HISTORY IN THE WORKS OF HELON HABILA: WAITING FOR AN ANGEL, MEASURING TIME AND OIL ON WATER

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ABSTRACT


Human reality has been one of the major concerns of literature. But human reality cannot be fully explored without history. However, history and literature have remained antithetical fields of study since we assume from the conventional notion of history as being all about the presentation of facts and literature, an untrue story. This study builds from the existing studies which have recently established a relationship between history and literature; thereby finding the trappings of history in literature. This report seeks to unravel the representation of history in the works of Helon Habila (Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time and Oil on Water). It adopts New Historicism, an extrinsic theory that allows a study of literature from societal, historical and cultural perspectives. Thus, the literary texts are read parallel to the non literary texts that stress similar historical issues and times as those captured in the literary texts. The result therefore is that Habila through his fiction has captured history as: Collective Memory, Information, and Instruction.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page
Abstract
Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE: General Introduction
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Objective of the Study
1.4 Purpose of the Study
1.5 Significance of the Study
1.6 Delimitation
1.7 The Concept of History
1.8 The Relationship between History and Literature

CHAPTER TWO: Literature Review
2.1 Review of Related Literature

CHAPTER THREE: Theoretical Framework and Methodology
3.1 Theoretical Framework
3.2 Methodology

CHAPTER FOUR: Trappings of History in Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time and Oil on Water
4.1 History and Literature
4.2 History as information
4.3 History as personalization of collective memory
4.4 History as Instruction

CHAPTER FIVE: Summary and Conclusion
5.1 Summary
5.2 Conclusion
Works Cited


CHAPTER ONE

General Introduction

1.1        Introduction

The art of representation is inherent in the literary artist. He brings into play concepts, thoughts and themes that naturally connect the mind and invoke meaning. The literary artist, by way of representation, teaches, and this teaching in turn produces liveliest pleasure in him, as Aristotle observes in his Art Poetica (1). Representation becomes however essential to a literary artist for the dual roles it plays. It brings to him delight on the one hand, and on the other hand, it educates him and those who have access to his work or oeuvre. By implication a literary artist, no doubt, has a broad spectrum of social reality, if he must be committed to his art and find satisfaction from it. The broad nature of his task may include the topical issues of his interest: representation of phenomenon (both social and natural) – abstract concepts, human beings, culture/history, etc. More importantly, a literary artist begins his duty by involving himself in the reality around him, more often drawing useful material from the social issues of his time. As such, he engages himself with his past, his (vicarious and direct) experiences; not as a historian but as a philosopher, as Aristotle says, “to engage into the probable” (Art Poetica, 1). James Ngugi is of the opinion that “the novelist is haunted by the sense of the past. His work is often an attempt to come to terms with a thing that has been; has struggled, as it were, to sensitively register his encounter with history, and a novelist at best must feel himself heir to this continuous tradition” (4).


Helon Habila the writer whose works form the subject of analysis in this study is equally preoccupied with the past and he recreates history in Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time and Oil on Water. He evokes what Myers calls ‘ideological operations’ of the time that are responsible for the social structure and changes at a certain period of time. These ideological operations in a given period (in the texts) are past events, which are represented through fiction; thus, they operate in dual capacities: first as history and second, as fiction. This marriage of fiction and historical facts in the work of Habila is to some extent demonstrable of faction. Habila simply recasts the society’s (Nigerian/African) experiences through imaginative power. It is as a result of this that he models his novel after the archetypal modern State revealing the experiences of individuals, families, students, politicians, professionals and their alienation and disillusionment.

In an interview with Ramonu Sanusi, Habila explains the source of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time thus:

It is a novel about a distinct period in our history: the 1990s, or as some people term it, the military years. It is a story about the lives and dreams and hopes that were wasted by those draconian days – but it is also about some people’s determination to survive despite all that darkness. The main character is Lomba, a journalist falsely arrested by the regime. He is one of the survivors and he proves in the book that though the body may be imprisoned, the mind can still remain free. I lived through those days and I wanted to write about it, to keep it as a record of that moment in our history….
Measuring Time was a novel I wanted to write even before I wrote Waiting for an Angel. I’ve always been fascinated by history, by culture, and how culture changes with time. The African culture in particular has gone through so much change since the contact with the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. So the second book is a look into that, a look at the new Africa and the forces that....


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