A Little Modernism

Jason M. Smith '94 (English 32, Fall '90)

Learn to make yourself akin to people . . . But let this sympathy be not with the mind--for it is easy with the mind--but with the heart, with love towards them. (Norton Anthology II, 1988)

Although, this sentence is strikingly similar to Ikem's political commentary, "It [the cause of the unsuccessful government] is the failure of our rulers to re-establish vital links with the poor and dispossessed," Virginia Woolf, the author of the former quote, was not criticizing government, but rather commenting upon the role of the author in the modernist movement, a movement that includes Chinua Achebe. (p. 130)

Modernist writing lacks the blatant clarity and straightforwardness of preceding literature, therefore placing great demands on the audience. Despite being inundated with an abundance of description, modernist writing places equal emphasis on each detail, forcing the reader to decide the importance of the each. In a similar fashion, by shifting narrators, Achebe presents many views of characters, allowing the reader to choose the most truthful perspective. Known as stream of consciousness writing, this modernist style often also ignores strict chronology. Ideas are expressed as they flow into the mind. When offering a description of Sam, Ikem begins to discuss Mad Medico before the character has been formally introduced, an example of the non-linear narration. (p. 46)

With a major shift in the technique and point of view, chapter seven seemingly offers another beginning to the book and an additional example of non-linear narration.

For weeks and months after I had definitely taken on the challenge of bringing together as many broken pieces of this tragic history as I could lay my hands on I still could not find a way to begin. Anything I tried to put down sounded wrong--either too abrupt, too indelicate or too obvious--to my middle ear. (p. 75)

The events until this point had occurred in the present, however in this chapter the time shifts to the future and the the lives of Sam, Chris, and Ikem are remembered by Beatrice. This subtle shift is reflected by brief, off handed comments by Beatrice: "But something had happened not so long ago to change our lives and, on this particular Saturday . . ." and "that's one lesson I've learned from the still unbelievable violences we went through." (p. 76, p. 76-77) Both remarks reflect the hindsight of the narrator. Following this chapter comes a seemingly out of place chapter on myth, that is not fully explained by Achebe, offering one more example of stream of consciousness writing and non-linear narration.

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Achebe OV Anthills OV