Realism in the African novel : the case of Sembene Ousmane's God's bits of wood, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's Petals of blood and Pepetela's Mayombe.
This study is an attempt to examine the use of realism in three African novels by different authors from different countries, which are set at different phases of independence. Sembene Ousmane's God's Bits of Wood, is set in Senegal and is a pre-independence novel. On the other hand, Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, is a Kenyan post-independence novel. Pepetela's Mayombe is set in Angola during the resistance struggle. What these novels share, though, is the use of realism. It is the use of realism, I argue, that enables these authors to capture the political realities of their respective countries. However, each author's employment of realism remains umque. The first chapter engages with the foundational theory of this study. Georg Lukacs' argument on realism will be the point of reference. I attempt to illustrate certain observable characteristics of realism through the examination of this argument found in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (1956). Lukacs' notions on naturalism, critical realism and socialist realism will be closely examined. But, before that discussion, I will demonstrate the importance of realism in arriving at the "novel" form, which is distinguished from previous literature (for example literature of the Middle Ages). Chapter Two establishes Ousmane's God's Bits of Wood as a socialist realist text. The possible influence of Zola' s Germinal on God's Bits of Wood is examined. The argument being that certain elements of Germinal are resonated in God's Bits of Wood, yet they each still retain their uniqueness. Zola's naturalist style is also evident in Ousmane's novel. But it is in the area of ideology that the two novels differ. God's Bits of Wood is a working class novel that successfully employs socialist realism. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Petals of Blood is the subject of the third chapter. This chapter reflects on Ngugi's use of the socialist realist principles to convey the social and political climate of post-independence Kenya. However, his formulaic use of socialist realism is questioned as it gives rise to a novel that reads as didactic. The Marxist ideology that informs this novel is altogether too obvious. The fourth chapter is an examination of Mayombe by Pepetela. This is a very significant novel in regard to Angolan history. This novel successfully deals with the complexities of the resistance movement. The employment of realism is obvious, however, the kind of realism employed is difficult to categorize. The emotional and psychological trauma of war is illuminated. Although a socialist perspective is evident, a formulaic use of socialist realism is avoided. Pepetela seems to be more interested in engaging in discussion of issues surrounding independence, such as tribalism and power hunger. It is then evident that these authors use realism to attain a simulacrum of reality. However, it is the author's specific perspective that shapes the text that is produced.