WHAT IS LITERATURE?
Literature, as a subject, is unarguably the most important subject, after English, for art students because passing it at O-LEVEL is a prerequisite for gaining admission to study courses such as language, law and mass communication, to name a few, at tertiary level.
However, the fact that literature is crucial to students does not make it less complicated. As a matter of fact, the first problem students and others may face when dealing with literature is the difficulty in ascribing a particular definition to literature. Of course, literature does not have a specific definition. This lack of specificness may be as a result of the vastness of literature. Vastness in this scenario points out that literature is so broad that it cuts across several disciplines. Another reason for the lack of specificness towards a definition arises due to the generally accepted notion by critics that no definition of literature is completely flawless. For example, the definition which classifies literature as something that is written is often debunked because literature can also be oral. Oral literature will be defined in subsequent pages.
Nevertheless, for the sake of classroom learning, several definitions will be provided and these definitions will be critically examined for their merits and demerits.
DEFINITIONS OF LITERATURE
- Hancock’s (2006) defines literature as the body of every written work.
- Bwalya .L (2006) explains the term literature as a Latin word ‘litera’ which means “writing”.
- Stephen Chike Nnaemeka (2015) defines literature as the subject which studies life.
- Chiedozie Ude (2020) describes literature as an art form that seeks to present an accurate or idealized picture of life through creative writings, performance or the word of mouth.
CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE DEFINITIONS
The definitions given above have their merits and demerits. Hancock’s, for instance, suggests that anything that is written is literature. His definition is reinforced Bwalya, who confirms that literature has to do with writing. However, an argument against these definitions is that they do not specify which form of writing constitutes literature; rather, they postulate that everything that has been written is literature. They by extension, give people the go-ahead to brand things like mathematical figures and Roman numerals as literature.
Also, literature can exist in the oral form. To succinctly put it, oral literature is a form of literature whereby stories are told verbally. This act, otherwise known as orature, is an integral part of the term, literature. In fact, it is a well agreed notion that the oral tradition is far older than the written tradition. Hence, one can easily vilify the definitions given by Hancock and Bwalya because they restricted literature to the written tradition. In other to plaster the loopholes in the above definitions, Chiedozie depicts literature as an art that can be written, spoken or performed.
Chike’s definition points out to a different perspective. He declares that literature is a subject that studies life. This definition is universally accepted and one will not be erroneous to point out the uncanny similarity it shares with the now-cliche definition that brands literature as a mirror of life. By this, we can affirm that the ultimate aim of literature is to draw a vivid picture of life or the society and this is what Chiedozie meant when he said literature seeks to present an accurate or idealised picture of life.
Also, the relationship between literature and life is what Aristotle was trying to show in his Poetics when he explained the theory of mimesis — a theory which identifies literature as a discipline that imitates life. This also explains why many teachers are quick to define literature as the mirror of life.
WHY WE STUDY LITERATURE
Literature is studied due to a plethora of reasons. Some of these reasons are:
- Entertainment Purpose: Literature can provide entertainment for people. Comedy, for instance, often provokes laughter from the audience or reader.
- Cultural Purpose: The study of literature helps the reader to know a lot about different cultures. For example, reading books that talk about Africa will surely expose the student to the African way of life. Likewise, reading books about other places will help one to understand the manner in which the people in that location operate.
- Didactic Purpose: Didacticism is a tradition that aims to teach moral or religious lessons. While many critics are of the opinion that great literature is one which concentrates on creating beauty (aesthetics), we cannot downplay the role of literature in teaching morals to people. Therefore, we can describe any work of literature that teaches morals to be didactic in nature. Stories that can be said to be didactic include parables and fables.
KEY THINGS TO NOTE
- Literati: The term, “literati”, refers to a group of people who love literature. They are usually smart and well-read.
- Literatus: This is the singular form of literati. A literatus refers to a person who loves and enjoy reading works of literature.
- English Literature: This refers to works of literature written in Great Britain and her colonies. For examples, we have: the works of Shakespeare such as Othello, Hamlet and The Tempest; the works of Charles Dicken such as David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.
- Literature in English: This refers to works of literature from all over the world, written in languages other than English.
- Litterateur: This is a person who writes literature. You can refer to a litterateur as an author.
A BRIEF ANALYTIC REVIEW OF KUNLE AFOLAYAN’S CITATION
Sexual harassment has been a subject of discussion for many. Although in many scenarios has it been overlooked. In recent times, individuals, groups, the media, and the government, etc., have sought to tackle this negative phenomenal. It is in a bid to tackle this problem, essay will seek to expatiate on this subject, using the just-released movie by Kunle Afolayan entitled CITATION as its case study. The subject matter, theme, setting, quotations, and personal opinions will be used to give highlights and produce clarity.
Citation was released initially on the 31st October, 2020. The major character, Moremi, is a post-graduate student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun state. She is in a very sensitive state as she faces the senate in a battle against her course supervisor, Professor Lucien N’dyare whom she accuses of attempted rape.
In the happenstance of a threat of sexual harassment, Kunle Afolayan, at the beginning of the play preaches that students shouldn’t take matters into their own hands as it may cause irreplaceable damage. Rather, such cases should be reported to the authorities of the school. It can, however, be argued that students usually do not take this path due to the high level of corruption knowing that the lecturer has more influence than the student. One of the big questions viewers must have asked in the course of the movie is ‘Will justice be eventually served?’
The movie is set in Africa: Nigeria, Senegal, and Cape Verde to be precise. Verisimilitude is a prominent device used as we see the use of many languages to communicate; Yoruba, Ibibio, and French. This succors viewers to relate to the typical African society that speaks diverse languages.
Furthermore, the use of flashback is an excellent tool that is used in the action. This device aids comprehension, helping viewers to fit in loopholes. As both sides recount their sides of the story, the actual place, manner, and speech of events are revealed to viewers. Viewers can also easily depict how much of a liar the Professor is.
The theme of love has an adverse effect on the story. We see her boyfriend, Koyejo, advising her to stay away from the Professor as this closeness may give ‘green light’ to him. While she considered this jealousy and thoughtlessness on his own path, it might have saved her the stress she went through. But then, the story will probably have lost its taste and meaning. Furthermore, it is the little knowledge of taekwondo taught by Koyejo that saved her from getting raped.
More so, another worthy theme of note is friendship. Moremi had a snake in her grass all the while without knowing it. Gloria, due to her selfish interest of wanting to be with the Professor, testified against her. However, Kwesi was one who didn’t compromise his standards but stood till the end as a true friend should.
It can also be argued that Moremi wasn’t careful enough to see into the intentions of the Professor. From the questions regarding her sex life in his office, making an effort to kiss her in Cape Verde and seeking every slight opportunity to be with her was more than sufficient for her to know.
At the end of the hearing, we see the senate serving justice, like a hot plate of Senegal Jollof to the Senegalese Professor, Lucien N’dyare who was guilty as charged. The last straw was the testimonial against him by Vicente Cardosa, an office assistant who had been a victim of this same tragedy. He lost his daughter but wasn’t able to speak up as a result of poverty; a disease gradually and consistently feeding on the actions of Africans.
In retrospect, Moremi is used as a synecdoche to represent all women who have been victims of sex for grades. Her name reveals the innate power and desire to set the captives free just like her historical counterpart; The Great Moremi who helped her tribe win a battle against the Igbos. The name Moremi means Brave Goddess and it was duly depicted in the actions of the protagonist of this play. In her words “I hope my victory serves as a clarion call for change and I hope my victory gives a voice to silent girls or women in all walks of life facing sexual harassment just due to their gender”
To this end, Citation is a lesson to all; a lesson to the one with power and the one without. With this perfectly acted satire, lecturers who still indulge in this act should repent or will soon face the wrath of the law. Female students of this age are now more knowledgeable than ever before and are expected to act wisely. We say no to sex for grades, we say no to sexual harassment.
Zikora, named after its eponymous protagonist, is a short story that explores the world of women who are repeatedly mistreated by the men in their lives. Just like other short stories, Zikora possesses a compact plot that revolves around one storyline. Using the lives of her protagonist, Mmiliaku and Mama, Chimamanda Adichie affirms that the male gender is incapable of doing things right. All the aforementioned characters are victims of grave injustice in their different relationships. To simply put it, these characters are portrayed as martyrs of male nonchalance. Apart from the injustice these women face, they are all linked together by blood, and by the unquestionable and unreserved love they show for their kids.
Chimamanda Adichie, once again, explores the theme of callous males in relationships. Starting the story at its complication stage — the protagonist’s protracted labour — she paints an image of abandonment. That is, her protagonist has been left by her lover to face the most trying period of a woman’s life alone. By graphically describing the ordeals faced by the protagonist, who is yet to be named, Adichie sheds light on the plight of women in labour. To her, the pain undergone in the process of birthing a new life is unreasonable and incomparable. To make matters worse, the father of her child is nowhere to be found.
Quite stereotypically, as evident in most of her works, she represents her male characters as unfeeling, childish and entitled. These traits are evident in the lives of men such as Kwame, the protagonist’s father, Emmanuel and the basketball player. To showcase the unfeeling nature of the male specie, Adichie describes the basketball player as one who is uninterested in commitments: similar to the way that Kwame is indifferent towards Zikora when she informs him of her pregnancy. Zikora’s father is no different because he jumps at the opportunity to take in a second wife in a bid to have a male child. Emmanuel is projected as a sadist who derives pleasure in mounting his wife even when she is dry, thereby subjecting her to pain instead of sexual pleasures. Also important to note is how these men are classified as unintelligent due to their lack of knowledge on the female biological system. A textual illustration is seen where Kwame, a well-educated lawyer is depicted as showing hesitation and surprise when he was told that an influential American suggested that women should be able to hold in their menstrual discharge. All these instances are used by the author to support the unfavorable way at which she views men.
Contrary to the presentation of the male characters is the way the female characters are depicted. They are highlighted as caring, trusting and longsuffering. Mama, most prominently, is used to highlight these qualities. She is a woman who loses her husband to a second wife, yet she accept this new reality by resigning to her fate. Despite the unfortunate events in her life, she remains a doting mother to her daughter, Zikora. Mmiliaku, Zikora’s cousin, also falls into this category. She is constantly abused by her rich husband who deems it proper for her to neither work nor be friends with ladies who are single. Her acquiescence in the face of domestic abuse strengthens the theme of female subjugation. Similarly, the main protagonist is used to reinforce these characteristics. Zikora exposes her caring side by the fierce love she shows to her baby. This is exemplified through her stance against the circumcision of her son because she is aware that cutting the foreskin of a child is a painful experience. Despite Kwame’s betrayal, Zikora is trusting enough to believe that he would still change. A great question raised by the plights of these women is the recurring question: Why do women have go through these degrading acts in relationships?
By contrasting the males with their female counterparts, Adichie is able to create a chasm between reality and her fictional world. In reality, we have the good and bad in both genders; but in this story, one cannot help but notice how the bad features of men pervades its entire literariness. Are we to believe that the nature of man is to be selfish and insensitive? Are we also to believe that all women are caring and loving? While we cannot deny the act of male nonchalance in the larger world, we can at least kick against the act of misrepresentating men; that is, it is becoming quite cliche for feminist writers’ to give their male characters animalistic traits. In summary, having flat male characters is a trend that Chimamanda should seek to break. Perhaps, the mantra, “NOT ALL MEN”, should be promoted with all vigour.
In terms of the mode of narration, this book will probably stand out. The way the delivery scene is described is vivid enough for it to be pictorially registered in the minds of the readers. Adichie’s use of simple expression in place of flowery and complex ones will undoubtedly make this book more accessible to readers from all walks of life. Narration, undoubtedly, constitutes a strong point of the writer’s credentials.
Another aspect of this story that is worth attention is her plot structure. Instead of starting the story at its expository stage — the stage where we are introduced to the characters — Adichie begins at the complication stage; that is, the time where the protagonist put to bed. This way, she is able to build up suspense by making the readers wonder what must have brought the protagonist to the stage of giving birth as a single mother. To fill this vacuum, the author makes good use of the flashback technique. Through this, we are able to know the things that transpired in the past. Quite surprisingly, the story ends on a cliffhanger — there is no resolution to the conflict. The absence of a reasonable resolution opens up this story to a lot of possibilities. Will the father of the child assume responsibility or will he continue to be callous? In my opinion, the cliffhanger simply points out the fact that this vicious cycle of male nonchalance is most likely going to continue.
The book, Zikora, raises issues that are significant to the emancipation of the female gender from the shackles of the patriarchal society. However, these issues are tackled in a one-sided manner because there is no male voice of reason to complement the female voices. We are not all Eugenes or Kwames, neither are we all Obinzes who would easily leave a marriage to chase after childhood fantasies. We cannot all be animals, can we?
© Chiedozie Ude
Check out those who get at least 5 A’s in SSCE. What do you realise? They are usually science students!!
It has become quite cliche to expect good performances from science students and poor ones from their arts counterparts. In fact, it is believed that no academically-sound student should waste his intellectual prowess in arts. With this shallow belief, it comes as no surprise that most schools in Nigeria churn out below average art students every year.
As a teacher in tutorials, this trend of having less-than-stellar pupils becomes quite worrisome. Many times, I do a lot of soul searching, trying to decipher the problem. Maybe I wasn’t just good enough.
However, with the improvement I see in the students after several sessions, I realised that I may not be the problem after all. This realisation set me on a new path: one where I sought to demystify the reasons behind the academic mediocrity in arts.
Do you want to know why we have average or below average performances in arts? Read on
- The belief that educationally-challenged students belong to arts.
Sodiq Adesokan Sp Vibes has this to say:
“It is suicidal in nature to ask secondary school students that are performing below expectation to go to Arts Department. I don’t know how some teachers came up with the idea that Arts Department is meant for students with learning disorders. Do they even know that a student who is mentally lazy can’t be in Arts Department? Should we tell them how many plays, novels and poems Arts Students are compelled to read for just a subject? Or we should let them know that without an analytical mind, there can be no thorough analyses of literary texts?
Please, stop sending students who can’t read and write to Arts Department; it is suicidal.”
- The nonchalant nature of school owners. Many of them think that art subjects can be taught by anyone, so they employ every Tom, Dick and Harry to teach art-related courses.
See what Olayemi Deejaysaintq Andrew has to say:
I had to just search and comment on this post. A friend who just finished her NYSC just got a job as a private school teacher. She studied biochemistry and was drafted to teach CRK and LITERATURE to ss3 students preparing for WAEC, NECO and UTME. Isn’t that too absurd?! When she complained that she had no prior knowledge in that field, she was told to read out whatever she finds in the recommended textbooks to the students. Please how long are we going to keep lowering the standard oe education and bastardizing the arts department. Can a graduate of history or English be drafted to teach physics or chemistry?
3. The non-challant attitude of the student: Surely, this is quite glaring in every discipline. However, it is predominant in arts. A teacher once said that he could easily identify art students whenever he visited a school. He pointed out that majority of those who skip classes, those who loiter around during lecture periods, and those who were always standing in the class turn out to be in the arts. Of course, his premise is totally subjective. Nevertheless, we cannot help but agree with him to an extent.
The arts department requires analytical skills. Stop discouraging bright students from going to arts. Likewise, we need to stop the practice of sending lazy and below par students to arts. Art is not a dumping ground.