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"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Grad School Discussion Notes and Summary: Achebe's Man of the People

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All Things Achebe--The Complete Notes Collection

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  DISCLAIMER:  These are my notes that I created from reading the novel and from classroom discussion.  Generally speaking, the chapter by chapter summaries are my own, however, the other parts of the posts are what I hope are an amelioration of the classroom discussion. 

Man of the People Notes and Discussion from Class

            This novel takes place in 1964 examines the institutions of Nigeria.  Coming out of colonial times, the people have no sense of taxes or being taxed, especially the farmers (because the tax is just being wrapped into the purchase price).  Originally published in 1966, during which there were two coups in Nigeria.  The first coup ended the first republic.  After these two coups Achebe went to Biafra to join their independence movement.  When Biafra lost that bid, Achebe headed to the US for an extended period. 
            Without understanding that Chief Nanga is a man of the people, the story does not work. In the novel, it’s the people that drive the action.  It’s important that Nanga is the only character that talks to the people.  Odili never talks to the people in the same manner.  Even at Odili’s rally, it’s Maxwell who speaks, and he still doesn’t speak to them in the way Nanga does (paragraph’s ideas mainly attributed to prof). 

Questions and Discussion Points:
- How sympathetic is Achebe’s hero?  Achebe portrays Odili as symbolic of the next generation.  It’s important to note that Achebe writes in the first person, a departure from his previous novels. 
- How do women in this book represent society at large? 
            Edna is a pawn and passive figure—the least of the actors.
            Elsie shows a keen lack of fidelity.
            Eunice symbolizes accountability, which is what you want in a nation.
            Akilo is educated but also a prostitute.
            Mrs Nanga:what’s the deal with her Adam’s apple? 
            *In the novel, women go along with objectification.  If they symbolize society at      large, they are treated as objects that don’t care that that is the way they are            treated. 
- Where did lack of selflessness come from?  Who’s to blame for this endemic corruption?  Achebe blames it on scale of largesse—in the nation/state there’s no ownership (like that  exists at the village level).  Before independence stealing was fine because it was from the White man, but now it’s stealing from the people?
- How is religion replaced by materialism in the novel?
- Examine the inversion of education’s importance.
- Could Chief Koko’s overreaction (when he thinks that he’s been poisoned) be a dig at the alarmist nature of that region by Achebe?
- Examine how he uses different women in the novel:
- Examine the theme of infidelity among men and women.  Does this transfer to a lack of fidelity in society at large?
- Jalio is Soyinka (Sho-yeen-kah).  How does this idea fit into the novel’s meaning?  Incidentally, read some of this man’s poetry!  It’s essential.
- The novel offers Achebe’s commentary on education—they purge the western-educated ministers at the beginning and voice a disdain for their education abroad.  The action highlights this competition, as well as the inability of society to hold anyone accountable,  because they don’t understand how their country fits into the larger global context. 
Examine the roles played by fathers in the novel.

Chapter 1
Chief Nanga (Minister of Culture) comes to his hometown (village) of Anata.  He is “a man of the people.”  Background on his rise to power.  He recognizes and remembers Odili, who is a teacher in the village.  He invites him to come stay withi him in the city. The corruption and the politics are introduced.
-  would a sensible man “spit out a juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth.”
- showing tip of tongue to sky to swear oath? 

Chapter 2
Background on Odili and Else, his friend with benefits.  Also meet his friend Andrew.  Odili is firm in his aspirations and his work to keep his actions ‘clean.’  He will not stoop to cronyism to get the scholarship to London that he desires.  There is a universal disdain among politicians for education abroad, however Nanga still looks forward to his upcoming honorary law degree from a small college in US.
- Objectification and devaluation of women shown in anecdotes.

Chapter 3
Odili goes to Nanga’s and is welcomed warmly.  Background on Odili’s father, a district interpreter—a powerful and hated man with five wives and 35 children.  Odili’s mother died giving birth to him—there’s shame associated with this.  Odili and Nanga visit Chief Koko, who handles education abroad, but they don’t get a chance to discuss the scholarship. 
- After independence the value of education becomes inverted.  Proximity to power is most important. 
- Corruption feeds and multiplies bureaucracy and vice versa.
- OHMS, which the elite don’t use. (Our Home Made Stuff)
- the gap between power and previous life is so huge that it feeds corruption

Chapter 4
Mrs. Nanga gets ready to leave with the children to visit her village, which they do at least once a year.  Americans John and Jean stop by.  Jean flirts shamelessly with Nanga while her husband highbrows it with Odili.  Jean and John work in public relations for Nigeria in their efforts with the U.S.
- Good details about racism and lynching in the US to contrast with Nigeria’s problems.  

Chapter 5
Odili goes to Jean’s party and ends up sleeping with her.  He finds that he doesn’t really like her but ask to see her again.  For American, Africans are a novelty, one that they hold apart and distinct from the ‘blacks’ back home.  At the dinner party, Odili has a good time.  Nanga never ends up going because Mrs. Akilo arrives at his home—we find out later that he sleeps with her.
- Shaking the fist is a sign of great honour and respect.

Chapter 6
Odili visits Elsie and sets up a date.  He takes Nanga’s Cadillac which impresses her.  They all go together to a book exhibition to hear Nanga speak.
- Objectification of women again. 
- Jalio wrote fictional Song of the Blackbird

Chapter 7
Nanga makes a good speech and they return home.  He comments that he likes Jalio after he sees various ambassadors fawning over the author.  They eat dinner and Nanga has sex with Elsie!  Odili loses it when he hears them (she is screaming Odili’s name in a perverse twist) and leaves the house at 4AM.  He comes back in the morning and curses out Nanga and heads to Maxwell’s. 
- a dash is a small loan or bribe—this destigmatizes corruption—it’s just a small quick thing after all. 

Chapter 8
Odili plots revenge against Nanga.  Maxwell hold a meeting of the Common People’s Convention (CPC).  While the party has Communist undertones, Maxwell is quick to reject that label.  He reveals that the CPC has an inside man in the current government. 
-  All the politicians care for are women, cars, landed property.  It’s like a rap video today.  Case in point:
- some in the older generation wish the white man had never left
- “it is only when you are close to a man that you can begin to smell his breath”

Chapter 9
Odili goes back to Anata and we hear the story of Josiah, the bar-owner who took too much.  Odili visits Mrs. Nanga and gets Edna’s location and then visits her, saying that Nanga sent him to inquire after her mother (who is in the hospital).  He gives Edna a lift to the hospital on his bike but also crashes it, humorously. 
- No greater condemnation: taking things till at last the owner (the people) notice.

Chapter 10
At Christmas, details of major corruption (more than their fair share) break out in the media concerning current government.  The CPC has Odili run against Nanga.  Odili implore Edna not to marry Nanga!  Odili meets a lot of opposition in his campaign.  It’s important that he rejects Josiah’s offer of support.
- now we see a dash of a four-story home!
- we also see that the wooden masks are now a game played by drunkards and children
- we see Odili enjoying the fear in another person—enjoying power
- whereas a telegram might take 3 days to reach the country, rumour took a day or less

Chapter 11
Odili gets bodyguards as the campaign gets vicious.  Through it all, he pines for Edna (probably more than he cares about the CPC).  Nanga approaches Odili’s father and tries to buy off Odili with 250 pounds and a two year scholarship.  Odili firmly rejects this.
- “Eating the hills like yam”

Chapter 12
Maxwell arrives from the city with his CPC staff to drum up support for Odili.  Maxwell admits he took a bribe similar to the one offered to Odili, however, he insists that the bribe carries no weight and he just did it to take the money.  When Odili approaches Edna, she angrily dismisses him.  When the POP finds out that Odili’s father indirectly supported his son’s campaigning, they nearly jail him and levy convenient overdue taxes against him.  Odili’s home village loses their pipes for supporting him.  Odili writes off Edna.

Chapter 13
In disguise, Odili goes to Nanga’s campaign meeting.  Josiah sees him though and calls him out.  Odili is beaten severely, with only Edna vainly trying to help.  He wakes up in the hospital and ends up winning Edna.  A military coup occurs in the country, overthrowing the government and suddenly Max is a martyr and a hero. 
- corruption equated with “a warrior eating the reward of his courage” at throwing the white man out
- the people had nothing to do with fall of government—it was unruly mobs and private armies.
- “but in the affairs of the nation there was no owner, the laws of the village became powerless.” 
- you’ve lived a good life when someone will shoot your murderer without expecting anything in return.  



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