Chinua Achebe & His Novels: Methods and Techniques Used

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Introduction to the Author:

Ramya is a research scholar at PG & Research Department of English, National College, Trichy, Tamil Nadu.



 The voice of African literature tries to unbind Africa from its literary stereotype. Africans do not radically separate art from teaching. African writers, take their cue from oral literature, use the unique technique to help communicate important truths and information to society. Chinua Achebe, the major exponent of the modern African novel, is greatly concerned with the two realities of social man- his individuality and group identity. He is also concerned with the use of English as the medium of expression of African experience defining the relevance of colonial and post colonial experience to the present and the commitment of the writer to his society and African art which is both functional and communal. Though Achebe writes in English, he captures the cadence of the Ibo people, particularly noticeable in the book’s dialogue. In the narration, Achebe keeps it simple, directly to the point, and centred on nature. His goal is to use language to depict how the Ibo view their world. In addition to the cadence and content choice, Achebe also uses a ton of proverbs and as well as lots of tiny stories which is favourite form of African Oral tradition. This journal paper is attempted in exploring the major techniques as storytelling and native modus operandi used by Chinua Achebe in his novels.

Key words: Storytelling, Oral literature, folktales, Igbo culture




The literary works of Achebe would always have an origin of Igbo people’s oral tradition. He weaves folk tales into the structure of his anecdote, illuminating community values in both the content and the form of the storytelling, for example the tale about the Earth and Sky in Things Fall Apart (1958). According to David Carroll “the novel is narrated in the third person there is no suggestion of all-wise observer evaluating the customs and habits of this Igbo community. The voice is that of wise and sympathetic elder of the tribe who has witnessed time and time again the cycle of the seasons and the accompanying rituals in the villages”. In fact the narrator discreetly merges two voices, one of which is village-world and a further is more urbane Nigerian of 1958.Achebe, through elaborate descriptions of native rituals and customs, has depicted in the first part of Things Fall Apart (1958) the ceremony of innocence of pre-colonial Igbo society. Depicting Okonkwo as a structural device to show the people’s condition and their loss of power to struggle. The events of the novel are skilfully arranged by Achebe to bring the communal moral issues to personal confrontation. Achebe has shown his evolution from a man of action to a man of thought. Achebe’s novel is developed by exposition and not by the dramatic rendering of scenes. Achebe rarely depicts the events and shows his hero in action.

The theme of Arrow of God (1964) has elaborated the destruction of the tribal world but through a more sustained character. Achebe in alternating chapters depicts the two worlds which could never come closer. Native folk tales and legends woven into the novel do not have much relevance to the plot but create the atmosphere to strengthen traditional life. The role of Whitman in the collapse of the traditional society is conceived as much symbolically as historically. Achebe has combined the two strands of the individual and social drama into perfect unity in his novel.

Achebe has chosen a different pattern for No longer at Ease (1960). The novel opens with Obi’s trial scene in a court of law. No longer at Ease is not just about Obi’s crime, but about the reason behind it. The structure of the novel provokes the reader to analyse motives and examine every event responsible for Obi’s fall. The novel speaks of the confusion between good tradition and ugly superstitious tradition. Achebe’s describing the life in Lagos also paints a moving picture of traditional rural life suffering the bombardment of modernity. The ending of the novel is far more than a mere case study of an individual named Obi.

A man of the People (1967) is Achebe’s new commitment. The novel is about the legacy of colonialism and reflects’ the breakdown in the continuity and unity at tribal life vested in the intricate balance between the pursuit of material things and observance of religious customs and tradition. The novel is narrated from the fastidious point of view of Odili Samalu, a school teacher who intends to justify his own actions and values as he maligns the motives of Nanga, The narrator tries to analyze the events in which he is involved, as he does Josiah’s eventful career. Achebe portrays on a grand scale the infectious nature of corruption in Nigeria- in politics, in the army, in civilian life and in the whole environment- rural and urban as well. Achebe seems to be cynical about his new Nigerian society. This novel is his first attempt to completely dissociate himself from the solutions and figures he creates. He does not take sides nor does he exhibit his preferences in the novel. He is rendering and not telling, and the story is telling itself, it is dramatic telling.

In Anthills of the Savanah (1987) Achebe is unfolding developments of Nigerian history through autobiographical accounts, poems, traditional myths and legends, folk tales and lectures to document the specific social predicament in Kangan, a fictional military state in Africa closely resembling modern Nigeria. As in other novels, political theme in Anthills is rooted in postcolonial compulsions. The storyteller an old man from Abazon, at one level takes his audience into the contemporary world of African power politics and also to experience that world, both as victim and victimiser, narrating about the major characters. The signification of storytelling rather than writing is witnessed in two chapters as in chapter nine: Views of Struggle,” the old man of Abazon celebrates the act of storytelling placing it above war or history. In chapter twelve: Ikem Osodi narrates to Basa University students the same traditional story of the tortoise and the leopard to tell of the risk involved for the storytellers are threat. Achebe as the solicitous postcolonial tells through story tellers using traditional oratory skills, the story of Nigeria, its tyrannical political history and of its women in need of freedom and dignity.



One of the strong beliefs of Achebe, is that the culture can be passed to the next generation through folklores, many problems and questions of the existing generation can be answered using such folklore, consequently folklore which is an important feature of the Ibo culture, is appropriately used by Chinua Achebe in his novels. In No Longer at Ease (1964), most traditional values have disappeared but some of the proverbs that explicate moral and spiritual wisdom remain with the people. For example (1) “Wherever something stands, another thing stands beside it” (145); (2) “He who has people is richer than he who has money” (72). (3) The impatience and the foolhardiness of the Obi Okonkwo’s are compared to that of “the young antelope who danced herself lame when the main dance was yet to come” (10). In A Man of the People (1967), Achebe’s fourth novel, has a number of proverbs that clearly trace the decay of cultural values in Nigerian society. The general motto of the Achebe’s fictional leaders is, “Ours is ours but mine is mine.” Achebe’s characters make use of these myths to make their arguments strong to illustrate the moral values. The story of the little bird NZA occurs both in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. Through the folklore the fact is taught that a man should never provoke his fate. Where to draw a line of limit in his pursuit of power is to be known by his oneself. The perceptions marked are alike in the story of the bird Eneke-nti-Oba (TFA, 38) and the story of the wrestler (AOG, 26).

Achebe makes use of the didactic creatures’ tale in almost all his novels. In Things Fall Apart. The tales of the wily tortoise (38, 67) expose the wicked nature of being, and the story of the mother kite shows the folly of the people of Abame (98). Men’s and women’s stories illustrate male and female values. While Okonkwo’s stories exemplify warfare and violence in order to inculcate courage in children (TFA, 53, 37), Ekwefi’s stories of the mosquito (TFA, 53), Obiageli’s unending chain tale (AOG, 65) are expected for distraction.


Proverb is a yet another tool in the fictional art of Achebe with his delicate use of English to suit the African sensibility. Achebe (1958) also comments on the importance of the use of proverb among his people, he says” among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly and proverbs are the palm oil with which the words are eaten” furthermore, the use of proverb is inevitable because they are highly prized in the traditional African society and are used to portray certain actions or events in a picturesque manner. A unique African style of speech is witnessed in Ezeulu’s conversation to Oduche.

“I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying Ehad we known’ tomorrow.” (AOG, 45-46).

“I am sending you as my representative among these people — just to be on the safe side in case the new religion develops. One has to move with the times or else one is left behind. I have a hunch that those who fail to come to terms with the white man may well regret their lack of foresight.”


African poetry is an integral part of the life of Africans and a common heritage shared by the offspring. There is intrinsic fusion of intellect and imagination in African poetry. In communal celebrations song reaffirm the unity of the community and the importance of the individual in the collective. African traditional poetry is a collective experience initiated by one in a group and shared by the rest. Achebe has shown in the song of Ikemefuna in Igbo how playfully sentimental and superstitious Africans are. Ikemefuna sings in Things fall Apart.

Eze elina, elina!……

Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu Sala. (54)

He walks to the beat of the song. He thinks if the song ends on his right foot his mother would be alive and if it ends on the left she would be dead. The song ended on the right and he thinks his mother is alive and well.

Ikem in Anthills of the Savannah scribbles his prose-poem “Hymn to the Sun” in chapter no.3 which is recalled in the end when Chris travels to Abazon as the sight of the scorched anthills reminds Chris of the hymn prophesying of the disaster to come.

“Chi”in Igbo Cosmology

“Chi” has two distinct meanings in the Igbo language. It is translated as god, guardian angel, personal spirit, soul , spirit-dou-ble. It also means day or day-light, commonly used for twilight between day and night. ‘Chi’ is a powerful concept, elusive and enigmatic and central in Igbo religion and thought. The concept of chi is discussed at various points throughout the novel and is important to our understanding of Okonkwo as a tragic hero. The chi is an individual’s personal god, whose merit is determined by the individual’s good fortune or lack thereof. Along the lines of this interpretation, one can explain Okonkwo’s tragic fate as the result of a problematic chi—a thought that occurs to Okonkwo at several points in the novel. For the clan believes, as the narrator tells us in Chapter 14, a “man could not rise beyond the destiny of hischi.” But there is another understanding of chi that conflicts with this definition. In Chapter 4, the narrator relates, according to an Igbo proverb, that “when a man says yes his chi says yes also.” According to this understanding, individuals will their own destinies. Thus, depending upon our interpretation of chi, Okonkwo seems either more or less responsible for his own tragic death. Okonkwo himself shifts between these poles: when things are going well for him, he perceives himself as master and maker of his own destiny; when things go badly, however, he automatically disavows responsibility and asks why he should be so ill-fated. In Igbo religion there is a constant interaction between the world of the living and the dead, between the visible and invisible the material and the spiritual. ‘Chi has a special hold on the individual and this is exemplified ina proverb: “No matter how many divinities sit together to plot a man’s ruin it will come to nothing unless his”Chi” is there among them. In an interview of Achebe with Lewis Nkosi, he clarified the problem in translating the word “Chi” into English, because trying to translate a word like”Chi”always carries its own obstacle as when the word ‘personal God ‘ is uttered it is not perfect but it’s as close as Ivould get. Now I think the best translation would be ‘personal spirit’ not ‘personal God but a ‘God within’ is just trash.

Achebe in an essay on ‘Chi in Igbo Cosmology’ in Morning Yet on Creation Day has defined the idea and its centrality and the notion of duality in Igbo thought. ‘Chi’ becomes the individual’s identity and it corresponds to ‘Isha Daiva’ or the personal god in Hinduism for it is creative and has an important relationship with the individual.


As the saying goes “Old wine in a new Bottle”, the attempt is made to discuss the methods and techniques used by Chinua Achebe. With reference to all his works and the available secondary sources online and offline the article is complied. Achebe’s frequent inclusion of folk songs and descriptions of dancing in his work like; Obi, the protagonist of No Longer at Ease, is at one point met by women singing a “Song of the Heart”, which Achebe gives in both Igbo and English: “Is everyone here? / (Hele ee he ee he)” In Things Fall Apart, ceremonial dancing and the singing of folk songs reflect the realities of Igbo tradition. The elderly Uchendu, attempting to shake Okonkwo out of his self-pity, refers to a song sung after the death of a woman: “For who is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well.” This song contrasts with the “gay and rollicking tunes of evangelism” sung later by the white missionaries. Like his novels, the short stories are heavily influenced by the oral tradition. And like the folktales they follow, the stories often have morals emphasising the importance of cultural traditions.




1)Abrash.Barbara.Black African Literature in English Since 1952. New York: Johnson.1967

2)Bashier.Mubarak.”Chinua Achebe: An Individual” Sudanow,2,10,1977.256

3)Carroll,David.Chinua Achebe.London:Macmillan.1980

4)Dennis Duarden and Cosmo Pieterse.ed African writing TalkingLA collection of Radio Interview. London: Heinemann,1972

5)Wren.Robert M.Achebe’s World: The Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe. Washington,D.C.,Three Continents press 1980

6)S.A.Khayyoom. Chinua Achebe A Study of His Novels.







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