The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel

The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel
The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel

ABSTRACT:  This project examines The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel. It surveys the literature and accesses the magnitude, persistence and depth of inequality in Nigeria, using Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. It is, therefore, a fact that African Literature has an enduring propensity for social and political commitment, reflecting and refracting the socio-political events in African societies with Nigeria as a reference point. In this, a nexus is drawn between the aesthetic of the novel and the social experiences that nurture the literary consciousness of the writer. This affirms Achebe’s claim that any African writer who shuns the social and political matters of contemporary Africa is at the risk of being irrelevant. Therefore, African literature is tied to the experiences of the people of Africa. Employing and expounding on both social realism and Marxist theories, the project seeks, among other things, to reflect on the authors’ analysis of class relations and materialism, issues of power and wealth distribution, social conflicts.


The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel



1.1 Background to the Study

Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, whose contributing factors include unemployment, income inequality and corruption. The World Bank in The World Development Report 2000/2002 sums up the various dimensions of poverty to include lack of opportunity, lack of empowerment and lack of security. The window of opportunity remains closed to the common people, rendering them dormant in society. Thus this social incapacitation limits the choices they would have to make and their lack of security makes them vulnerable to exploitation, diseases, violence and so on. In Africa, widespread and severe poverty is a brazen reality experienced in lack of food, cloth, shelter, education, security and other entitlement programmes.

Indeed literature is life and it provides critical insight about life. Thus a general opinion is that literature mirrors society, because literature relates to all aspects of society: political, economical, historical and social, exposing both open and secret truths. It is a medium of reflecting the contemporary issues of the society be it class struggle, leadership problems, matters of security or issues on national development. In fact, literature serves as a mirror of society or a channel through which the social, political, cultural and economic issues that ravage a given society are explored. This means that there is a correlation between art and life; hence, literature deals with people and their experiences in a given milieu.

This project, therefore, concerns itself with the contributions of literary artists to the lives and experiences of people in the Nigerian society, especially on matters of wealth and distribution of wealth. This is because the literary artist is seen as a committed person who uses his work to advocate for an egalitarian society, satirize the evils of corruption, exploitation and oppression; and push the proletariats into a struggle towards liberation from all the forces that undermine their existence. The project makes specific emphasis on Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel , Marxist-oriented novels that advocate force against all the forms of exploitation, deprivation and unpatriotism.

Surely, it is in imaginative literature we can fully understand the problems of poverty and inequality. Poverty is a material condition, a class in the social structure. And literary texts: are they not aesthetic artifacts, retreating by their nature into the privacy of the imagination? Only in this retreat from the tactile and the statistical, I contend, can we approach the complexity of poverty as an ideological formation in the texts under study, or understand the inner life of being poor – the tangled web of emotion and behaviour that gets brushed too easily from social study. And literature becomes a crucial tool to understanding economic and cultural condition that is at once urgent and elusive because it cuts across the categories of race, gender, and class by which we conventionally understand social difference.

However, it needs be said that widespread and severe poverty is a reality in our world. It is a reality that depicts lack of food, clothes, education and other basic amenities. Severely poor people lack the most basic necessities of life to a degree that it can be wondered how they manage to survive.

The link between poverty, hunger and human development is very significant. Indeed, poverty and hunger are the exact opposite of human development. All the attributes of human development are deprived by poverty. Poverty is lack of job. Poverty is hunger, poor health, low education, low self-esteem, lack of adequate housing, lack of land, inability to cloth oneself/family, low economic status and, above all, denial of choices. Maduagwu concludes that poverty creates frustration, loss of hope/prospects and value for life, loss of meaning for life and purpose of living. It also creates disillusionment about morality, poverty makes people compromise on moral values or abandon moral values completely (Maduagwu, Alleviating Poverty in Nigeria). Okafor stresses that the success or failure of any government is measured by the degree of attainment of human development or the level of poverty prevalent among the people (67). On this note, Nigeria, the referent society in the novels under study, cannot be said to be successful with so many people wallowing in abject poverty.

In this project, an effort is made to examine Festus Iyayi’s and Helon Habila’s representation of poverty in post-independence Nigerian state as reflected in their fictions Violence and Waiting for an Angel respectively. This is premised on the awareness that there is always a close relationship between African literature and the social reality; that social reality in the novels under study being that the literature of Nigeria has remained obsessed with the plight of the underprivileged, exposing a group of people that lie beyond traditional documentary sources. In doing this, Iyayi and Habila select realistic details from ordinary life to chronicle the fate of an impotent silent majority.

The authors present a vision of life as hell, with human concerns such as inequality largely fore-grounded in their novels. In consequence, the novels’ thematic focus centres on the portrayal of the terrifying, the painful and a common insistence on postcolonial disillusionment. The novels also take as their thematic focus the foregrounding of the exploitation of the masses, betrayal of public confidence, highly decadent and socially stratified society that breeds and nurtures exploitation and oppression of the less privileged in society. Therefore, these authors acknowledge a poverty that is as aesthetically and culturally significant as it is socially and materially real. Combining Marxist theory with literary analysis, the authors masterfully bring poverty into mainstream critical idiom, thus validating Ahmad Aijaz’s assertion that ‘all Third-world texts are necessarily national allegories’ (95).


1.2       Statement of Research Problem

Every research work poses a problem that needs to be resolved, which brings about the questions as to how these problems that arise will be solved. The sole aim of the research is to find answers that will best solve these problems. Therefore this research will by the end have answered questions like:

  1. What role does class play in the works?
  2. How do characters overcome oppression?
  3. In what ways do the works serve as propaganda for the status quo; or do they try to undermine it?
  4. What do the works say about oppression or are social conflicts ignored or blamed?

In an attempt to provide appropriate answers to these questions the research will carry out thorough investigations on the Marxist theory and socialist ideology, thereby making references to the work of other researchers and scholars who have worked on Marxism. Also the works of Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila, as earlier stated, will be used as primary texts.

1.3       Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is to shed more light on the issues of poverty, corruption, social injustice and how African writers like Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila have used literature as a tool to identify the plight of the underprivileged. In this light, the aim of this study is to examine characters and their experiences and how we see a society that needs restoration.

1.4 Scope and Limitation of Study

The focus of this study is Africa, and particularly Nigeria as portrayed by the duo of Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel respectively. This research investigates how judiciously the understudied works reveal the plight of the poor and their oppression in Africa. The choice of works based on Nigeria is motivated by the fact that the country gives a fair representation of West Africa. This is imperative as it is almost certainly impossible to study works from every part of Africa considering the constraints of time and resources.

In order to achieve this, the research work shall be limited to using Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel as the data for the analysis of these issues.

1.5       Justification

The significance of this research apart from providing a reliable source of information for future researchers on the theme of poverty in African literature is also of great value in appraisal of government poverty eradication programmes in Nigeria. Understanding the difficulties experienced by the poor in society will strengthen Nigeria’s nascent democracy and promote good governance.

This research is also a celebration of artistic imagination and dexterity displayed by these distinguished African Writers: Helon Habila and Festus Iyayi.

Again, poverty has been examined as one of the major issues in Africa and how it has become difficult to eradicate. Though scholars and writers have examined these motifs, sometimes as a single entity and at other times collectively, readers do not yet seem to understand the disastrous effects poverty has on people. That is what Habila and Iyayi point out in their novels, Waiting for an Angel and Violence.

These novels are the primary sources of reference as they capture the experiences of the poor people. Both novelists unfold the nature of the instruments of power which meant that effective governance is misused on the governed especially the poor.


The Theme of Social Injustice in Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel

1.6       Research Methodology

The research is both qualitative and descriptive, with thematic analysis of the texts. Themes of poverty and corruption are adequately analysed. The methodology approach used for the effective analysis of this study is a blend of  Marxist theory and socialist realism theory. This is because the Marxist theorist view society (especially capitalist society) as politically locked down and hold the freedom of the people. They portray the suffering of the masses in their literary texts and form their analysis and view point, stating that the masses suffer as a result of corruption and stratification which our leaders seem to always ignore. The social realism theory falls in line with human concerns and perspectives.

The referent society is Nigeria which is the setting in the selected texts. The use of Marxist and socialist approaches are justified as the two novelists whose work shall be used as the data for analysis share the same ideological approach which is Marxism and Social Realism.

Originally posted on September 25, 2021 @ 4:42 am

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