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Chinua Achebe: A Man of the People

Achebe’s themes have been about a return to or, at least, respect for traditional values and a true democracy. He has criticised the British colonisers for destroying this but here he turns on the postcolonial government, who feed freely from the public purse. Odili, the young narrator and a schoolteacher, represents the new generation while Chief Nanga, Odili’s former teacher, represents the older generation. Nanga has risen through the ranks and is now Minister of Culture. Odili is cynical about the direction of his country and keeps away from politics. He is eager to leave the country on a scholarship. When Nanga visits the school where Odili is teaching, Odili is susceptible to Nanga’s charisma, particularly when Nanga offers to help him get his scholarship. But he soon goes off Nanga, particularly when Nanga steals his girlfriend. When the government is brought down by a political scandal, Odili enters politics on the other side. However, he gets beaten up by Nanga’s thugs and Nanga and his party win the election. In the end, order breaks down completely and there is a military coup as, of course, happened in reality in Nigeria.

Achebe’s point, as in his previous novels, is very clear. What works is communal will. We see this when the community turns against the corrupt trader, Josiah. What does not work is anarchy and corruption. Abstract intellectual values and personal aggrandisement, detached from the people, are clearly not the way to go. Once again, Achebe imparts his message in a clear but well told story.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Heinemann