An examination of point of view in selected British, American and African novels
This thesis is a contribution to the ongoing debate over standards of criticism for the novel in Africa. After reviewing the three main approaches, the 'Afro-centric', the 'Euro-centric ' and the 'syncretic', and highlighting their shortcomings, I hope to demonstrate that if the devices of point of view ' are used properly they may provide a valuable tool for a useful reading of the novels. Point of view is seen as a holistic device and not, as Lubbock and others suggest, a question of 'the relationship of the narrator to the story'. The views of Boris Uspensky, Gerard Genette and Susan Lanser on this subject are modified to suit the eclectic and comparative designs of the study. Point of view is thus seen as the means through which a given device operates in a specific context, what it reveals, and how it relates to other textual elements. Four main categories are proposed, namely the dramatized, the inward, the multiple and the communal perspectives. These categories demonstrate the flexibility of method which point of view allows and they show how novels from different backgrounds may be examined under one 'convention' without depriving such novels of their originality. Twenty novels by British, American and African novelists are subsequently divided into these four categories and each of the novels is described, allowing them to define one another. The communal perspective is found to be a unique feature of the five African novels examined in the last three chapters. These novels require the reader to modify his opinions about point of view, for the novelists seem to speak on behalf of their communities. The communal pose thus becomes a literary device. It is a device which manifests itself in the case of the novels of Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah and Gabriel Okara through the skilful use of character, language and setting. The reader who comes to the novels with the conviction that character is a paradigm of traits will need to bear in mind that traits in these novels are what are normally known as characters in other novels and that in the novels, therefore, characterisation is largely transferred from the individual person to the communal personality. This is the contribution these African novelists have made to world fiction. It is nevertheless shown that this distinct feature need not deny a common ground from which the critic of the African novel can define the novels' themes and methods and that ultimately the isolation which the three main approaches seem to recommend is neither desirable, nor is it helpful as a way of making the reader aware of the form and content of the novels.