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Friday, August 19, 2011

Bordering Stereotype from African Fiction: Honesty

On this subject alone, the board of views is so crammed with analyses that make it some disgust to reasoning. What is Stereotype? Why Stereotype? What platitudes come with Stereotype? These questions have always torn horns when minds are to give bases. There have been rants, gabbles, babbles, swipes and spites; all trailing what should be and not to be in this same 'stereotype'. Sometimes, I bitterly wondered if what we make as assertions in judging 'stereotype' wouldn't after all be as stereotypic as what they tend to analyze.

A friend has written his own side on this, merging rich references with apt allusions. Your views may run quite opposite to his, but what you wouldn't dismiss hurriedly is his proper presentation of points so vivid. Enjoy this guest post by Oyebanji Ayo.



People have spoken a lot – consciously and most times, unconsciously about this subject. That is why many literary enthusiasts, when the slightest opportunity avails itself, ask why fictional works of African origin have refused to renounce their 'age-long' friendship with 'already dry and pen-sucked' subjects in this age of facebook and twitter.

Since critics have come out to 'attack' reputable writers like Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo and the like on the recurrence of thematic pre-occupation in their works. These critics have resorted to Conan Doyle's quote – "mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself…" and therefore term the works of these authors as the manifestation of mediocrity or 'literary rigmaroling'. This is why the honesty of works which have the elements of "stereotype" is always questioned.

On the other hand, some other critics have come to appreciate the so-called stereotypes because of the factual and historical content they have. It is important to point it out at this point that factions or work of fiction that have elements of history are guilty of bringing this subject up for discussion or argument most times.

Let's get things straight here. If some unquestionable force has not come up with another meaning for the word "stereotype", something is wrong. Stereotype used to mean something which is fixed in form; used and repeated without thought or change. If it still does, the words "form" and "change" should be noted.

Below are some of the cogent points with which this subject can be examined:

·         Literature and History

·         Something New; Not Literary Puritanism

·         Emphasis

·         The Society: Literature's Brooding Mother


Literature and History

One feature that stands out among the many Literature has is Verisimilitude. Literature irrespective of the genre draws from everything that happens in the real world. Akeem Lasisi despite that the fact he discusses the route to matrimony and the feminine mind as his subject (in his anthology of poetry, 'Night of my Flight'), he still imbibes elements of history in poems like "Gani Fawehinmi", "Kudi Abiola", "Ajibola Ige!" and the like.

Odia Ofeimun in "Go Tell the Generals" explores from the perspective of history the rule of the military Junta in Nigeria. Play texts like "Trials of Zedan Kimathi", "Fate of a Cockroach" and "Ovoramwen Nogbaisi" all of African origin made history their reference points. Thus, what should make prose (fiction in particular) not to draw from history which is a fertile land for literary resources?

The hunch that has suddenly appeared on the back of the act of concocting elements of fiction with history is Criticism.

Factions or historical fictions suffer a lot of criticism on being stereotypic. The notion that all historical works are works with the subjects that have been explored completely and therefore should be dumped for some other subjects is wrong.

What matters or counts here is not the subject! What then is it? STYLE.

Adichie has told her story about the 1967 Nigeria Civil War, likewise Akachi Ezeigbo in "Roses and Bullets". Let's give room for some comparison. Did they explore to the same depth or in the same way this thematic preoccupation? These authors have come out with the same outputs. Readers of the recently mentioned are subjected to experiencing works of different styles and modes of narration. Creativity is highly exalted in Literature and neither of these works fall short of it.

Moreover, there is no world as full and free as that of Literature. It is for this reason that a writer may decide to make all his or her works revolve round the same subject or decide to pick from different or diverse spheres of existence.

To cap it on "Literature and History", let's note that with no "Weep not Child", "Things Fall Apart", "Purple Hibiscus" and the rest, how does the African youthful mind see the route that has led to the present or read the map that reveals the future? Remember, Literature can build as well as murder. When it becomes silent on history or fails to appreciate what is now called "Stereotype", it clinches the latter attribute.


Something New; Not Literary Puritanism

Literature is fast becoming the Plymouth and Boston of this contemporary world and the protestant are…

Critics! One thing they should stand for is not what most of them stand for. Using the words of Brutus, a Shakespearean character, they are meant to be "purgers" and not "murderers".

In the course of "purging" or criticizing, critics tend to be extra-ordinarily fastidious. They therefore fail to look at the profundity of some of their arguments.

Really, new things need to spring up from African fiction but should we make ourselves blind to what needs to be emphasized the more in our Literature? In an Africa where corruption thrives like evil in the darkness, shouldn't the writers of this generation explore the theme in their works?



In poetry, when a word or line keeps recurring, an effect is being created – EMPHASIS. That Lola Shoneyin makes "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives" a feminist novel just as Buchi Emecheta's "Joys of Motherhood" is for one reason. The Africa that existed decades ago has not changed in any way…


The Society: Literature's Brooding Mother

Literature experiences transformation only if the society embraces transformation. Then why should "stereotype" be a thing of the past when it is as appreciated as it is appalling in Africa? When America Literature is taken as a case study, it becomes overt how the society can influence its Literature. The gods of metamorphosis which the American society appeased brought or resulted in the Literature of colonial America, Literature of Reason and Revolution, Literature of Romanticism, Realism and that of the 21st century which are the different ages in American Literature.


Whenever this subject crops up, one's tent is better pitched on a wall higher than Jericho's.


© Oyebanji Ayo.

He could be reached via


  1. Nice arguments, I agree with most of his points.

  2. I always find that critics - who attack others or constantly find faults - are usually people who have failed to reach the pinnacle of their chosen profession i.e. an movie critic is often a failed scriptwriter and a literary critic often a failed author.
    Just my opinion

  3. @Myne. I quite agree with almost all his points, though some run contrary to my opinions. Thanks for saying something.

    @N.I.L. Yeah, you may be right on some levels. But when it comes to intellectual balancing, that view wouldn't be subscribed to by many. That may include me sometimes....
    The matter is just too controversial that one can easily be interlocked in webs of endless arguments. Thanks for contributing.


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