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CHINUA ACHEBE’S SHORT STORIES AS A PERISCOPE TO IGBO WORLDVIEW

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  • Background of the Study

 

The Short Story is one of the most spontaneous and one of the most entertaining of literary forms. For ages in each and every country of the world, short stories have been in existence in different forms like anecdotes, jokes and brief narratives. According to M H Abrams, the Short Story

is a brief work of fiction…and like the novel, it organizes the action, thought, and                                     dialogue of its characters into the artful pattern of a plot… presented to us from                            one of many points of view; and it may be written in the mode of fantasy, realism,                        or naturalism (286).

Edgar Allan Poe, the originator and first known theorist of the Short Story as an established literary genre, defines the Short Story as

a narrative which can be read at one sitting from half an hour to two hours, and is limited to a certain unique single effect to which every detail is subordinate (286).

These definitions, however, account for reasons why Eileen refers to the Short Story as “the art of writing less but meaning more” (146).

As an art form, the Short Story properly developed during the 19th Century with such writers as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the United States; Guy Maupassant and Pazan Balzac in France; Pushkin, Gogol and Anton Chekhov in Russia and Sir Walter Scott in England. In Africa, we have such short story writers like Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Barbara Kimenye, Abioseh Nicol, Gabriel Okara, Sambene Ousmane, Richard Rive, Cyprain Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, among others. Eileen writes that

The African writer was not just wholly content to leave the Short Story the way he found it. Rather, as with other forms of African writing, he has stretched it a bit by injecting a healthy dose of his own cultural and aesthetic values into a traditional western genre and created in the process a frequently new and radically different form (147).

From birth to death, man as a social animal does not live his life in isolation but as a member of a society or a group; and for one to live in a society means to be under constant social, cultural, and religious influences. This is so because the core characteristic of a society is that, it is, according to Krech , “an organized collectivity of  interacting people” (309), whose activities are centered on a set of common goals, and who tend to share common beliefs, attitudes, norms, values, modes of action, etc. These things are introduced and believed to be part of a people’s worldview.

Africans are unique people. What makes one African is not just his colour but the “Africanness” in him which gives him aspiration, inspiration, culture, religious belief, reverence to the supernatural powers, ethos, morality, knowledge of metaphysics, well-being, creativity, acceptability and rejection of issues, etc., which makes him distinct from other people of the world. This in reality is as a result of African worldview. The Igbo people are known among other ethnic groups in Nigeria for their well articulated cultural, social and religious worldview which is rooted in their oral tradition. Culturally, the Igbo from their worldview are able to explain reality, life and the human environment, and predict space-time events that exert control over the community. In this way, according to Ejizu,

The force of Igbo religion as any other religion or ideological system rests with cosmology, which guides it. In the case of traditional Igbo, all forms of individuals and group traditional religious practices occur within the broad outline of their worldview (3).

While some aspects of the Igbo worldview linger till date some are believed to have been eroded by the ideas of western civilization. In his collection of short stories, Girls at War and Other Stories, Achebe puts forth some of the worldviews of this group of people. As a literary giant of his time, Achebe is able to ‘inject a healthy dose’ of the Igbo worldview into his stories offering a complex exploration of the dynamics of the socio-cultural and religious values of the Igbo people by revealing the individual, social, cultural and religious factors that give it shape and meaning. “Like a type of lamp which throws images of non-transparent objects such as photographic film or pages from a book onto a surface” as stated by Egwuda, so is Achebe who is deeply rooted in Igbo culture through his creative writing. Through his writing, “he is able to carry his reader along as he unfolds the meaning of the myth and content of the Igbo culture to the world” (131).

Achebe’s works have garnered a lot of criticisms. His short stories have been viewed by scholars from a thematic perspective and otherwise but it is contented that an approach to his collection of short stories on this ground is yet to be fully undertaken. It would be interesting then to take a glance at how Achebe has portrayed the Igbo world in each of his short stories hence, seeing them as a periscope to Igbo worldview.

 

  • Statement of the Problem

Many researchers like Balogun Odun; Wilfred Feuser; Felix Egwuda-Ugbeda; and Ann Taylor; have explored the themes and other critical issues in Achebe’s Short Stories. Ode Ogede and others have also examined the integration of oral form in these stories but an in-depth analysis of this kind is yet to be undertaken. While these studies have made insightful interpretations of the subject matter and possible meanings underlying these stories, the bases of the customs and tradition of the Igbo people employed by these stories are yet to be fully explored. Hence, this research deems it fit to explore how Achebe mirrors the Igbo society in these stories through the individual, social and religious factors that give these stories shapes and meanings.

 

  • Objectives of the Study

By the end of this research, the following objectives would have been achieved/ attained.

  • The Igbo cosmology as related to Chinua Achebe’s short stories would have been effectively discussed and analyzed.
  • A comprehensive analysis of the Igbo worldview in relation to the short stories in discourse would have been done.
  • The concept, content, and aesthetics of the stories in relation to the Igbo culture would have been identified and analyzed.
  • The essence of projecting the people’s culture through creative art work would have been sufficiently treated.

 

  • Significance of the Study

As pointed out earlier, one can argue that Achebe’s short stories have received a handful of criticisms. It can equally be argued that those studies are not quite concerned with viewing these stories as tools that reveal the mores of the people. By attempting to critique each of these stories as objects that portray the Igbo worldview, this study has tremendous contributions on the study of Igbo people and culture in Literature and as well formulate a new dimension of viewing Achebe’s stories. On the other hand, it suggests novel ways of approaching Igbo philosophy. Again, the study will be of immense importance to future scholars and researchers on Igbo worldview. This study will also serve as a template to understanding the relationship of the Igbo ethnic nationality with other groups in Nigeria and will educate and re-educate readers on some of the ideals, values and ethos of the Igbo and rekindle interest in the study of culture and tradition in Literature.

 

  • Scope of the Study

The study of Achebe’s short stories as a periscope to Igbo worldview is delimited in the following areas:

  • The exploration of the mores that shape the Igbo world as portrayed by Achebe in his short stories.
  • It covers all of Achebe’s short stories in Girls at War and Other Stories (1977).
  • The short stories will be analyzed and identified according to Igbo worldview.
  • The analysis will be seen as a searchlight on the Igbo concept of existence and the spiritual.

 

1.6 Limitation of the Study

This study is limited to Achebe’s short stories in Girls at War and Other Stories (1977) and does not touch every aspect of Igbo worldview due to paucity of written works and information on some specific aspects of Igbo worldview which cannot be explained by an ordinary person. Secondly, limited time factor has made it impossible for this study to delve in detail into every aspect of Igbo worldview mentioned in this work. Again, the researcher not being a native speaker of Igbo and one not well grounded in every aspect of Igbo culture makes the process of collecting and understanding data somehow limited. However, these do not undermine the effectiveness and authenticity of this work.

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