Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Vikram and Achebe on the Nature of Oral Tradition and their Relation to Home

                Vikram and Achebe seem to both call back to the days of oral storytelling in their individual narration styles, but they each do so for different reasons.  In Achebe’s novel, I believe that he is using the combination of the oral and novel traditions to, first, bridge the gap between the real Igbo culture and the one that was developed in colonial literature.  Primarily he chose to do this through the use of language that presented itself, primarily, through oral traditions.  The second reason I find for Achebe using the oral tradition is to explore the antithesis of oral tradition, which I propose is the novel form.  This is quite evident in the closing paragraph of Things Fall Apart when the Administrator quite literally truncates the experiences of Okonkwo’s entire life, and as an extension his culture’s experience, down to not even a chapter, but a single paragraph. 
            This is the reason that the novel is the antithesis of oral tradition, because, unlike oral tradition, the novel, by comparison, is much more impersonal and tends to not address the thing of the matter.  Oral traditions, like parables and fairy tales, tend to address a specific moral or lesson and use characters that are archetypes and as such can be substituted with any person through the use of communicable experience.  On the other hand the novel tends to be more impersonal as it is the story of one person’s life from some start to the end, thus making the meaning of life nothing but a piece of information, as Greenberg would say in his article Okonkwo and the Storyteller: Death, Accident, and Meaning in Chinua Achebe and Walter Benjamin.
          I find that Vikram; however, counters this trend of the impersonal novel and follows a style more akin to 1001 Arabian Nights.  He uses Subramaniam like Scheherazade was used in 1001 Arabian Nights, as the storyteller through which communicable experience is imparted.  Through this pseudo oral tradition, Subramaniam shows how each of the different individuals in his stories deals with conflict, whether that be a general dealing with ghosts or traveling to a totally new place.  It is in the interconnectedness of these stories that we get a sense of home in Vikram’s opinion.  All of these character seem to have a degree of discontent when it comes to the idea of homeland in the tradition sense and as such they must struggle with a sense of homelessness.  Vikram seems to suggest that home is more of a universal ideal as a result, not one geographic place, and as such home is within use whether we are in our parents’ house or moving to a new place. 

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