This later novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) is markedly different from his most well-known work, Things Fall Apart (1958), in both form and content. The novel, set in a fictional 20th-century African country representative of Nigeria, examines the political and cultural problems plaguing a modern postcolonial society. Achebe describes “Kangan” as a nation struggling to regain political stability and to cope with increasingly complex issues of race, class, and gender after emancipation from Britain.
The events of the novel are relayed by several narrators, or “witnesses,” whose voices are often difficult to distinguish from each other. Chris Oriko, Ikem Osodi, Beatrice Okoh, and an unnamed person guide the reader through the events leading up to the latest political coup and the exiles or deaths of members of the administration. The narration begins by introducing the reader to the inner workings of the current administration, which include both Chris, the commissioner for information, and Ikem, the editor of the government- controlled newspaper, The National Gazette. The president, known as His Excellency or simply as Sam to his childhood friends, is quickly distancing himself from his cabinet and becoming increasingly dictatorial.
However, the novel focuses less on the political upheaval of this regime and more on the relationships between Chris, Ikem, and Sam, who attended Lord Lugard College together, and Beatrice, Chris’s lover. Although the central event of the story is the President’s refusal to address a lack of water in the rural area of Abazon, it is the narrators’ responses to his negligence that drive the plot. Ikem’s open criticism of the President’s handling of the situation causes Sam to demand that Chris fire Ikem. Although he has mediated between his two friends for many years, Chris refuses to participate in their present feud occurring on the national stage. Nevertheless, Ikem is indeed terminated from his position and, in his anger, delivers a lecture at the University of Bassa on propaganda and freedom. Ikem’s speech and his ties to Abazonian protestors quickly result in his murder by the regime. Chris suspects that Ikem’s death also signals a threat to his own life, and he goes into hiding, aided by Beatrice and Emmanuel, the leader of the University of Bassa Students Union.
At this point in the novel, Beatrice takes over not only as the main narrator but also as a metaphor for the past, present, and future of Kangan. Although Achebe alludes to class and gender throughout the text, he now refocuses the narration on Beatrice and her relationships with the few other women in the novel. Described by the novelist as part modern woman and part ancient priestess, Beatrice brings the book and its message of integrating old customs with new traditions to its conclusion. She coordinates Chris’s hiding places and cares for Elewa, Ikem’s pregnant widow, situations that force her to confront the class differences in Kangan society. Beatrice realizes that ordinarily she would not develop relationships with Elewa, a working-class girl, and the taxi drivers who arrange Chris’s transfer from one locale to another. Her dependence upon these people for strength and information challenges the hierarchical system of class so strongly present in Kangan society. Additionally, Beatrice grows closer to her maid, Agatha, a practicing Christian who consistently reacts to guests according to their economic class.
Amid Beatrice’s adjustments to her new support system, Chris arrives safely in Abazon and the current regime crumbles, marking Chris’s release from exile. However, within minutes of learning the news, he is fatally wounded while attempting to stop the rape of a young girl by a police sergeant. Although disheartened by Chris’s ironic death, Beatrice quickly finds solace in the birth of Ikem’s daughter and her naming ceremony. Breaking with tradition, Beatrice and the group present all name the girl instead of the father or uncle performing the rite. Ikem’s and Elewa’s daughter is named Amaechina, or “May-the-path-never-close,” a masculine name, therefore ending the narrative with an affirmation of feminine power and hope for the future of a new Kangan/Nigeria.
Erritouni, Ali. “Contradictions and Alternatives in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.” Journal of Modern Literature 29, no. 2 (2006): 50–74. Ikegami, Robin. “Knowledge and Power, the Story and the Storyteller: Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.” Modern Fiction Studies 37, no. 3 (1991): 493–507.