All life converges to some centre: alienation and modernity in the early Ayi Kwei Armah

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This paper examines representations of existential alienation in two early novels by the Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah. The introductory chapter extrapolates an account of how the representational strategies of existential alienation produce specific effects on the act of self - writing. From there, the paper explores these effects in Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), arguing that alienation is a valuable heuristic in unlocking the novel’s complex meditation on how abstract, macrohistorical forces like neo - colonialism come to be registered in the most intimate aspects of the subject’s experience of the world. As such, if one restores the historical details of Ghana’s “post-colonial” moment, the novel is redeemed from Chinua Achebe’s assertion that the novel is “sick [...] not with the sickness of Ghana, but the sickness of the human condition”. Representations of alienation have a diagnostic function in The Beautyful Ones . The second chapter examines alienation under the new imaginative terrains of Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons (1973), and articulates the experiments in formal representation in that novel with Armah’s inaugural concern with the possibility of a prognostic appraisal of the alienation so widely thematised in his earlier trilogy. Both studies are undertaken, finally, to explore the ways in which modernity has been received in African literature, and to demonstrate the analytic value of existential alienation in understanding the crises of a specifically African modernity.

Inlcudes bibliographical references.