic expansion of Bildungsroman has engendered its divergent definitions by various scholars. M.H Abramlocates the emergence of the Bildungsroman tradition in the eighteenth century German and describes it as the novel whose subject is the “development of the protagonist’s mind and character, in the passage fromchildhood through varied experiences and often through a spiritualcrisis into maturity, which usuallyinvolves recognition of one’s identity and role in the world” (201).

There are many variations and subgenres of Bildungsromanthat focus on the growth of the individual.  A lot of controversies about the definition and delimitation of the genre have their interpretations on the word Bildung (formation). It is imperative to distinguish between the three subtypes of Bildungsroman and their variations:  Entwicklungsroman (novel of general growth), represents novels about different types of development or novels of development in general.The Erziehungsroman like Bildungsroman has to do with the novel of educational development and the Kunstlerroman refers to the novel of artistic realization.  The basic subtype of Bildungsroman is Kunslerroman which M. H. Abrams situates as a subtype that “represents the growth of a novelist or other artist into the stage of maturity in which he recogniseshis artistic destiny and masters his artistic craft” (121).Scholtz also distinguishes more specifically between the variant forms of Bildungsroman in what he terms (pedagogies-roman). While Bildungsroman refers to the character’s growth more generally, Erziehungsroman focuses on a deliberate inculcation (often by a master) of life lessons by means of a particular pedagogic structure.Hence, if we limit the genre to include all forms of development, Bildungsroman then encompasses most of the novels ever written. Bildungsroman within the context of our study rather has to do with special forms of development with the proviso that a protagonist develops passing through the key elements and factors that influence such formation.

The major feature of the Bildungsroman or the Coming- of –Age motif, for Abram, is the recorded socio-psychological progress of the protagonist from an earlystage of physical and emotional development toother life phases. For the purpose of this work, we situate the Bildungsroman as the novel whose principal interest is to investigate the problems and confusions of the contemporary youth at cross-purpose, who is morally and culturally challenged and suggest that growth and development as a universal phenomenon is conditioned by socio-cultural context, religion, the political environment of the time as well as familial relationship. Hence, exploring the issue of character formation, the writers adopt to re-work Bildungsroman form to articulate the importance of female bonding /personality rolemodeling as a strategy for attaining transformation or change in the life of our growing youths.

1.3       THE PLOT PATTERN OFNOVEL OFFORMATION

Bildungsroman tells about the growing upor coming-of-age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experiences. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or a youngster (son)going out in the world to seek his fortune.Usually, in the beginning of the story, there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist embark on his journey from countryside to a metropolitan region. Jerome Buckley describes it thus:

A child of some sensibility grows up in the country or in a provincial town, where he finds constraints, social and intellectual, placed upon the free imagination. His family, especially his father, proves doggedly hostile to his creative instincts or flights of fancy, antagonistic to his ambitions, and quite impervious to the new ideas he has gained from unprescribed reading. His first schooling, even if not totally adequate, may be frustrating insofar as it may suggest options not available to him in his present setting. He, therefore, sometimes at a quite early age, leaves the repressive atmosphere of home (and also the relative innocence), to make his way independently to the city. There his real education begins [and] his direct experience of urban life. The latter involves at least two love affairs or sexual encounters, one debasing, one exalting, and demands that in this respect and others, the hero reappraise [s] his values. By the time he has decided, after painful soul-searching, the sort of accommodation to the modern world he can honestly make, he has left his adolescence behind and entered upon his maturity. (17-18).

On the other hand, SusanneHowe attempts a definition of the Bildungsroman plot, despite the fact that Buckleyin his omnibus,Seasons of Youth, creates a more multifaceted plot pattern that could be applied to both German and English Bildungroman. Howe postures Bildungsroman as :

The adolescent hero of the typical apprenticeship novel[who] sets out on his way through the world, meets with reverses usually due to his own temperament, falls in with various guides and counselors, makes many false starts in choosing his friends, his wife, and his life work, and he finally adjusts himself in some way to the demands of his time and environment by finding a sphere of action in which he may work effectively (4).

Her definition seems to be rather vague and incomplete when put side by side with Buckley’s definition. Buckley’s definition characteristically outlines the essential facet of the hero who is portrayed as “a child of some sensibility” with “constraints, social and intellectual, placed upon his imagination” and “after a painful soul-searching” he can make “the sort of accommodation to the modern world.

In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and not without excruciating difficulty. As a result,it often features conflict between the main character and society. According to Annie Eysturoy“The protagonist [in a Bildungsroman ]has to measure his or her emerging self against the values and the spirit of a particular social context, representative of an age and a culture”(6).  Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he/she is ultimatelyaccepted intothat society–the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In his own description of the rigorous adventure of the protagonist, Robert Harris talks about:

A process where the protagonist is initiated into adulthood through knowledge, experience,or both, often by a process of disillusionment. Understanding comesafter the dropping of preconceptions, a destruction ofa false sense of security or in some way the loss of innocence (2).

Harris postures the protagonist’s trajectory as that involving movement away from ignorance to knowledge,innocenceto experience,false view of the world to correct view of the world, idealism to realism and immature responses to mature responses. The beauty of the novels under study consist in the fact that our protagonists, by their very nature as Bildungsroman characters, show life and philosophies of life as something moving, changing and dynamic.In other words, the varied and rigorous experiences of the protagonists lend a hand in their ability to construct unique ideas that form the driving force intheir lives.Such ideas keepthe individual towardsthedesireddirection that gives him/ her recognition, identity and makes the individual accepted in a given social context.

Having been accepted in his/her society,the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after achieving maturity. The protagonist’s formation according to Annie Eysturouy evolves from the socio-cultural milieu. Thus, the emerging selfbecomes a reflection of the values and the spirits of aparticularsocialcontext, representative of an ageandaculture (6).

 

 

1.4                                      Research Problem

Growth and development are universal phenomena. Igbo axiom has it that,  Ifu nwoke naakpa nka, odi ka ona adu iru (when you see an artist making a portrait, you would think that he is carrying an angry face). In like manner, character formation has remained an interesting area in the literary world. Creative writers have extensively delved into the sub-genre of Bildungsroman as a way of studying human growth and development and also a means of unveiling why the characters grow, develop and change in their characteristic manner. Most of the contemporary African (Nigerian) writers equally focus attention on the issue of character formation. Specifically, Nigerian female writers have successfully adopted the sub-genre of Bildungsroman to re-define and/or re-trace the growth and developmental trajectories of the protagonists in their works as well as in most novels of the 21th century.  The available reviews on literary texts show that a lot of people have worked on Bildungsroman sub-genre to trace the growth processes of the protagonists; others have employed the genre as an allegorical tool through which the growth of the nation or society is examined.

However, no study has been carried out on the key elements and factors that influence the characters, thus causing transformation and change in the life of the protagonists.  Therefore the problem which this study poses as a research question is to find out what are the key elements and fundamental factors that are responsible for the way a character behaves, and how or to what extent these factors intertwine with the native endowments of the individual so as to unleash the protagonist’s ideological concept.  The emerging ideological concepts of the protagonist in the end establish their unique personality, individuality which at the attainment of maturity makes lucid the quintenssentiality of the character of the protagonist showing their capacity of being accommodated in the spirit of a particular society.

1.5                   PSYCHOLOGY OF CHARACTER FORMATION            

A cardinal feature of thenovel of formation is its emphasis on the psychological process at work in the protagonist’s transaction with his /her society. Although the physical growth remains a defining feature of the genre, its prominence is only defined and determined by the psychological development of the character in parallel to the physical growth. The physical growth therefore has to correlate with the psychological development.According to Buckley, what goes on in the psyche is more important than what goes on around the protagonist’s external world (6). This is because the innerself determines the outer self. Previous research has shown that the best way to understand the character of the generic man is to psychoanalyse the character. This can be done by identifying the background/ key factors that influence the character’s behavioural patterns. Such factors as socio-psychological, spiritual/moral development, physical, emotional and socio-cultural factors play a vital role in character formation. Character as a unified entity, incorporates the following: personality, identity, and individuality   of the   human             person.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              To study the formation of one’s character, these components that sum up the covert and overt operations of the individual should be properly examined. It, therefore,behooves the researcher to examine how personality is formed.

 

 

1.6FEMINISTIC TRENDS IN NOVELS OF FORMATION

Carol Christ writes that “Women’s stories have not been told: and without stories, there is no articulation of experience, without stories, a woman is lost… she is closed in silence” (34).  In the same vein, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write that “Women will starve in silence until new stories are created which confer on them power of naming themselves” (54).Similarly, Adrienne Rich comments on the importance of female artists in literary tradition when she says that “Writing is re-naming”(2052).Feminist critics began to examine the phallocentric grounds of traditional novel that dealt with them. They draw attention to the link between aesthetics and ideology, rhetoric and reality and thus, delve into the field that was exceptionally neglected by earlier Bildungsroman scholars. A groundbreaking work as well as the landmark of this genre is the anthology,The Voyage In: Fiction of Female Development edited by Elizabeth Abel, Marianne, Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland.  In the introductory part of the work, the critics demonstrate how Jerome Buckley’s taxonomic definition of the term Bildungsroman negates female experience from the genre. They posit definite questionable conclusion about George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, which Buckley interprets as a narrative of the (Bildung) formation of Tom Tulliver, rather than that of the heroin Maggie, the protagonist of the text.  In consequence, the critics present an alternate model and a contrast canon of female formation. The authors have the same opinion that social pressure directed feminine development in the nineteenth century interiorly and towards spiritual realm. They, therefore, strive to re-contextualize some of the themes that previously dominate scholarly work of nineteenth century Bildungsroman and aver emphatically that social conditions in the nineteenth century stifled female expression.

A cardinal theme of contemporary women’s fiction is the quest for authentic female self- development. This process is both environmental and psychological, and it entails coming to terms with multiple (multifaceted), external as well as internal socio-cultural forces, that infringe upon the path towards female individuation and an understanding of the individual self.Rites of passage are depicted either as the adolescent protagonist’s coming-of-age, or as the mature woman’s awakening to the reality of her social and cultural role as a woman and her subsequent attempts to re-examine her life and shape it in accordance with her new feminist consciousness. The process of becoming, whether it is that of the child and adolescent or the somewhat older woman, is a recurrent theme in minority women’s literature.

African female writers have ingeniously adopted the subject matter to re-work Bildungsroman genre, the viable literary form traditionally used to portray the process of self- development. Eldred observes that “African authors have consistently returned to childhood to find their personal as well as racial roots” (7).One would say without mincing words that it is not solely a search for identity that engages female writers in general, but rather an exploration and articulation of the process leading to a purposeful awakening of the female protagonists. In the case of the child and adolescent protagonist, the emphasis is on social and environmental influences on their rite of passage, whereas narratives with more mature protagonists tend to be more confessional in nature, emphasizing the re-examination of the past through the re-collection of past experiences in order to arrive at an understanding of the femaleness of such protagonists.  In both cases, the emphasis is on the education of the self emerging from the interaction between the self and the world. This is because life experience is the greatest tool for the formation of the protagonists who learn and adjust accordingly towards acceptable behavioural code that give them identity as adults in a given society.

Every artist conceives and visualises their object interiorly prior to its actual production when it is made visible to human eyes.However, the path towards self-development or self-definition is in some cases portrayed as intimately connected to the process of creation; thus the act of writing or creating becomes essential to discovering of self. This particular aspect of the genre’s intersections of self-development and creativity, postures some Bildungsroman as Kunstlerroman (artistic –novel). Such novel asSusanne Howe’s Wilhelm Meister and His English Kinsmenis a typical prototype of Kunstlerroman.It is a form of the Bildungsroman that portrays the development of an individual who becomes, or is on the threshold of becoming an artist of some kind. It is the particular perspective of the protagonist, his or her inner development, and not necessarily an identifiable structure, that defines Bildungsroman. The development of the protagonist emerges from the interaction between the protagonist and the world. It is the protagonist’s response to his/her particular environment, the interplay between social and psychological forces, which determines the direction of each individual process of self-development.  Society then becomes the locus for experience and to some extent the antagonist of the female Bildungsroman. This is because the protagonist’s experience of the social and cultural environment depends on several interrelated factors such as gender, class, race and ethnicity, all of which determine and complicate the individual’s position vis-a-vis the social context. As both critics and women writers have consistently shown, important distinction exists between the male quest of the Bildungsroman and the female quest of the ‘coming-of-age’because conditions for self-development are vastly different for women (psychologically and culturally), the process leading to selfhood and creative self-assertion consequently varies from that of the male counterpart.

The female writers / protagonists examined in the focal texts confront all-embracing questions concerning female identity and education / development; each has a concerted focus on the way in which race, ethnicity, and gender dictate and complicate the female protagonist’s quest for actualization and authenticity. The intimate connection between the quest for self- development as well as female artistic creativity is a sine qua non for the female Bildungsroman. The concept of artistic creativity which remains amechanism for the writer’s   self-discovery and mastery of her artistic dexterity is the basic theme of many female Kunsterroman. The female artist has to connect with not only conforming social and cultural definitions of her role as woman, but also with the very concept of herself as an artist. The female Kunsterroman is parallel to what one of the feminist philosophers Mary Daly, regards as women coming into her “new space”. By virtue of the writers coming into new space,opportunity is being created where the various female experiences are explored by the writers who at the same time through this process attain the zenith in mastery of artistic creativity as their destiny. Daly’s coming-into- new-space invariably has to do with women’s movement out of their own sense of quantitative reality of patriarchal institution to entry into qualitative reality of “new space” Daly writes that:

It should be apparent, then, that for women entrance into our own space and time is another way of experiencing integrity and transformation, to stay in  patriarchal space is to remain in time past,the appearance of change is basically only separation and return—- cyclic movement (43).

Despite the recurrent mythic depictions of male figures as the creator, the female Kunsterroman, written by and about woman, describes the psychological and sociological burdens of a patriarchal society and its myths.  This is what   Grace Stewarts identifies in her study as A NewMythos:The Novel of the Artist as Heroine 1877-1977. Myths generally left valuableperiod in human life, and because the quest for self carries mythic connotations, Stewart has taken an archetypal approach to the question of female struggle for artistic self-fulfilment. For that reason, we bring to a closethis section by submitting that the female artists of the two texts understudy,Adichie and Kaine Agary, re-adopt Stewarts’s concept of female Kunsterroman to articulate the experiences of the protagonists which are instrumental in the formation of their characters,and equally identify with other female artists in fostering   female traditions of novels of growth and development.

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