Chinua Achebe: Style, Themes, Legacy


The literary world has been spiced with varieties of writers who have come up with a myriad of styles in their works. One such writer is the Nigerian-born Chinua Achebe who not only manages to intertwine the old cherished traditions with the emerging Christian ethics but also wove the literary devices like themes and styles to bring out meaning in a more humorous and also entertaining manner. He has written several books which come in form of novels as well as short stories which have all given meaning and added flavor to African Literature.

Literary Aspects

In investigating the literary aspects and the influence of current literature which has been as a result of veteran writers, it is imperative to have a critical look and study of such legendary figures like Chinua Achebe. There is a lot that has been borrowed from his cultural writings and which significantly influence contemporary literature works. For example, the way Achebe utilizes stylistic devices in his anthologies and book novel collections is quite conspicuous and therefore easy to relate with.

Most of Chinua Achebe’s writings depict a very strong disparity between highly valued cultural practices and Christian values which were quickly infiltrating into Nigerian culture as a result of missionary activities. Consequently, these influences made a remarkable transformation in the life of Chinua Achebe even as he grew up as a child. Moreover, the practice of storytelling was deeply entrenched into the Nigerian Igbo culture and it formed part and parcel of daily living. Chinua was also fascinated by the regular village events which brought the community and this liking definitely molded a talent of rich African tradition in him which was later evident in his several literary works (Laurence 2001).


The main style of narrative rendition used by Chinua Achebe is that which takes the shape of an oral tradition. He is specifically dominant in this mode of literary submission having grown in a traditional cultural background and learned a lot to do with the Igbo people of Nigeria. Although he enrolled in St. Phillip’s Central School in the mid of 1930s where his performance in class was noted with satisfaction, Achebe primarily builds his works of literature from a community he knows very well from his childhood.

This is a similar approach followed by other contemporary African writers who have come to acknowledge the importance of deliberating on local cultural issues rather than highlighting matters which do not directly affect the community. He was particularly superb in handwriting classes. Additionally, his reading skills were excellent. Throughout his educational life, Achebe produced sterling performance especially in works of literature and it was from this backdrop that he managed to deliver the best in literature work through short stories and novels (Allen, 2010).

The use of proverbs as stylistic devices has also been a key area in African literature. Most of Achebe’s literary works are laced with local proverbs which have greatly been emulated in the writing of contemporary literature. At one while he was through with his university education, Achebe began to write a novel that was to be based on fictional work. This was indeed going to be a litmus test for him because not much had been written in English by that time and hence he had little to borrow from.

Nevertheless, he worked extremely smart to produce a novel that would not only reflect the traditional Nigerian life, but also a unique masterpiece with its own style. When Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to Nigeria in the mid-1950s, several elements of politics and imperial domination were highlighted and it created a firm base through which Chinua would address his forthcoming works of literature. Nearly the same period of time when the Queen of England visited Nigeria, Chinua Achebe was invited to Britain by the then-popular British Broadcasting Corporation (Innes, 1990).

He was to attend a training session for some time before coming back to Nigeria. This was a turning point for Achebe bearing in mind that he was going to expand his skills and competence, an opportunity that enabled him to widen the content of the novel in which he was already working.

On the other hand, though, the use of proverbs by Chinua Achebe does not embrace the totality of the traditional life of the Igbo people. Both public performance and thoughts which are generated out of philosophical ideas are strong points in his work. This is similar to the contemporary literature works which have been modified to entail not just the basic literature content but also lively content which may at times be made great by including real thinking and philosophical ideologies.

For example, the masterpiece writing of Chinua Achebe like Things Fall Apart is a vivid example of the direction taken by modern literature in which issues are not entirely deliberated upon on the surface. There are several aspects that are discussed with their meanings below the surface. For instance, the completion of the novel Things Fall Apart was the main task Achebe had immediately after he returned to Nigeria. He improved the novel in a variety of ways ranging from the length of the chapters and prose development which fulfilled both the desired style and theme (Allen, 2010).

Application of English

Although Achebe initially embraced writing in local dialects, he eventually preferred the application of the English language in relaying his literary works. This has been the case in the contemporary literary world whereby most authors are using foreign languages.

Before the close of 1957, Things Fall Apart was ready for publishing. By 1958, this novel was already out courtesy of the Heinemann publishers. The book was positively accepted by the wider literary crew and several positive comments were posted on the novel. However, the book was received by mixed reactions back home. The promotion of the novel was greeted with doubt and ridicule.

However, there were those who were very supportive and thought that the book reflected the reality of the traditional Igbo traditional life. Moreover, positive comments mentioned of the well organized plot and character utilization there by an everlasting memory in the mind of a reader. The novel focuses on the life of a character called Okonkwo who is not at peace with the intrigues of his father. The entry of Christian missionaries and the ensuing conflict between traditional and Christian values are also addressed in the novel.

Achebe manages to draw a vivid picture of the Igbo tradition and how transition from this long held culture to modern Christian civilization proves to be tussle between the two parties (Yale University, 2010). The African Literature has been made proud by “Things Fall Apart” because the content of the novel does not only depict an isolated encounter of the Igbo traditional life in this West African country but it also paints a picture of the entire continent and its people.


One of the key messages or theme developments in Chinua Achebe’s writings is the cultural identity of the Igbo people who seem to represent the rest of the population. Indigenous way of living is depicted in a variety of ways attempting to highlight how important or influential this traditional life is. After the publication of “Things Fall Apart”, Chinua Achebe enjoyed yet another literary recognition when he was mandated with the task of overseeing network operations courtesy of the NBS.

This book novel clearly brought out the theme of culture as practiced by the Igbo people. Even among contemporary western writers, the cultural aspect of a community or society is paramount. His second book entitled, No Longer at Ease is focusing on a public officer who is entangled in corrupt deals in a Nigerian capital city. Obi is the key character in the novel. Achebe writes on the challenges which are being experienced towards the attainment of independence in Nigeria. Obi, the protagonist is intertwined within his family, the community and the wider society. These challenges take him overboard and he finds himself unable to cope.

As a result, he engages in robbery and the long hand of the law catches up with him which culminates to prison sentence. This novel traces the contemporary Nigerian life which has just transformed itself from a traditional set up due to emerging and inevitable changes. The Rockefeller Fellowship which was awarded to Achebe marked yet another turning point in his career. He was to travel far and wide and his first destination was East Africa. One of the magnificent findings as he was traveling was the growth and development of Swahili language. He was categorically amazed by the fact that this language was gaining prominence by the day and it was even being used in radio broadcast.

Another superb writing by Achebe is Arrow of God an d which marked his third novel. Similar to the earlier writings, the novel dissects the emerging differences between the traditional Igbo life in Nigeria and the values being put forward by Christian ethics. The village of Umuaro is the centre of the scene. As the British encroaches the village, the chief priest of Ulu is duly terrified by this action and he is left wondering how the British men are that powerful. In the quest of understanding these foreigners better, the chief commands his son to study the secret behind their power. This tragedy emerging from the British imperialism does not spare Ezeulu who is the supreme chief. He is overwhelmed and eventually consumed (Innes, 1990).

One of the areas of conflicts in Achebe’s literary works is the differing Igbo tradition to the emerging modern civilization which is finding its way through the process of colonization (Laurence, 2001). This is true of mankind when he attempts to oppose change which is inevitable. Such levels of conflicts are dominant in contemporary writings. Before writing this novel, Achebe had already preconceived some ideas drawn from the imperialistic activities of the British men who had at one time used a District Commissioner to jail a Chief Priest. He further gained more experience from the archaeological artifacts which had been dug out from one of the Igbo villages.

In his discovery, he was baffled by the cultural complexity of these Igbo remains. These events gave him the inspiration to start writing “The Arrow of God”. Similar to his previous literary works, “The Arrow of God” was received with a profound mixed of reactions ranging from skeptical criticisms to magnificent rounds of applause. In order to strengthen certain structural elements in the book, a revised version was later published to incorporate certain important additions in terms of book structure.

On the same note, Achebe received an overwhelming positive comment from John Updike who affirmed that those who gave negative criticism to “The Arrow of God” had failed in their mission since book was a great admiration beyond Nigerian borders. He further added that Achebe had managed to bring onto the surface what many western writers had failed through his incisive story telling approach as depicted in “The Arrow of God”.

In his response, Achebe confirmed that it was not possible to attain a heroic status in African literature bearing in mind that it relied heavily on the contribution of the community which manages to introduce characters who play different roles in the development of the story (Laurence, 2001).In 1966, Achebe awoke the literary world with the publication of “A man of the people”.

This novel is giving a direct highlight on the state of a certain African state which has just attained independence and now the leadership is under the local rulers. It is a form of terse satire in which a character named Odili who is a teacher by profession strongly disagrees with a bid of as certain Culture Minister who is keen in maintaining his parliamentary seat. The minister is said to duly corrupt in government and this character has made him become unpopular among his constituents. When a copy of this novel was read by John Clerk, the latter was surprised at the predictive nature of the entire story because it addressed all the political events which have pre-occupied some African nations soon after independence.

Clerk confirmed that the events in the book represented a harsh reality of African governments which are usually marred with corruption at the expense of the common man who has to dig deeper into the pocket to make ends meet. It was only a coup which had not happened as per the flow of this book. Nevertheless, Chkwuma Kaduma later took control of Northern Nigeria which was part of a wider plan to overthrow the government. Several people were massacred in this coup attempt only to rubberstamp the theme depicted in the novel. This military event landed Achebe into trouble because they suspecting that he had a prior knowledge of the overthrow attempt by the Army General.

When he got wound of the news that the military were after him, Achebe and his family had to take refuge to the eastern part of the country where military turbulence had not infiltrated much. Amid these tribulations, Achebe and some of his friends decided to increase the number of the books under circulation so that upcoming readers could also have the opportunity to study the literature (Achebe, 2010). In order to achieve this, they established Citadel Press. this publishing house would not only increase the number of copies in circulation but also improve on their qualities through subsequent editions. They started by striking the readership market with “How the Dog was domesticated” story.

This was a rewritten version which underpinned the political mess of his country. Just like the previous publications, the revised editions sent both literary and political shocks to the target audience. One such feedback came from an Intelligence Officer working in Nigeria who asserted that the revised edition of “How the Dog was domesticated” was the most significant piece from Biafra.

After the end of the civil war which rocked the Biafra state, Achebe found himself back in the literary circles when he played an instrumental role which led to the inception of some magazines which were published both in English and the local dialects.


In revisiting the Conrad work, it is important to note that much of the criticisms brought about by Achebe’s contributed to this production. Finally, when Achebe returned to his motherland in 1976, there were three key objectives he wanted to meet. To begin with, he wanted to accomplish the wring of a book which he had already begun. This was specifically important to him because he was inching closer to his retirement and it could be a great disappointment should he have failed to complete it.

Additionally, Achebe wanted to revise the local publication Okike. This would go along way in extending his research on the culture of the native people called Igbo. His criticism would go beyond European audience as he had promised. When he was interviewed in 1976, Achebe was very critical of the so called intellects in his country that had separated themselves from the required intellect in pursuit of myopic goals.

These Nigerian intellects, according to Achebe, were only after their status in society as well as the potential to feed their stomach. These intellects are further a disgrace because should anything wrong happen around them, they will not take any action in fear of losing their positions.

In 1979, he received an NNM award which was one of its own kind since it had not been awarded to any other outstanding personality in the history of Nigeria. The “Anthills of the Savannah” marked another literary turning point for Achebe when it was published and released in 1987 (Achebe, 2010). The novel focused on a military attempt to overthrow a government. Although the story was purely fiction, the content and development of the plot augured so well with the real happenings in post independent era in Africa where neocolonialism coupled with hunger for power dominated political leadership in every respect (Allen, 2010).

The “Financial Times” applauded the theme of the book observing that the writer had managed to skillfully incorporate different styles ranging from mythical traditions to contemporary aspects of political administration. The “Financial Times” also noted the book as exciting and loaded with necessary details which would change the perception of the western world towards Africa. Moreover, an opinion vote conducted by the “West Africa” magazine hinted that the novel was a masterpiece which needed to be recognized through a momentous prize.


Finally, Achebe’s fictional writings have one thing in common: They rely mainly on the exploitation of oral tradition which is the main rendition mode to his messages. Right from the mythical and legendary aspects of the Igbo people of Nigeria, Achebe draws the attention of his readership with well woven folk tales which he uses to shed light on both the traditional and contemporary societal values.

The capture point in his submissions takes the shape of story telling but which at the same time are deep in both content and meaning. Further, the short stories written by Achebe are less studied compared to the long narratives in form of novels. Interestingly, he does not put much weight on them as his major literary works although the anthologies too are rich in content in spite of their spatial and cultural variations.


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Allen L, (2010). Book Review: Dreams in Time of War/ The Education Of A British- Protected Child: Two voices that shout of Africa.

Innes, C. L (1990). Chinua Achebe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Laurence, M (2001). Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists, 1952-1966. Alberta: University of Alberta Press Yale University: Chinua Achebe, Author of ‘Things Fall Apart,’ Will Deliver Chubb Lecture at Yale.

(2010). M2 Presswire. ProQuest Newsstand.