From Colonial Disruption to Diasporic Entanglements : Narrations of Igbo Identities in the Novels of Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chris Abani

Abstract: With a general interest in Igbo identities, this study critically explores a set of questions which relate to the production, evolution and potential of ‘Igboness’ in literary fiction. The study approaches these questions while relying on two premises. First, it understands ‘Igbo identity’ as a highly transformative and heterogeneous category that exists in the plural. Secondly, it defines narratives as significant elements in (re)shaping and illuminating the meaning of Igbo identities. Therefore, the author of this study approaches Igbo identity as a construct created in narrative discourse and contends that to consider the question of what Igbo identity means is almost inevitably to consider what it means to write Igbo identity. While narrative construction of Igbo identities can be investigated in a wide range of texts, the present study limits its focus to Nigerian Anglophone novelistic writing and the select novels by Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chris Abani.The overarching goal in the study is to bring narratologically informed readings to postcolonial literary studies, in a way which illuminates the dynamic between narrative form, socio-historical context and ideological content. Reading literary representations of Igbo identities from a postcolonial narratological perspective has a two-fold potential. First, it helps to understand how notions of Igbo identity result from the ways in which narrative forms reflect and refract the influences from the embedding contexts, on the one hand, and how they actively shape ideologies of the text, on the other. Secondly, the exploration of the relation between postcolonial poetics and the sociocultural, and thus the ideological in the text helps to bridge the gap between narratology and postcolonial literary criticism, in a way which provides evidence for narrative forms as variables sensitive to cultural and historical difference. While meeting these two aims, the study defines a notion of postcolonial poetics as poetics that brings together structures of narrative and an acute historical sensibility, and thus seeks to overcome the schism between reading African novels either as sociological accounts with little use of fictionalisation or as purely decorative and apolitical forms.To achieve the above stated goals, the study focuses on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964); Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Americanah (2013); and Chris Abani’s GraceLand (2004) and The Virgin of Flames (2007). The literary analyses in this study thus range from the explorations of early postcolonial literary responses to colonial Orientalist discourses in the form of positive nativism; contemporary representations of Igbo identities as responses to a sense of ambiguity about the nation and an increasing imperative to question totalising discourses on tradition in post-independence Nigeria; to contemporary novels that examine Igbo identities from a transnational angle, in a way that destabilises colonial discourses of exotic and knowable African as well as early postcolonial discourses of reliable African identity. The analyses of these novels ultimately show how formal presentation of Igbo identities in fiction has never been far removed from wider questions of inequality in representation, social inclusion and exclusion, and domination and resistance.