Reading Questions for Anthills of the Savannah

Members of English 27, Brown University, 1997

See also the reading questions created by the Autumn 1997 class in this course.]

1. One of the themes which runs through this book is power vs. weakness. While reading, I found myself continually asking: who has real power and who is under the allusion that they have power? Having asked these questions, one must go further and ask: what is "real" power anyway? With these questions in mind, What is the signifigance of the passage in which the narrator recalls His Excellency's paranoia over demonstrations?

In his first days of power his constant nightmare was of the people falling into disaffection and erupting into ugly demonstrations all over the place, and he drove hmslef crazy worrying how to prevent it.....appointed him Minister of Hme Affairs. [Brandon Brown]

2. In what ways does the naming ceremony at the end of the text offer a possible answer to Beatrice's previous question, "What must a people do to appease an embittered history?" (204). [Kate Cook ]

3. "Contradictions if well understood and managed can spark off the fires of invention. Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity."(91) Does Achebe represent this statement in the character of His Excellency? How is the meaning enhanced knowing that Ikem (the poet) is the speaker? This quotation occurs in the context of Ikem's "love-letter" to women--how does this fact alter the meaning, if at all? [Erica Dillon]

4. Speaking in reference to Ikem, an elder from Abazon says "the story is chief among his fellows" because "it is only the story that outlives the sound of war and the warrior" (114). What is the role and importance of a storyteller in Achebe's novel? [Lucia Duncan]

5. What is the significance of the frequent initialization of character's names or the references to them, such as His Excellency - H.E. (p.40), John "Mad Medico" Kent -- MM (p.50) or Beatrice -- BB (p. 76), or the prevelence of acronyms such as GTC (p. 40), NTBB (p.52), or SRC (p.70)? [Jeremy Finer]

6. How does Achebe represent the effect of colonialism on his male and female characters? Are the men consumed with negotiating their power and personal prestige within a system structured after British colonial rule? Do the women articulate a critique of the men's willing cooptation? Consider Beatrice's episode with the President at the dinner party in chapter six. [Katie Finin]

7. The narrator compares the past prejudice against the black race to the present prejudice against the poor:

Isn't it a great thing about a VIP that his share of good things is always there waiting for him in abundance even while he relaxes in the coolness of home, and the poor man is out there in the sun pushing and shoving and roasting for his miserable crumbs?...And the fool who oppresses him will make a particular point of that enjoyment: You see, they are not in the least like ourselves. They don't need and can't use the luxuries that you and I must have. They have the animal capacity to endure the pain of, shall we say, domestication. The very words the white master had said in his time about the black race as a whole. Now we say about the poor (37).

Is this Chinua Achebe's voice coming through the narrator? How does the treatment of the black race compare to the treatment of the poor? How do Aké and The Slave Girl illuminate the comparison? [Laura Gelfman]

8. Does it seem from comparing Achebe's novel with the previous novels we have read that women's position has changed? [Phoebe Koch ]

9. Ikem writes scathing criticisms about the social policy of the regime, yet he never seems to take His Excellency very seriously: "In fact the sort of intellectual playfulness displayed by Sam must be less dangerous than the joyless passion for power of many African tyrants. As long as he gets good advice and does not fall too deeply under the influence of such Rasputins as Reginald Okong we may yet avoid the worst" (46). How is it that even after Ikem has been suspended, he never explicitly connects Sam to the problem of government? Is he beyond redemption? [Jennifer Gin Lee]

10. Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah has a novelistic formula which is very different from both that of Aké and The Slave Girl. Aké was first and foremost an autobiography with a very prosaic style. The Slave Girl was a work of fiction which utilized elements of fables and sorytelling. How would one characterize the construction of Anthills of the Savannah as a work of fiction? Which elements are more fantastical and which are more realistic? Is its prose more similar to that of The Slave Girl or that of Aké? [Laura Otis]


"In an Achebe novel, King notes, 'European character study is subordinated to the portrayal of communal life; European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the rhythms of traditional tribal life.'"

(quotation taken from post/achebe/achebebio.html)

Does this statement hold true for Anthills of Savannah? How does experiencing a more modern culture teach the reader about the society when compared to reading about traditional tribal life? Does the society in Achebe's novel have any of the same characteristics as the ones presented by Emecheta and Soyinka? [Neel Parekh]


We are all connected. You cannot tell the story of any of us without implicating the others.. . .The story of this country, as far as you are concerned, is the story of the three of you... We tend sometimes to forget that our story is only one of twenty million stories-- one tiny synoptic account. But that's the only one I know. (chapter 5, page 60-61)

Explore the relationship(s) between the question of storytelling as discussed above by two characters in Chapter Five, the narrative technique employed in Anthills of the Savannah and the concept of representative postcolonial literature. [Elissa Popoff ]

13. What is the significance of laughter in Anthills of the Savannah? (Follow link for passages in which laughter appears.) [Elora Raymond]

14. Why does Achebe use multiple first-person and third-person points-of-view in narrating Anthills of the Savannah? [Jason Sperber]

15. In Chapter 12, Ikem Osodi speaks before an audience at the University of Bassa. At the end of his speech, the chairman states "...that writers in the Third World context must not stop at the stage of documenting social problems but move to the higher responsibility of proferring prescriptions" (148) Ikem responds by shouting "Writers don't give prescriptions...They give headaches!" In what ways do Third World writers such as Achebe, Emecheta, and Soyinka provide "prescriptions" for the social problems of their native societies? Is it the responsibility of the Third World writer to provide "prescriptions" or is it just as powerful to provide "descriptions"? What does Ikem mean when when he says that writers "give headaches"? [Barnali Tahbildar]

16. What is the significance of Achebe's switching narrarators. Do passages like,"Chris might have added that it doesn't now apply to dirty records alone" (54) help resolve the problem we ran into earlier with politicised descriptions? How does this affect our tendency to essentialize? [