Corporeality in literary studies

Photo by Pixabay on



This chapter will evaluate available studies and writings that have been carried out on topics surrounding the present subject at hand and the primary text. It will start by providing an insight into the concept of corporeality, the studies already carried out on African texts with it and then proceed to looking at critical writings and reviews on the primary text, Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain. The major objective is to clearly decipher the place of this ongoing study as it concerns the contributions made on the primary text.

2.1 Corporeality:

Literary critics keep bringing in concepts and theories from time to time to further help in accounting for the presence of some peculiar realities in literary works. One of such concepts is corporeality. Corporeality focuses on the physicalness of beings. Put differently, it deals with the quality of beings, physicality and consisting of matter. Daniel Punday’s essay titled “A Corporeal Narratology?”, traces corporeality’s place in the whole of narratology. It is understood from Punday that until recently, narratology has paid attention to elements and aspects, dwelling extensively on the former than the later. He reports Prince’s assertion that Narratology has focused on ‘how?’ instead of ‘what?’, decries the inability of the study of narratives to give full attention to the human body, claiming that the major question should be: “how do certain ways of thinking about the body shape the plot, characterization, setting, and other aspects of narrative?” (228). His major concern is proving that “body is involved in all of our most basic concepts (character, plot, setting, and so on); thus, attention to the body in the narrative will enrich these concepts and give critics another set of lenses thro0ugh which to examine the choices that an author has made in constructing a narrative” (228). Corporeality in the study of narratives, this way becomes some sort of revolt against the traditional way of reading the literary work, providing a novel insight into the realities a literary work portends. Punday relates Mary Douglass’ opinion that, “If narratology studies, among other things, how stories arise from and contribute to cultural beliefs and conventions, the body, endowed with meaning by each culture, will be part of virtually any narrative’s meaning” (229). It is interesting to note that one must ask, “how a narrative gives meaning to the human body, while realizing that this method will depend on the larger culture out of which this narrative arises” (229).

In doing a study with focus on the body, Punday, suggests that firstly, the body will be differentiated from other things that are not body in the narrative and that this heavily relies on the historical and cultural environment the texts emanate from (230). The body has to be singled out because it is often the seat of consciousness and sorting the body out from non-bodies “creates a variegated structure of public and private spaces, organize moments of reflection and secrecy…” (230). (Ogugua and Emilia existed in two different spaces). Secondly, there is a need to sort types of bodies. Punday says:

 In many cases, the principle is a political schematic explicitly racist – as in the notion that lighter skins imply intelligence and greater degrees of civilization. It may also be more implicitly racist or classist by defining a set of social norms against which physical deviations become meaningful, as in Lombroso’s anthropometric search for signs of latent criminality. Equally political is sorting bodies by some notion of health, where body flaws are taken to signify moral or psychological lack… (231)

This has a relationship with Mahady’s opinion that: “the body’s sensing capacities are shown to open the self to the world and to other bodies” (Mahady 42). In Arrows of Rain, deciding Ogugua’s mental health status becomes a problem because, his physical appearance says one thing while his quality of thoughts counters it. Punday goes on to suggest that body types can still be sorted out either by gender or by personality types. Thirdly, what kinds of bodies are possible within that narrative world must be considered; it is necessary to see how they interact too. The human bodies, as well as the surrounding environment—narrative space, objects, and natural forces, are taken into consideration because they all have an exact influence on one another. This reminds one of Bukuru’s actions before the revelation of himself as Ogugua. He clearly feels defeated by the socio-political reality of his environment and he pretends not to be available to his body to run away from that powerlessness. Fourthly and finally, the degrees of embodiment in the narratives help in the study of bodies. This is because there is already some level of attitude expected of characters because of the individuals they embody. One sees in Arrows of Rain the ability of a body to exist with different qualities and identity at one point or the other. Iyese can be herself or be Emilia. With this, embodiment becomes a fundamental part of the construction of narrative perspective and the organization of types of narrators (Punday 234).

However, among the limitation of looking at the bodies in a narrative includes that when bodies are talked about, characters come to mind, and Punday reports Seymour Chatman, as seeing, the characters in his overview of narratology, Story and Discourse, as “a paradigm of traits; ‘trait’ in the sense of ‘relatively stable or abiding personal quality,’ recognizing that it may either unfold, that is, emerge earlier or later in the course of the story, or that it may disappear and be replaced by another” (235).

Therefore, corporeality in literary studies should be attributed to the examination of the sustainability and reality of characters and other tangible components and their engagement with objects, artefacts, symbols, other people, and practices in a literary work.

Markus Hallensleben quotes Jean Baudrillard as saying: “Therefore, if we neither own our body nor control it, if our cultural identities, as humans, as ethnic groups, as gendered beings, are constantly in flux, the movement of the body in social spaces then become a central category, not only in the sciences, but also in the humanities, and especially in gender, performance, theatre, dance and literary studies” (Hallensleben 10). In Hallensleben’s “Introduction: Performing Body Spaces”, he sheds light on the study of the body in all artistic presentations. Advocating for the sustenance of the inquiry on the body, he says: “We have become familiar with the concept that we not only have a body but also that we are a body. We can look at our physical bodies as objects of desire, in popular culture, in the sciences, in the arts, in politics, and observe it as a thing” (15).

2.2 Corporeality in Amma Darko’s Beyond the Horizon and Chris Abani’s Becoming Abigail:

Laura Chasen in “Dislocated Subjects: Transnational Forced Prostitution, African Female Bodies and Corporeal Resistance”, conducts a study of Africa female bodies, albeit diasporic, and their representation in both novels Beyond the Horizon and Becoming Abigail. Her preoccupation is to show how globalization, colonialism and traditional cultural practices contributed to the proliferation of forced prostitution and violence in both novels (Chasen 3). For her, Abani and Darko describe the body as an alternative space with its own borders through which females act and re-constitute their perceived identities. And she suggests that there are evidences of that “alternative uses of the female body, like physical violence, engaging in voluntary sexual acts and self-mutilation may function as forms of resistance against sexual objectification and psychological colonization” in the novels (5). This sexual objectification, physical and psychological colonization is something that Iyese could not escape entirely from.

          In Behind the Horizon Chasen concurs with Frias who opines that “Darko re-presents (voluntary) prostitution as a subversive way that African women in the Diaspora may refigure themselves as active subjects, attaining financial independence and escaping abusive relationships” (6). It is also learnt from her reading that Mara had an abusive husband who decided to use his wife for a business purpose. She faults capitalism, globalization, and native culture as being the stronghold of the patriarchal oppression that the character is faced within the novel. In her novel, Darko traces Mara’s movements in global space. In doing so, Darko portrays Mara as both humanized subject and commodity within the capitalist system contributing to “local and international discourses about the abuse of women in the transnational sex trade” (Higgins 312). And therefore, exalts the fact that the female body became in the end, a sovereign peculiar space to the woman alone which can be used for her benefits (13). By this, she is also of the view that the woman, as Mara was later seen doing in the novel can use capitalism to her advantage instead of seeing it primarily as a disadvantage (20).

          Chasen tells that in Becoming Abigail, Chris Abani makes use of “the logic of torture as both the ‘felt experience of pain’ and a ‘display of agency”’, albeit turning it upside down (26). Abigail, for her, is a character who “bears torture and resists it, locating both experiences in the physicality of her body”, and suggests that with her, “Abani exposes ways in which patriarchal, or male-centered, structures utilize female bodies as sites to discipline and control, and alternatively, demonstrates how women may challenge such hegemonic structures” (27). The subjection of women and the abuse of their bodies in that work was a colonial legacy (starting with the colonialists themselves), which Abigail only shares in (28 – 29). Also, she thinks that the “text blurs this distinction between African and European gender violence” (32). Also, we learn that women are not properly documented especially the trafficked ones and so, “their exploitation, may remain invisible”. Their lack of “political agency” only adds to the sexual and psychological violation (32).  Derek, Peter and Mr.Tansi in the text are faces of patriarchy and sexual objectification, but in the end, Abigail is seen as a character who could muster the strength her body possesses and fight back with it in so many cases. In Arrows of Rains, Iyese and other prostitutes are people without identity or rather mere things and subsequently without agency. Isa Palat Bello and the civilian cabinet’s parties are the pillars of patriarchy and Ogugua, who could have been a voice of reasoning is seen cowering.

2.3 Identity and Narrativity in a Postcolonial Context: Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe and A Squatter’s Tale by Ike Oguine

Ndibes’s Arrows of Rain is novel that carries a wide range of subjects. The intricate weaving of the work by its writer makes it possible for the work to be a ground where new critical discoveries will never seize to pop-up.

          Wumi Raji in “Identity and Narrativity in a Postcolonial Context: Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe and A Squatter’s Tale by Ike Oguine”, sees the novels as exploring the consequences of the many mistakes and effect of the developments in and of Nigeria in the 90s. This essay relates both novels with Anthills of the Savannah because of the belief “in the preoccupation with the political and economic identities of the country, both novels can be read as connecting intertextually with, and advancing discursively on, Achebe’s Anthills”(Raji 143). In the event of military tyranny which exists in the countries of the texts, Raji likened Ogugua who he believes is the central character to Ikem Osondu, the difference he says is that while Ogugua “would rather play safe” and go “so far as to pretend to be insane and is prepared to continue acting for as long as it remains the only way to preserve his neck” (144). Reading Ogugua this way, he claims that Ogugua is clearly sane but has to act the way he did to protect himself and sees that part of a novel as a pun targeting “certain individuals who are prepared to go to any lengths in order to conceal what they know…” (144). He, however, believes that Ndibe’s novel does not tell just Ogugua’s story but presents as he opines “the story of a nation, complexly projected as a tale of three individuals, each of whom, in articulating his/her story, adopts the first-person narrative mode” (144).

          On the style of narration, Raji posits there is used of mega-narration, main-narration, and sub-narration in the novel (144). Each of these narration styles appears at a distinct position in the Arrows of Rain. The mega narration is the overall story that the novel propels. He believes that Femi Adero is the projector or the propeller of the narrative voice that is found in this part of the novel. Femi is a young reporter who comes around to the beach on New Year Day, hoping he would scoop a thing or two from the reaction of the citizen, following the declaration of the live presidency of Isa Palat Bello. Bello has proclaimed himself a Life President following the 99.5% score in a referendum his regime conducted. That New Year Day brings forth an epiphany that will lead to the self-discovery of Femi, who has been on a mission to find his identity and the revelation of the barbaric personality of Palat Bello. Ogugua’s story/letter to Femi is main narration. For Raji, “Ogugua’s story intersects with that of the nation” (144), but Ogugua does not appreciate his position as a reporter. He also seems to relegate his grandmother’s admonitions that “speech is the mouth’s debt to a story” and “a story never forgives silence.” The sub-narration is the story of Iyese, who while fleeing from a failed marriage enters prostitution to earn a living and also decides to adopt another identity, and before her end reveals her identity, story and experiences to Ogugua, while being “entangled” with him (144).

          In his reading of Achebe’s Anthills of the Savana and Ndibes’s Arrows of Rain, Edwin Onwuka evaluates both novels, with major emphasis laid on the representation of military activities in the novel. Onwuka’s essay, “Reading the ‘Military Virus’ in Postcolonial African Novels: Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain in Context” posits that the novels are a form of criticism to the military activities in politics witnessed in the post-independence Africa. In his words, the two works “explore power relations between the military and civil society, and similarly depict character types that define the image of the military in contemporary times” (Onwuka 41). He however goes on to opine that the military activities as seen in Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain are more tyrannical because Isa Palat Bello, “succeeds where the latter fails, a feat achieved through raw brutality and a fearful orgy of blackmail, intimidation and bloodshed” (41). The focal point of Arrows of Rain is on the Life President, a military character and it “projects his disposition and behavior as representative of soldiers in the polity. “General Bello (a Major before he became Head of State) is an infamous, bloodthirsty and vengeful character with a propensity to cause great injury to others long before he became a despot in Madia. At different times he brutalizes, rapes, and eventually murders Iyese, a prostitute he dated. His atrocities against such civilians foreshadowed the mass raping and killing of prostitutes by faceless soldiers when he eventually became Head of State” (41). Moreover, for Onwuka, the actions of this chief character are being foreshadowed in the novel by the highhandedness of the military men, who rape prostitutes.

Onwuka continues to project the effect of the oppressive attitude of the military in the novel.  Fear, for him, is one of them. This fear is

manifest in the life of Ogugua (Bukuru), the protagonist of the novel, who becomes a lunatic to escape a military manhunt.  The military stranglehold on the Madian society is so pervasive that none could criticize them openly without endangering himself. When Ogugua publicly declares that General Bello was a rapist and murderer, the judge silences him and bars the press from reporting the matter, a ruling he made for his own safety… the police arrest Ogugua after he told them that soldiers are responsible for raping and killing of prostitutes at the B. Beach.  He is detained for the crimes because they dare not confront the military. (41)

Military leadership as he shows in these novel leaves everyone in check. Both the civilian officials and the citizens are helpless. Onwuka sees the Madian society as an environment where the case is not only that the citizens are not free to do what they need to do, but rather, every one of them is equally haunted.

Also, misuse of power by the military is another consequence of the military presence in politics, laid bare by the novel. Comparing the magnitude of this misuse of power in his primary texts, he says:

Madia makes the government of His Excellency in Anthills of the Savannah almost a benevolent one. While Ikem could freely criticize the military in the years before His Excellency lost his bid to become a Life-President in a country Richards proclaims is “deracinated and silenced by a regime which elevates [the] conditions [of oppression] to a fact of life’” (134); at no point in Arrows of Rain could anyone either in the press or outside it utter any criticism against them in Madia without coming to great harm. (42)

Onwuka goes on to claim that Arrows of Rain echoes the experiences of African countries under military leadership (their initial joy as the military took over and their subsequent disappointment) as one of the effects of military presence in politics (43). He also exposes the role of the police during the era of military rule, who in all the cases joined hands with the military in the maltreatment of the citizens citing the case of the police attack students which left between twenty and thirty corpses (45).

General Isa Palat Bello, who Onwuka has stated as the focus of his study, is revealed as “the image of the brutal, aggressive, heartless and vindictive soldier; a type that casts a dreadful shadow over the life of any that crosses his path and will not relent till he destroys the victim” 53 – 54). Onwuka sees Bello as someone who was erratic from his youth age. He writes:

Being the son of an Emir, a highly venerated political and religious leader in the Nigeria, he is a law to himself and bullies with impunity persons he considers below his social status.  The military training, he receives at Sandhurst only emboldens him and increases his propensity for violence against others.  With a bad temper compounded by alcoholism, his destructive and sadistic tendencies turn him into a social miscreant.  He is eventually banished from his father’s palace when his shameful conduct became unbearable for his parent to condone. (54)

Bello’s meeting with Ogugua (Buruku) and Iyese (Emilia), contributes to his characteristic as a destroyer. With this and others above, Onwuka can expose the dimensions of pain and rot that the military leaves the people with. He does not focus on what bodies and their experiences are and even when he pays attention to Ogugua and Iyese, it is only passing.

The review of the novel of Kirkus, focuses on the novel as being an unravelling of events after the murder of an unknown prostitute. The evils of the postcolonial governments in African countries is also pointed out. The review shows injustice, unfair trials, and restriction of the press as part of the reality of these countries, siting Bukuru’s case and the fact that only a journalist, Femi Adero is ready to flout the rules as the evidence in the text.

This review together with the critical studies above on Arrows of Rain, have some things in common: focus on the power play, the general effects and Ogugua (Bukuru). From this literature review, we could see that there is no available study carried out on the primary text, Arrows of Rain with the concept of corporeality, border theory and attention on body in particular, hence, the need for this research.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: