Language and words in Anthills of the Savannah and Bones

Irene Tung, English 27, 1997

Language and Words are major subjects of both texts. Initially, words are gendered male and silence female. Thus, in Anthills of the Savannah, words are Ikem's tool. Marita's son and Ikem write their love-letters, while Marita, Janifa, and Beatrice only read and react. Hove emphasizes the power and permanance of language by equating it with the male sexual organ: "Words must be like that, erect like the thing of a little boy on waking up, promising the girls that when I grow up certain things will happen which are being made now" [33]. Women, on the other hand, are equated with silence, when Janifa describes Marita as "the woman whose breast was dark with many things which did not come to the lips" [103-4]. In the end of the novel, Janifa breaks the silence in her continual oral repetition of the letter for Marita, contantly renewing the spirit of empowerment Marita has passed on to her. Achebe defines Beatrice through the words and perceptions of other characters:

Chris saw the quiet demure damsel whose still waters nonetheless could conceal deep overpowering eddies of passion that always almost sucked him into fatal depths. Perhaps Ikem alone came close to sensing the village priestess who will prophesy when her divinity rides her abandoning, if need be her soup-pot on the fire, but returning again when the god departs to the domesticity of kitchen or the bargaining market-stool behind her little display of peppers and dry fish and green vegetables. He knew it better than Beatrice herself. [96]

Defined by others, as a "quiet demure damsel", Beatrice has no agency regarding her role. Achebe stresses this point when he has Ikem say to Beatrice, "I can't tell you what the new role for Woman will be. I don't know. I should never have presumed to know. You have to tell us. We never asked you before." [Anthills of the Savannah, 90] By the end of the novel, Beatrice, fulfilling Ikem's prophecy, defines her own role, by taking charge during the naming ceremony instead of waiting for Elewa's tardy uncle.

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