Setting and Context in Works by Achebe, Saro-Wiwa, Ayoda, and Emecheta

G. Elissa Popoff, '99.5, Brown University English 27

Although Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Ken Saro-Wiwa's "Robert and the Dog," Awuor Ayoda's "Workday," and Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl share a certain socioeconomic context, their historical contexts or settings differ. The Slave Girl takes place in the first part of the twentieth century, a setting which serves to sharpen its condemnations since in that period the abuses it describes are popularly supposed in the West to have been eradicated or at least alleviated. Both "Workday" and "Robert and the Dog" are set in unspecified contemporary times. Anthills of the Savannah occurs in the Kangan Republic in the 1980s, the exact date again unspecified. These floating contemporary times insert a certain urgency to the latter three works, emphasizing that the problems detailed therein are current and ongoing, requiring immediate redress. This undated quality in their settings thus prods the reader, perhaps succeeding in shifting the reader from complacency or apathy to action-- a miniature epiphany of sorts by means of a narrative technique.

Besides diverse historical and cultural contexts, these works also have different religious contexts. However, in their diversity striking similarity once again appears. Economic motivations repeatedly seem to outweigh religious or moral ones, despite the admitted variance in religious context. Ma Palarda shepherds her slaves to church not for the supposed benefit to their souls but rather to display her wealth. Beatrice disrespectfully disregards her humble employee Agatha's vehement Christianity and feelings. Both "Workday" and "Robert and the Dog" make no significant mention of religion; their protagonists are preoccupied with obtaining the wherewithal for daily existence. Religion seems luxurious, requiring time, effort, and money that few of the characters belonging to the poor underclass can spare, a notion intended to galvanize the reader into a fuller realization of the dire circumstances of the poor.

Postcolonial Web Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV Anthills OV Emecheta OV Awuor Ayoda OV