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A Man of the People is a 1966 satirical novel by Chinua Achebe.

It is
Achebe's fourth novel. The novel tells the story of the young and educated
Odili, the narrator, and his conflict with Chief Nanga, his former teacher
who enters a career in politics in an unnamed modern African country. Odili
represents the changing younger generation; Nanga represents the
traditional customs of Nigeria. The book ends with a military coup, similar
to the real-life coups of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu
and Yakubu Gowon.[1]

1 Plot introduction

2 Similarity to future

3 Literary significance

4 References
 Plot introduction
A Man of the People is a first-person account of Odili, a school teacher in an
unnamed African nation. Odili receives an invitation from a former teacher
of his, Chief Nanga, who is now the powerful but corrupt Minister of Culture.
As Minister, Nanga's job is to protect the traditions of his country, and
though he is known as "A Man of the People," he instead uses his position
to increase his personal wealth. The Minister's riches and power prove
particularly impressive to Odili's girlfriend, who cheats on him with the
minister. Seeking revenge, Odili begins to pursue the minister's fiancee.
Odili also agrees to lead an opposition party in the face of both bribes and
violent threats. Odili triumphs over the Minister, however, when a military
coup forces his old teacher from office. The book ends with the line: "you
died a good death if your life had inspired someone to come forward and
shoot your murderer in the chest -- without asking to be paid."[2]
 Similarity to future events
Upon reading an advance copy of the novel, Achebe's friend, the Nigerian
poet and playwright John Pepper Clark declared: "Chinua, I know you are a
prophet. Everything in this book has happened except a military coup!"[3]
Later in 1966, Nigerian Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu seized control of
the northern region’ of the country as part of a larger coup attempt.
Commanders in other areas failed, and the plot was answered by a military
crackdown which resulted in the presidency of Major General Johnson
Aguiyi-Ironsi. A massacre of three thousand people from the eastern region
living in the north occurred soon afterwards, and stories of other attacks on
Igbo Nigerians began to filter into Lagos.[4] In July of 1966, Ironsi was
himself overthrown by Yakubu Gowon (continuing the cycle of transition by
violence, Gowon was overthrown by General Murtala Mohammed who died
a year later in yet another coup attempt). Because Achebe's novel mirrored
the coup that came shortly after the novel's publication, military personnel
suspected him of having foreknowledge of the coup. Achebe evacuated his
pregnant wife, Christie, and their children, to Port Harcourt. They arrived
safely, but Christie suffered a miscarriage at the journey's end. Chinua
rejoined them soon afterwards in Ogidi.[5]
 Literary significance
Achebe's first three novels were all clearly set in Igbo villages in Nigeria. A
Man of the People, however, was set in a fictional African country as Achebe
sought to write African literature, pertinent outside of just Nigeria. The
novel does not include any specific ethnic or cultural groups. The problems
portrayed in the book, such as bribery, incompetence and governmental
apathy, were experienced by many West African nations in the neocolonial
era. As Nigeria had not experienced a coup when Achebe wrote A Man of
the People, his model for the novel's events must have been military coups
in other African nations. Despite his intentions, however, the subsequent
coup in Nigeria meant that the book was again seen as being principally
about Nigeria.[6] The book has the strongest satirical streak of Achebe's
early novels, and has been compared to the work of Wole Soyinka.[2]

 References

^ "A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe", Time, August 19, 1966.
Retrieved on 2007-09-19.

^ a b Mercedes Mackay (January 1967). "Review: A Man of the People by

Chinua Achebe". African Affairs 66 (262).

^ Ezenwa-Ohaeto (1997). Chinua Achebe: A Biography. Bloomington:

Indiana University Press, 109. ISBN 0-253-33342-3.

^ Ezenwa-Ohaeto, p. 115.

^ Ezenwa-Ohaeto, p. 117.

^ Joanna Sullivan (Fall 2001). "Research in African Literatures" 32 (3).

 Plot Summary

A Man of the People is a novel about Nigeria's halting first steps to form a
post-colonial nation, told by Odili Samalu, a teacher turned politician, who
takes on his former teacher, a now-corrupt member of the cabinet.
Odili Samalu needs to tell the story of how he leaves the teaching
profession in a small village school and enters partisan politics as the
opponent of powerful man, once his revered teacher. Odili resents having to
stand in a reception line for Chief Nanga, with whom he has grown
disillusioned since he called for the head of the Minister of Finance and
denounced Western-influenced intellectuals. At university, Odili had hoped
for a successful career, which his father, a wealthy and hated retired
politician, identifies with government office. Odili and the old polygamist are
currently observing a truce in....
• Chapter 1 Summary
Chief M. A. Nanga, M.P., praised as a true "man of the people," comes to be
feted at his hometown grammar school. The Assembly Hall is overflowing as
dance groups and the hunters' guild signal a great event. The narrator, Odili
Samalu, resents such extravagance in inflationary times and wishes people
were less ignorant and cynical and able to see that Nanga is using his
position to enrich himself. In 1948, 16 years ago, a handsome, young
Nanga is Odili's beloved teacher - and Odili is Nanga's favorite pupil. Odili
takes pride in Nanga's early political career, and is active in the student's
branch of the People's Organization Party (POP). In 1960, however, Odili is
disillusioned when the POP government reacts to an economic slump that
plays into the hands of its weak.....
• Chapter 2 Summary
After Independence, it is who you know, not what you know that matters,
and Odili cannot lick boots. He teaches in a small private school for the
autonomy. It does not cross his mind to seek help from Nanga in getting a
scholarship for post-graduate work in London. Kadibe made the trip last
year and learned much, just being in Europe. Nanga raises the question
himself at the end of the reception, subtly suggesting Odili spend the
holidays with him and meet the Minister of Overseas Training. In two
months, Nanga is going to the U.S. to receive an honorary doctorate, which
will push his eminence past Dr. Mongo Sego, M.P. Nwege glares at Odili as
he takes down Nanga's address and threatens to tell Nanga about his
views. Odili admits Nanga has.....
• Chapter 3 Summary
Odili takes Peter to visit their home village, Urua, 15 miles from Anata. Odili
has matters to discuss with his father, Hezekiah Samalu. Odili envies
Peter's enthusiastic gift buying for his own parents. Odili's mother, his
father's second wife, dies giving birth to him, so Odili is considered an
unlucky child. First wife "Mama" raises him and his many stepsiblings on an
equal footing, but Odili feels something is missing. Father is a district
interpreter, a job that makes him a minor god to the people: powerful,
wealthy, and hated. The children grow up knowing the world is full of
enemies and obsequious friends. While in secondary school, Odili is expelled
from a friend's home when his father's identity is revealed. Only when Odili
earns a scholarship to university does he dare stand.....
• Chapter 4 Summary
Odili dislikes waking early, but Nanga rouses him on his way out to work.
Mrs. Nanga is taking the children to Anata after Christmas, lest they lose
touch with their heritage. Odili is happy about this because it will be less
awkward to bring Elsie to the guest suite. During his brief stay, Odili happily
learns things in government are not as ugly as he has suspected since
1960. He busies himself browsing in Nanga's library and reading
incongruous stories in the newspaper. One reports new statutes on
excrement pails while Odili lives in a house with seven bathrooms. Most of
his life he has used pit latrines, and his few experiences with pails are so
revolting he avoids eating so as not to have bowel movements. That had
been in Giligili, where.....
• Chapter 5 Summary
Jean does not let John's absence on assignment in Abaka interfere with
plans for a dinner with Nanga and Odili. Plans break down when Mrs. Akilo
arrives that evening after an 80-mile drive. The Akilos together practice
law. Odili feels awkward in the presence of this sophisticated woman with
whom Nanga doubtless will have sex tonight. She insists on staying in a
hotel rather than Mrs. Nanga's bedroom, and they arrange to meet for
dinner. Nanga is certain Jean will arrange transportation home for Odili
after her party. The dinner is "nine pence talk and three pence chop." Odili's
closeness to Nanga brings him attention, which makes him loquacious. He
prides himself on correcting an English guest's misunderstanding of an
African gesture; he digresses to note another incident in which he
straightens out.....
• Chapter 6 Summary
The Elsie Odili comes to Bori to see is on night-duty but has 2 days off,
during which she and a friend (for Nanga) will come to the house. Nanga's
ministerial car has no trouble getting through the hospital gate, delivering
Odili to a forbidden nighttime visit to the female nurses' quarters. Elsie is
drowsy but desirable and desiring. The friend intended for Nanga is less
pretty and very talkative. Odili hopes Nanga will not want to swap. He tells
Elsie about the other Elsie he has met at a party and is glad to see her
jealous. The chauffeur, who is ready to leave, interrupts their banter. Elsie
is impressed by the Cadillac and proprietary as she says good-bye.
On Thursday evening, Nanga is scheduled to open the first-ever book
exhibition of a.....
• Chapter 7 Summary
Nanga is a born politician, able to get away with anything and sway anyone.
He can say harsh things but hold no malice inside. He is so open and kind
Odili cannot take him seriously. Nanga is applauded at the end of his
speech when he prophesies Nigeria will soon have world-class authors like
the British and is asked for copies of the speech by Jalio and the greasy-
looking editor of the Daily Matchet. A few days earlier, Odili had watched
the editor uncomfortably solicit rent money from the Minister, who gave in
lest he publish some rubbish about him. Nanga calls freedom of the press
the freedom to assassinate character. No one but God is perfect, but they
should at least criticize constructively. Riding home, Odili fawns over the
speech as he.....
• Chapter 9 Summary
Odili returns to Anata on Dec. 23, and finds crowds gathered outside
Josiah's. A villager who offers to carry Odili's box asks whether he knows
Azoge, the blind beggar. Josiah gets Azoge drunk, steals his stick, and
replaces it with a new one, thinking Azoge will not notice. Josiah wants the
old one for juju - to make medicine for trade. Odili is still unclear when he
reaches his home and wants to rest before searching for Mrs. Nanga, but
the noise from Josiah's gets louder. Josiah has barricade himself in his
shop, and Azoge is repeating his story for the menacing crowd. Among
those raising their voices is a middle-aged Christian carpenter, Timothy,
who says ominously, "Josiah has taken away enough for the owner to
notice," and vows never to set foot.....
• Chapter 10 Summary
After the accident, Odili cannot speak what he has in mind, but decides to
join Edna in helping Mrs. Nanga on Christmas morning. Odili is met by an
obnoxious young man reeking of alcohol, who claims to be Nanga's brother,
not a VIP but a PIV, a "poor innocent victim." Mrs. Nanga assures him he
may share his brother's home, a modern four-story structure going up
beside the present house, built by the European building firm of Antonio &
Sons that has recently received a massive contract to build the National
Academy of Arts and Sciences. It will later come out that the house is a
bribe. Odili watches masked dances for 2 hours before Edna arrives. Mrs.
Nanga has Edna fetch Odili a beer on the VIP sun porch. Odili knows this.....
• Chapter 11 Summary
Odili leaves, feeling Edna admires his fearlessness, and he wants her for
herself rather than as part of his revenge on Nanga. He is less sure about
the importance of his political activity. His love alone will not wrench Edna
from a wealthy minister backed by her greedy father, but Odili has the
advantages of youth and education. He knows he will lose the race, but a
good fight will reveal enough to keep Nanga from returning to the cabinet.
Nanga has taken more than the owner can ignore, Odili hopes. Odili
contemplates how owning a car had been his university goal and how
schoolmates and teachers who had fought for justice have now grown
corrupt through privilege. Odili hopes he will avoid the temptation in the
years to come.
At home, Peter hands
• Chapter 12 Summary
Odili's father is certain Nanga will increase his offer, begs him to come to
his senses, and declares Odili will have to listen to him until he is dead.
Always sentimental, Odili softens. The next day, Max, his fiancye Eunice,
and a dozen CPC workers arrive. Max claims to have wired ahead, and they
laugh about telegraph service. Odili's family greets the visitors and, when
Mama delivers the forgotten telegram, Max leads a sarcastic three cheers
for the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. This attracts a big enough crowd
that Max suggests launching the campaign here. Eunice agrees, but Odili
vetoes it, unwilling to embarrass his POP father. Samalu says go ahead,
and all give him three cheers. Loudspeakers blare music, chairs are set out
for village dignitaries, and Max delivers an impressive.....
• Chapter 13 Summary
Two nights later, the town crier announces the elders have decided every
man, woman, and child must vote for Nanga; no other candidate exists.
Afternoon radio announces the same thing in four languages. Odili cannot
blame his village for looking after its economic interests. Two days after the
about-face, much of the pipe is returned, although some is diverted to
neighboring Ichida as a promise it will receive water. Nanga kills two birds
with one stone. Couple promises to refund the tax levy if father dissociates
himself from his son and the CPC. Odili imagines his father driving the
messenger away, but he believes he should have signed the paper. Odili
realizes he has never been close enough to his father to understand him.
Curiosity, perhaps, draws Odili incognito to Nanga's inaugural campaign
 Characters

Odili Samalu
The narrator and protagonist of A Man of the People, Odili is a native of
Urua village, where his father Hezekiah is a wealthy and widely hated
district interpreter and head of the local chapter of the People's
Organization Party (POP). Odili has graduated the Anata Grammar School,
where he is Nanga's favorite student and is a disaffected member of the
student's branch of POP. Having chosen to teach at his alma mater rather
than in a government school, Odili wants to continue his training in London,
but without accepting any political help in getting a scholarship. Odili
arranges to spend the holidays with his lover since university, Elsie, now a
nurse near the capital. Nanga's invitation to stay with him and explore
scholarship opportunities makes getting together with Elsie at Christmas
more convenient......
 Objects/Places

A village in Nigeria, 300 miles from the capital of Bori, Anata is the
hometown of M. A. Nanga and teacher Andrew Kadibe, and the location of
the Anata Grammar School in which the narrator teaches as the novel
begins. Odili intends to set up his campaign headquarters in Anata, but he
is barred from the school assembly hall, intimidated, and fired from his
teaching job. The novel's climax comes at a political rally in Anata, where
Odili is beaten by a mob of Nanga's thugs and hospitalized.
The capital of Nigeria, Bori is a contrast between fine homes like Chief
Nanga's and areas where night soil is picked up at dawn.
 Social Concerns

A Man of the People is a fictional account A.that recalls events that took
place in post-Colonial Nigeria in the 1960s. Its central social concern, also a
political concern, is the effect of corrupt government on the daily lives of
Nigeria's people. The chief character, Odili Samalu, is a teacher who himself
has been taught by the man who now rules the country, Chief Nanga,
whose epithet is the tide of the book. The title is undercut by irony at every
turn, for Nanga has put the people last and misruled the country for
personal gain. In the episode that opens the novel, he has fired a well-
educated finance minister whose sensible advice to cut coffee prices to
curtail inflation Nanga blatancy disregards because it is an election year.
Mobs condoned by Nanga then vandalize.....
 Techniques

Achebe has been much commended for his creation and use of his naive
narrator, Odili. Like Gulliver, he is a good reporter but not always a good
interpreter of what he sees, and he is instrumental in creating irony and
providing a satirical view of much of the action of the novel. That he is well
on the way to a political career himself by the book's end is no small part of
the irony.
There is obvious humor in Achebe's choice of names for the political parties,
P.O.P. and P.A.P. The seriously taken political party, C.P.C. started by Max
cannot be reduced to such an acronym.
Political satire extends to the blundering delivery and repossession of
stones and pipes for village sewer and waterworks building. A character
whom the villagers have named "Couple".....
 Themes

The power struggle between generations is a central theme of the novel.

Odili is a naive character who has refused a government post in favor of a
teaching job in the "bush," a rural area, in order to escape having to lick
the boots of the politically connected. Ironically, he gets drawn in, starting
with an elaborate reception hosted by Nanga, followed closely by an
invitation to spend holidays with him at the Minister's mansion in the
capital. His own father's relative poverty in recent years, because of his
many wives, seems to foster Odili's susceptibility to Nanga's overtures.
Knowing what he does about Nanga's harsh treatment of the Minister of
Finance, he should have known there would be strings attached.
While staying at Nanga's place, Odili brings a girl, Elsie, and Nanga in.....
 Significant Topics

A Man of the People deals with sex in a variety of ways. Even the nominally
Christian portions of Nigerian society practice polygamy and not merely so
that important figures like Chief Nanga can have a presentable young wife
to display. Hezekiah Samalu has several wives and fights with his son about
adding another. More than sixty children speak for themselves. Nanga
brags of his many sexual conquests and tells tales about a jealous husband
who put juju on his wife's breasts to keep her faithful. Odili goes to bed
with a nurse he meets at a party within an hour and they begin a long-term
relationship with no intention to marry. Odili sleeps with the hostess of
another party after dancing with her sensuously. Free love appears to be
widespread in the Nigeria of.....
 Style

Point of View
A Man of the People is told in the first-person by an active participant in
events, evidently soon after they unfold. The narrator, Odili Samalu, has
been beaten nearly to death by followers of Chief Nanga, his former
teacher, would-be benefactor, and opponent in a one-sided election.
Violence spreads until the Army steps in and overthrows the regime, taking
Nanga into custody and vowing to try the fallen ministers. Odili is still so
bitter, it appears he is producing his account within months. For the first
half of his story, Odili bends over backwards to be fair to Nanga without
ever denying his views have changed. Odili is an ambitious young man and
welcomes the powerful minister's help, provided all understand he is not for
sale. When Nanga seduces Odili's date, everything changes......
 Quotes

"It was at this point that I first noticed a new, dangerous and sinister note
in the universal outcry. "The Daily Chronicle, an official organ of the P.O.P.,
had pointed out in an editorial that the Miscreant Gang, as the dismissed
ministers were now called, we all university people and highly educated
professional men. (I have preserved a cutting of that editorial.)" Chapter 1,
p. 4.
"'Minister or no minister,' he said, 'a man who is my senior must still be my
senior. Other ministers and other people may do otherwise but my motto
is: Do the right and shame the Devil.' "Somehow I found myself admiring
the man for his lack of modesty. For what is modesty but inverted pride?
We all think we are first-class people." Chapter 1, p. 11.
"'Actually it's more than that. He.....
 Key Questions

His use of a central character as the narrator of the novel provide Achebe
with both a focus and an opportunity for satire. Readers will want to
examine the view of the Nigerian political scene both as seen by Odili and
as indicated by the author through his use of irony, satire, and the
backdrop of traditional Igbo village and Christian values. As the novel
preceded the Nigerian coup of January 1966, it was considered almost
prophetic; readers may want to question what truths of observation of
human nature and the political scene produced Achebe's uncanny wisdom.
As in earlier novels, traditional village values, as well as the Christian ideals
which were supposed to replace them, are largely inoperative. Readers can
question whether they serve any function at all. Treatment of women and
those at the.....
 Topics for Discussion

How is polygamy depicted in this novel?

How is Christianity depicted in this novel?
How are breasts used in the story?
Is Odili justified in breaking with Nanga over a girl? Comment on their
respective positions.
 Literary Precedents

Realistic action and dialogue and the plight of the main character acting in a
corrupt world where traditional values are disintegrating tie A Man of the
People to a range of modern American and British novels, and to novels
written in English by other Africans black and white. The central narrating
character who constantly, although sometimes inaccurately, assesses his
relationship to the outside world also ties the book to French existentialists
like Albert Camus, and to the pre-novel antihero Gulliver and writers of the
eighteenth century satiric tradition such as Samuel Johnson and Alexander
Pope. The satirical descriptions of upstart and extravagant European
buildings have hilarious precedents in poems like "The Epistle to Dr.
Arbuthnot," for instance.
The backdrop of conventional wisdom provided by the seemingly
superseded oral tradition of Igbo culture and the apparently.....
 Related Titles

As in A Man of the People, No Longer at Ease (1960; see separate entry)

attacks irresponsibility in government takes its toll on the personal lives of
all Nigerians, including those who have benefitted from the educational
system, started in colonial days. Okonkwo's grandson, who.....