Black Orpheus in the underworld : the urban novels of Cyprian Ekwensi and Chinua Achebe



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Nigerian independence in 1960 marked a pivotal point not only in politics, but also in literature and thought. The changes from the colonial 1950's to the post-independence 1960's are reflected in the urban novels of authors Cyprian Ekwensi and Chinua Achebe. The pre-independence novels demonstrate a preoccupation with culture conflict and detribalization at a time when a prime concern of the urban Nigerian was learning to function in a fast-moving, morally open-ended situation for which his traditional culture had not prepared him. The novels from the 1960's concern protagonists who have already solved this conflict by synthesizing their traditional and Westernized roles into a third role: that of the urban Nigerian, at ease in both worlds. In this thesis I have traced the evolution of the Nigerian urban protagonist through five novels: Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City, Jagua Nana, and Beautiful Feathers, and Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People. I have also analyzed the artistry of the novelists, who draw on the Nigerian oral tradition as well as the Western literate tradition in the presentation of their work. Although Ekwensi's style, combining the oral tradition with elements of Hollywood and Mickey Spillane, is unforgettable, Achebe is more successful in adapting form to subject matter and therefore emerges as the superior artist.