Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Criteria in the criticism of West African fiction

Gurnah, Abdulrazak R. (1982) Criteria in the criticism of West African fiction. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94388) (KAR id:94388)


This study attempts to identify the major preoccupations of the criticism of African fiction, and to observe how these preoccupations have influenced readings of selected West African novels. The controversy that surrounded the négritude movement in English-speaking Africa has tended to discourage critics from acknowledging its influence in the development of the criticism and the literature. This influence can be seen both in the continuing racial assertiveness of the criticism, and more importantly, in the manner in which some criticism defines itself and its criteria for judgement in terms of concepts of racial and cultural "authenticity." It is one of the contentions of this study that this preoccupation with the "essence" of what it is to be African has contributed to the misreading of the early novels of Ayi Kwei Armah. The discussion of these novels in Chapter III attempts to demonstrate this, while at the same time conceding that the interest of the writers in social problems discourages a wholeheartedly "formal" approach to criticism. By comparison of the early novels of Armah with Achebe's No Longer At Ease and A Man of the People, an attempt is made to demonstrate that the controversy surrounding the work of the former, and the generous praise for the work of the latter, arises from the contrasting manner in which the two writers view society, and from the critics' response to this. The efforts to define an African tradition are discussed in Chapter IV, and the discussion indicates the problems that occur when the desire for definitive norms overcomes the need to acknowledge complexities. The discussion of Soyinka's The Interpreters is intended to show both that the novel suffers at the hands of critics who equate ease of syntax with tradition, and that Soyinka's vision of the past as in dynamic relationship with the present offers a more profound understanding of tradition than some of the more facile and general descriptions of it. The language of expression is a live issue in the criticism of African literature. This is discussed in Chapter V, along with the efforts that some writers have made to get round the restrictions that the use of English places on their work. Chapter VI discusses the attempts that some critics have made to define the qualifying attributes of the critic of African literature, particularly in relation to Western critics. This is followed by a brief conclusion which attempts to consider the main issues discussed in the study.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Mahood, Molly M.
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94388
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: West African literature, négritude movement
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN80 Criticism
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2023 12:48 UTC
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 12:48 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.