Modernism in Chinua Achebe’s Novels: a structuralist study of the macrotext of the recit of Chinua Achebe’s novels

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The 20th century literary scene was dominated by two types of artists — the modern and the modernist writers. While the former group had the classical notion of art and used literature as a means of improving society, the latter saw art as mainly for entertainment, and drained their works of any moral content. Indeed, the more modernist works completely rejected the notion of event and concentrated on structures and the discourse. The literary debate between the two groups has been fierce. What I have tried to do in this book is to show through the works of Chinua Achebe that the internecine feud between the two groups is unnecessary. Using Genette’s theoretical framework on the macrotext of the recit, I have demonstrated that Achebe progressively increases his use of modernist principles from his first novel to his latest. Through the study, I have demonstrated two important things: the first is that modern and modernist writings need not be mutually exclusive. Secondly, the modernist novel which has been described as subjective can also be objective. Indeed, Achebe shows that through a progressive elimination of the omniscient point of view and the use of polymodality, objectivity can be achieved in a modernist novel. The burden of this work has therefore been to situate Achebe’s (and by implication, Africa’s) prose art within the contemporary stream of world literature. By so doing, I hope I have demonstrated the lessons literary artists from elsewhere (especially the West) can learn from Africa.
A thesis presented to the Department of Languages, College of Arts and Social Sciences in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of a Master of Arts Degree in Comparative Literature, 2000