Final Paper Ideas: Metaphor/Allegory in the African Novel

I’m currently torn between two potential areas of focus for my final conference paper, although there is the potential to combine them in some way. The first would look at the use of metaphor and allegory in both the African novels we look at in class – Things Fall Apart, Americanah, Petals of Blood, and Nervous Conditions – and other sources such as the short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck. For example, I’m interested in what the use of metaphor and allegory suggest in terms of the writing itself, as in the story, but also what the author is trying to get us to understand. In some instances, I am interested in engaging in a conversation about whether the author intentionally chose words or phrases that could be taken as allegorical or metaphorical. The second thing I’m thinking about writing is an examination of Christianity in the above mentioned fiction, with particular attention paid to specific references to the Bible. Writing this option would look more closely at Petals of Blood, drawing only a few examples from the others. I would look at religion as a literary theme, religious figures as characters in the stories, religious teachings, and the role religion plays as a plot device.

One way to draw them together is to look for the allegorical or metaphorical allusions to Christian scripture. For example, the very end of Part One of Petals of Blood ends with the lines “it was the exodus across the plains to the Big Big City that started me on that slow, almost ten-year, inward journey” and “The journey. The exodus towards the kingdom of knowledge…”. Something that occurred to me when I came to this part was that the use of the word ‘exodus’ can be taken as a reference to the Book of Exodus in the Bible. While its use in standard English means a mass departure of a large group of people, the Book of Exodus tell of Moses and the somewhat simplified theme of self-identity and belonging. We can compare this to Munira’s search for ‘inner peace’ in Petals of Blood – his duty to the wishes and life choices of his father, but his internal search for completion.

Apart from the primary texts, I plan to draw on existing readings and critiques of the authors. James Ogude’s book Ngugi’s Novels and African History: Narrating the Narration (1999) has a chapter on allegory, romance, and the nation. Articles in the Journal of the African Literature Association and Research in African Literatures will also be of use. From close reading the larger literary texts, it is possible to juxtapose metaphor and allegory with textual evidence, using each as a springboard to further investigate possible meanings and interpretations within a Manichean theoretical framework. I’m not one hundred percent sure where this is going, and as always, I am open to suggestion/guidance on honing my paper topic.

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One Response to Final Paper Ideas: Metaphor/Allegory in the African Novel

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Definitely read Jameson’s “Third World Literature” article, as that’s been such an important wellspring for critics who want to think about allegory in postcolonial literatures. Ahmad’s critique of that essay, and Jameson’s response to Ahmad, are worth reading too. And Susan Andrade has a really interesting argument about how to make use of Jameson’s argument about allegory in order to talk about gender (which he totally ignores), so her book The Nation Writ Small might be worth looking at as well. If you’re interested in Ngugi and allegory (and Christianity), I’d read Devil on the Cross.


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