The 'Headstrong Historian: Large-scale Shifts in Nigerian History from Colonial Times to post independence.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2008 novel, the "Headstrong Historian", is a fascinating story that explores various themes about life in Nigeria post and before independence. The novel brings unto the audience the traditional lifestyle of the Nigerian people and their beliefs as well as the challenges brought about by the coming of the Europeans to their country. Moreover, it talks a great deal about the challenges faced by women in society as they try to balance life after independence with all the changes that had been introduced thereafter. These concepts are realized through the story of a woman by the name Nwamgba, who finds herself going through several challenges involving her family and the community she lives in after she converts to the Christian faith. In the novel, the main topics of focus were change and empowerment as well as grief resulting from loss both on the personal and cultural levels (Adichie, 2012).
In the novel, Adichie brings to focus the changes that occurred after the arrival of the Europeans through the tragedy of Nwamgba, whose son, Anikwanwa embraces the Christian faith that was brought by the missionaries in exchange for an education. This forces him to abandon their traditions and cultural beliefs in order to be in line with the new faith. Converting to the Christian faith puts him in conflict with his mother, Nwamgba, who sought to retain their traditions and lives according to the old ways of the community. As a result, their relationship is strained since the son would not allow her access to her grandchildren up until her death. The situation is worsened further when the son tries to convert her mother into Christianity. Having grown up and married the traditional way, Nwamgba is a strong woman that lives to see the maintenance of the traditional culture she believes in despite the pressures of change she sees all around her (Adichie, 2012).
More than the religious shifts we see in the text, the author also brings out the nature in which a woman was seen by the society and the expectations upheld about them. Nwamgba, as we see in the story is subject to a lot of suffering as she tries to maneuver her ways in a society that glorifies men over women. The woman has to struggle through challenges such as the high maternal mortality rates, birth complications as well as gender-based violence that is seen as the norm in the society in an attempt to wade through the ups and downs of life. The situation is even worse for a woman like Nwamgba, who has to raise a kid on her own after having had her husband murdered by jealous cousins. In a bizarre twist of events, the kid she struggles so much to raise ends up denying her even the chance to visit her grandchildren, and she ends up dying a desolate woman. Ironically, it is the same women in the society that are expected to preserve their culture, upholding their spiritual roots in the face of the unethical waves of change brought about by the colonial influence. Thus while others are forced to adapt to the beliefs of the white man in exchange for education and other incentives and at the expense of their own cultural practices, the woman is expected to stay strong in upholding the traditional ways of life. Thus the woman is expected to do all the hard work while the educated and converted men in the society squander away the results of this hard work giving little thought to the suffering of the women that support them through (Adichie, 2012).
Lucy (1990); Coming of age and Coming to Terms.
Jamaica Kincaid's 1990 novel, Lucy explores the changes that a young woman undergoes as she transitions from childhood to adulthood, and also as she goes from the comfort of her native home to the land she always dreamt of, America. The writer brings to focus the turmoil experienced by migrants as they strive to achieve their dreams and the disappointments that come up as a result of attaining these dreams when they get to experience the loneliness of parting with their cultures and places of birth to the unknown. After nurturing lifelong dreams and hopes of finding a change in the foreign lands, these immigrants find themselves facing a lot of challenges and discrimination in the new lands, making it hard to adapt to the life in these new places. As a result, they end up getting desolate and lost, trying hard to relieve their past as they feel like strangers in their own skin (Kincaid, 1990).
From the novel, it would seem that the main focus of the story is the theme of immigration and the challenges of coming to terms with the identity of being an immigrant in a new land. This is evident from the manner in which the author drives the plot of the story from childhood to adulthood. The cultural shock that has Lucy upon arrival to America from her native West Indies, for instance, is too much for her to handle, even though at first she enjoys all the changes as she had wished for all her life. This, however, was before she discovers the challenges of having to adapt to the new culture, as well as the treatment and discriminations that exist for these immigrants in her much-anticipated dreamland. Sample this statement for instance, "Everything I was experiencing-the ride in the elevator, being in an apartment, eating day-old food that had been stored in a refrigerator-was such a good idea that I could imagine I would grow used to it and like it very much, but at first it was all so new that I had to smile with my mouth turned down at the corners" (4). Disappointment however quickly dawned on her as her anticipation is met by less than the satisfaction she at first imagined. Thus she finds herself regularly missing her home and the things she is used to doing back there (Kincaid, 1990).
Furthermore, the uncertainty of having to live in a new environment leads to discontent between Lucy and her mother as we see in the later part of the novel. Instead, she looks up to Maria, an older woman, who ultimately shapes her life in the new environment and helps her settle down altogether. This enables her to forget about the things of her past and of her native homeland as she adopts the culture of the American people. This newfound wisdom eventually allows her to develop a strong character that enables her to tackle the challenges she initially experienced when she first moved in. As she puts it in page 118, "...what an adventure this part of my life had become, and how much I looked forward to it, because I had not known that such pleasure could exist and, what was more, be available to me". This is an indication of her getting to work around the challenges initially experienced and eventually settling into life as an immigrant in the Americas (Kincaid, 1990).
Conflict between Parents and Children in Both Novels.
Both Kincaid's 1960 novel, Lucy, and Adichie's Headstrong historian explore more or less similar topics and themes relating to immigration and changes in culture among several other aspects. One prominent recurring theme among the two, however, touches on the relationships between parents and their children having been explored to a great extent in the two novels. In both texts, it is apparent that conflict emerges when it becomes clear that the children owe their parents some form of action, feeling or duty to their parents arising from the efforts they have instilled in them before and which they wish to get a payback from someday. One such conflict as we get to see in Adichie's text is cultural tensions that arise due to change in one of the parties. This change brings about differences between the led character and her son and lasts until the death of the former. Similarly, Lucy finds herself getting further and further away from her parents and family as she fits more and more into the culture of the society she finds herself into.
The conflict in both instances stems from the desire to be free from the expectations that parents hold over their children. The cultural tension that is witnessed in both texts arises as a result of the sense of duty that the children owe their parents to preserve the cultural practices they were raised with. The parents expect their children to uphold the traditions they were raised with even at the face of sweeping changes as is the case in the two stories. On the other hand, the children get involved in the new cultural practice that they learn about in their new environments, eventually seeing their parents as the ones being on the wrong due to old fashioned. This instance is brought out more clearly in Adichie's "The Headstrong Historian," where the lead character's son ends up abandoning his mother due to the tension between the Christian teachings and the traditional beliefs which his mother wishes to uphold. This is despite the fact that his mother worked so hard to put him in a position to learn about the new religion and cultures in the first place. On the other hand, the conflict doesn't appear to last permanently as we see the grandchildren visiting the lead character during her last days, indicating that an agreement still exists between them. This indicates that changes, however drastic as they may get, ultimately lose their meaning and are not supposed to hinder the relationships in the manner that we see in these texts.
In the study we have gone through two literary texts that deal with various different aspects of immigration, exploring the major themes that they touch upon as well as the manner in which they are applied in the setting. The major themes as we have seen are cultural changes and their impacts on those experiencing them. Also discussed are the tensions present in the texts as brought out by their respective authors.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. "``The Headstrong Historian''." NEW YORKER-NEW YORKER MAGAZINE INCORPORATED- 2008 (2008):2-68.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy: A Novel. Macmillan, 1990.
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