The Term Postcolonial applied to Anthills of the Savannah and A Forest of Flowers

Margaret Hander '00, English 27, Brown University, Autumn 1997

The widest definition of postcolonial fiction easily includes both Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah and Ken Saro-Wiwa's A Forest of Flowers. "Post-colonial studies are based in the 'historical fact' of European colonialism, and the diverse material effects to which this phenomenon gave rise," explains the general introduction to Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin's Post-Colonial Studies Reader: "It addresses all aspects of the colonial process from the beginning to the end of colonial contact" (2). Following this simple definition of what makes a work post-colonial, all novels we have read thus far are unquestionably so. Both Achebe's and Saro-Wiwa's novels deal with the experiences of Nigerian citizens of after the end of British colonialism. Though we cannot be completely certain Achebe means his imaginary Kangan to parallel the country of Nigeria, it at least depicts an archetypal post-colonial era African country.

Such a basic definition of the term post-colonial, however, means little. The wording of "Post-colonial" connotes a society in the process of recovery from catastrophe. It resonates similarly to "post-world-war," "post-mortem,"or "post-apocalyptic." t encourages consideration of the events and themes of a post-colonial work solely as the struggle of indigenous African peoples against the poisonous legacy of the white oppressor. Undeniably this is on one level an accurate interpretation, but a danger lies in looking no further to explain the social and personal turmoil in ex-colonized nations. The danger is that other problematic, oppressive structures may be overlooked, that responsibility may not be assigned to the actual perpetuators (or perpetrators) of society's ills, often Africans themselves´┐Żand even well-meaning, though misguided ones. Such oversight thwarts understanding of the complexities of the societies and persons depicted, and thus a basic goal of post-colonial writing, to make sense of the chaos of the societies it writes about, to identify real roots of problems, and to seek solutions, fails to be accomplished. Thus to restrict use of the term post-colonial to solely a framework for colonized-colonizer conflicts is too limiting.

Feminist scholars, especially those from post-colonial nations have long been aware of the usefulness of analyzing divers structures of oppression in post-colonial fiction. "Which is more important, the fight for female equality or the fight against Western cultural imperialism?" asks Kirsten Holst Peterson in her essay "First Things First: Problems of a Feminist Approach to African Literature." She argues that in the course of African literature's fight against cultural imperialism, "the women's issue was not only ignored -- a fate which would have allowed it to surface when the time was right -- it was conscripted in the service of dignifying the past and restoring African self-confidence . . . It would appear that in traditional wisdom behaving like a woman is to behave as an inferior being" (Ashcroft, Griffins, and Tiffin, 252-4). To address ways that authors acknowledge and seek to remedy conflicts such as this one, arising when post-colonial fiction becomes only an analysis of the indigenous vs. colonizer struggle, I shall focus on gender roles in Anthills of the Savannah and A Forest of Flowers.