Pride, Progress and Colonialism in "Home Sweet Home" and Anthills of the Savannah

Elora Lee Raymond '99, English 27 (1997)

In "Home Sweet Home," Ken Saro-Wiwa shows how traditional Nigerian culture engages in the oppression of women. It is a pessimistic tale about an educated Nigerian woman visiting home who finds that her best friend has been driven from the town for bearing twins. Saro-Wiwa shows that western progress is helpless or insufficient to change the living conditions for the women of Dukana in the face of provincialism and arrogance.

Saro-Wiwa juxtaposes the pride of the people in the town with descriptions of their hopelessly backward way of life. Throughout the story, the people of Dukana wish for progress because it confers status, and not because they want serious change. Duzia says, "You're going to change the lifeof the women in Dukana. But whatever you do, don't teach them to disobey their husbands." Thus Duzia displays the desire to appear progressive, or to gain the status that that adjective gives, without an understanding of what real change would entail. Saro-Wiwa gives clear descriptions of the arrogance and pride of the town, which prevent them from benefiting from western ideas and technology. The arrogance and pride of the town are not presented completely negatively. Pride and arrogance preserves the town's sense of worth, and pride in its customs and ways, which are necessary in the face of colonialism. However, how is one to balance this need against the need for a change in the status of women? Although Western technology and ideas could present solutions to many of the towns problems, how can these be accepted wholesale, without damaging the pride and self-worth that townspeople find in their community and culture?

In Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe offers solutions to this problem of the status of women in Nigerian society, and delineate how the combination,of western ideas towards women and traditional attitudes complicate the,process. Achebe deals with the problem of adopting a path for change that is uniquely Nigerian and addresses the problems posed by traditional Nigerian culture and by westernization and colonialism.

Although western culture has some things to offer to Nigeria, it is difficult to separate that offer from colonialism. However, if adopting progressive western ideas can only be done half-heartedly because progress is actually an outsider's critique of Nigerian culture and ways, and does not precisely fit the needs of the community, then how is progress to be made? Achebe believes that the solution is to draw on Nigerian myths and traditions to form a new future.By drawing power from traditional Nigerian sources, women can gain power from Nigerian culture, rather than overthrowing Nigerian culture and reinstating western ideas.

Chris's love letter describes traditional oppressive Biblical myths about woman, and traditional Nigerian myths about women. By reinterpreting Nigerian myths in ways that are woman-affirming, and contradict the harmful stereotypes of the Biblical tales, he proposes a method of resistance to oppressive structures; a method that resists oppressive aspects of Nigerian tradition in a way that is still Nigerian. Throughout the rest of the novel, Beatrice is portrayed as drawing power from these Nigerian mythical stories. The novel ends with the practice of this strategy for empowerment, as Elewa and Beatrice reclaim and change the traditional Nigerian rituals of naming a newborn child and metaphorically, claim a new future that is uniquely Nigerian while breaking from traditional Nigerian and western oppression.

Postcolonial Web Nigeria OV Saro-Wiwa OV Achebe OV Works