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REALIST APPRAISAL OF CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S HALF OF A YELLOW SUN AND ELECHI AMADI’S SUNSET IN BIAFRA

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1.1 Background to the Study

English literature as we know it today has passed through series of historical epochs which have in turn conditioned and defined the nature of literature that is produced at any given point in time. “A good novelist observes his society, incidents and situations around him very closely and based on his observation, he creates his own story… creative writing is a form of self expression. The writer can get his germinal idea from an incident and develops (sic) it into a story” (NOUN, 59). It is based on this that it is possible to use the general characteristic of the incidents captured in the creative works of a given era to define the period in question.

During the medieval period when English history and literature commenced, the literature was essentially oral. This type of literature according to NOUN “…is spoken imaginative communication that is not written but transmitted through the word of mouth for entertainment and sometimes edification of the audience… preserved and transmitted from one generation to the other in that form” (17). This was one feature of medieval English literature. But aside from being oral, the literature was dominated by the church to the extent that all creativity was tailored at promoting Christianity. Preoccupations other than this were frowned upon as vanity. According to Shmoop (paragraph, 3), medieval English literature refers to works that were produced in England from about the fall of the Roman Empire to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. So we are talking of the end of the classical period, when people flitted around in togas, to the renaissance, when women flitted around in cumbersome Elizabethan attire and manly men wore tights (Shmpoo, paragraph, 3).

From the medieval era and its oral literature there was largely religiously inclined, English literature moved into the renaissance era simply defined as rebirth of classical culture. This was when writers of the era were researching into ancient Greek and Roman culture and bringing them back to life through their works. Works of scholars like Plato and Aristotle were unearthed from classical traditions and given prominence. That is why writers of the Renaissance Era like Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and John Denne came to prominence for tailoring their works to classical traditions. Put roughly from the 14th to 17th centuries, the literature characterising this era also known as Elizabethan era is referred to as renaissance literature whose main feature is the reintroduction of the literary principles of the classical era.

The upheavals that characterised the renaissance particularly the civil wars that finally culminated in the restoration of the King Charles II on May 8, 1660 as King of England, Scotland and Ireland led to yet another literary era known as the Romantic Era. Romanticism is described as literature taking place roughly between 1770 and 1848. It was the revolt of the senses or passions against the intellect and the individual against the consensus. It began as a revolt against established views, but eventually became the established outlook (Merriam Webster, paragraph 1). Among the features of romanticism were interest in the common man and childhood, strong senses of emotions and feelings, awe of nature, celebration of the individual and importance of imagination (Merriam Webster, para.2). These were all reflected in the literary creativity of the period.

Coming at the heels of the Romantic Age was the Victorian Age during which realism as a form of literary expression was born. The movement roughly comprises the years from 1830 to 1900 the name given to the period is from the royal matriarch of England, Queen Victoria, who sat on the throne from 1837 to 1901. One has difficulty determining with any accuracy where the Romantic Movement of the earlier 19th century left off and the Victorian Period began because these traditions have so many aspects in common. Likewise, identifying the point where Victorianism gave way completely to modernism is no easy task. The Victorian writers exhibited some well established habits from the previous era, while at the same time pushing arts and letters in new and interesting directions. It is these new and interesting dimensions of the realist tradition that this study investigates using the selected texts.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

As indicated in the above background, literary creativity usually conforms to the tradition of the era in which it is created. Haven traced the development of these literary traditions up to the Victorian Age when realist creativity held sway does not imply that other literary traditions did not evolve thereafter. For instance, the Modernist Era came right on the heels of realism and thereafter other eras such as post modernism, cultural studies and so followed.

The question this research seeks to answer however is whether or not literature has ceased to be presented in the realist mode with the passage of the Victorian Age. If it is discovered that literary creativity has not ceased to be cast in the realist mode despite the fact that realism is no longer trending, the research work shall attempt to find out the circumstances that have made it possible for the sustenance of the realist tenets in the selected novels long after the departure of the Victorian Age.

1.3 Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research is to investigate the selected novels based on the realist style of writing. To bring out realist aesthetics in the selected novels and to find out, to what extent realist writing is manifested in the novels. Also, to see whether, these novels imbibed the practice of the earlier eras.

The first objective of doing the above is to show that indeed literature is not created in a vacuum but on the contrary, it is the product of a people living in space and time with experience similar to normal human experiences.

Secondly, the researcher, by investigating the selected works for tenets of the Victorian Age exemplified in all realist literature, hopes to show that literature is alive. And since it is alive, the principle used for its evaluation also cannot be dead and forgotten. The research shall show that even today or in contemporary society, situations may exist that would warrant the adoption of earlier forms of critical standards.

Finally, by studying the realist dispositions of the selected novels, the research work shall endeavour to review the benefits of literature written in the realist mode. By so doing, the researcher believes that the message of the selected novels shall be more easily discernable by readers of the novels.

1.4 Significance to the Study

This research work is significant first because it shall open the eyes of scholars to the fact that even literary traditions of old can be relevant in the critical appraisal of contemporary creative works. This realisation shall open the scholarly spectrum and lead to more adventures into older literary traditions that are still relevant.

Moreover, the research shall reveal that the conditions of man have largely being similar with only minor modifications since the beginning of civilisation. It will do this by making clear the fact that the conditions that led to the evaluation of realist literature during the Victorian Age must have prevailed even in contemporary periods otherwise it will not be possible for contemporary works such as the selected texts to embody the hallmarks of realism.

Finally, this work is significant because it is a necessary requirement for the award of Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Federal University Dutsin-Ma.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This research focuses on bringing out the features of realist novels with emphasis on the two novels: Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra. The researcher believes that valid examples can be found in these novels which illustrate the realism of the texts. However, apart from offering excellent examples of realist literature, the selected novels both treat the Nigerian Civil war and this similarity of thematic thrust is considered of great importance. Moreover, the selection of these two texts has also been informed by the fact that although both novels have treated the same topic, they have done so from opposing points of view or perspectives. Whereas, Chimamanda appears to project the Igbo point of view, Amadi’s point of view appears to represent that of the eastern minorities who were not sympathetic to the Biafran cause. The researcher therefore believes that subjecting these opposing views to the realist appraisal will produce a more balanced conclusion.

1.6 Definition of Terms

For the purpose of proper understanding of the topic under discourse, it is proper to explain some key words used in this research, such words are: Realism, Realist, Appraisal, Literary, Criticise, Theory etc.

Realism: An artistic representation of reality as it is.

Realist: One who believes in seeing things the way they really are, as opposed to how they would like them to be.

Appraisal: A judgement of assessment of the value of something, especially a formal one.

Literary: Relating to literature. Relating to writers, or the profession of literature.

Criticise: To evaluate (something), and judge its merits and faults.

Theory: The underlying principles or methods of a given technical skill, art etc., as opposed to its practice.

1.7 Limitation of the Study

One of the basic limitations of this research is the lack of accessible hard copy materials. The school library has less on the topic of realism and other schools libraries only allow access to the books within their library confinement. However, the internet offers a plethora of works on realism as a theory and its origin, but not much the researcher could find on the application of realism to African literary works of art.

Another factor is time constraint. As a student, other academic works must be carried along side with project. The researcher is left with the challenges of time management. This implies that all the time that the researcher will use for reading will be shared appropriately in other to balance the situation.

Financial constraint is another factor that limits this research. The unavailability of hard copy materials in the school library has created the need for the researcher to travel in search for materials relevant for this research. This has actually increased the financial implication for this research to be carried out effectively. Furthermore, the need to duplicate the necessary material will add more financial burden on the researcher, been that students are limited financially.

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