The metaphor of "Anthills of the Savannah" in Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah

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Author: Damian U. Opata
Date: Annual 2003
From: Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics(Vol. 26, Issue 1-2)
Publisher: Vishvanatha Kaviraja Institute of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,033 words

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In a recently concluded symposium on Chinua Achebe, (1) his latest novel, Anthills of the Savannah was, as was to be expected, the most highly discussed of his novels. During the discussion time that followed a panel session focused entirely on Anthills of the Savannah, one of the many vexing issues which puzzled many commentators was that of understanding what the words "anthills" and "Savannah" stood for in the novel. (2) If I remember rightly, I think that the discussants arrived at the following conclusions: that the words "anthills" and "savannah" are used in a metaphorical sense; is that "anthills" as so used means either survivors or indicators of potential regeneration, whereas "savannah" as used in the title of the novel implies a grassland but refers to an unnamed city (Nigeria?) in West Africa.

I have since reflected on these issues and it does appear to me that they are genuine and capable of further exploration. The latter is especially so because we are dealing with literary metaphors which according to Richard Boyd "display what might be termed conceptual open-endedness." (3) In exploring the issues further, I would prefer to adopt a methodological frame work in which "anthills of the savannah" is treated as a metaphorical statement rather than adopt the perspective at the Achebe symposium in which "anthills" and "savannah" were treated as separate metaphors. This preference arises from a certain perception that the title of the novel, like other of Achebe's novels, has a message to convey whose meaning cannot be fully understood solely by a simple recourse to an analysis of its major constituent parts. Two reasons support this perception. First, treating the title of the novel as a metaphorical statement would enable us to ask the questions: who are the "anthills" of the savannah? and what are the properties that characterize them as such? Second, Anthills of the Savannah is a novel that places the problem of political leadership in a historical perspective without proposing any solutions and so an understanding of the metaphor in which this is couched must be approached from the point of view of problem framing.

The history of the use of the word "anthill" in Achebe's novels dates back to Things Fall Apart where it is used just once, then about six times in Arrow of God, and about four times in Anthills of the Savannah. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe uses the word in a hyphenated form to describe Obierika's compound to be "as busy as an ant-hill." (4) In this context, the word is used as a simile but also almost as a synecdoche because the tenor which conveys the comparison is not the ant-hill. The aptness and vividness of the comparison is brought out in the fact that it is people who are busy in Obierika's compound. In all but one instance in which it is used in Arrow of God, it is used to describe Nwafor's nose. In this connection, its use simply conveys to us a...

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Source Citation
Opata, Damian U. "The metaphor of 'Anthills of the Savannah' in Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah." Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, vol. 26, no. 1-2, annual 2003, pp. 59+. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A335627884