Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sex, Vengeance and Politics

A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe

Written shortly before a military coup in 1960's Nigeria, Achebe uses this novel to explore corruption in the government. The protagonist, Odili, has long been disillusioned with his country's government, but upon meeting a former teacher and current Minister of Culture, Nanga, Odili temporarily falls under his spell. After Nanga wrongs him, Odili once again is enraged with the current system, and becomes involved in a political group to do something about his frustration. As he runs against Nanga for his position, he once again witnesses how corrupt the government and the people in power are: they attempt to buy him off (this actually leads him to feel slightly disillusioned with his friend who took a bribe but still intended to keep running), and use other dirty tactics, even when it is clear that there is no way that Odili could possibly win.

Overall, the novel was an interesting look at corruption and the government. The Minister of Culture knows nothing about the arts and literature being produced in his own country. He uses his position to get whatever he wants. He may help some people out in the process but the amount of money he makes and his accumulation of possessions are obscene.

While women were in the novel, for the most part, they seemed to just represent sexual conquests, and had very little depth or development. Everyone is cheating on everyone. One of Odili's main motivations for becoming politically involved is Elsie, a girl he met at a party and slept with long ago, and has since stayed in touch with. He mentions briefly that she is engaged but this does not prevent him from engaging in a sexual relationship with her. While staying with Nanga, he invites her over, and Nanga ends up sleeping with her. As a result, Odili wants revenge against Nanga. While Odili is upset about Elsie sleeping with another man, he ignores the fact that he slept with another woman only a few nights previously, and really, he is the other man when it comes right down to it. Other prominent women characters include Nanga's wife and Edna*, a young woman the minister plans to marry. Nanga's wife is not excited about the prospect of a second wife but has little choice in the matter. As part of his revenge scheme, Odili also wants to seduce Edna. While Things Fall Apart was very male-centric, there were a few sympathetic woman characters. It is easy to be sympathetic towards Nanga's wife and Edna's situation but they are not nearly as fleshed out or developed in this novel. Of course, the narrative voices are different, so Odili's attitude towards women definitely needs some work. He has a genuine attraction for Edna but at first he warps his feelings with his desire to hurt Nanga.

I preferred Things Fall Apart, partially because I was rather uncomfortable and unhappy with the portrayal of women, especially in the beginning. It also was hard for me on occasion to understand the pidgen as it was called, or the slang/ lower class pronunciations of English. Language served as a marker, and indicated social circles, as people will change their accent based on who they are speaking to, and who is around. Apparently Man at Ease is actually a sequel to Things Fall Apart, so I might check that out next.

* I don't have the book near me, and it's been more than a week since I've read it so I might have the name wrong (Emma?)

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