CLASS: SENIOR FOUR
UNIT 1: REVIEW THE KEY ASPECTS OF PROSE
UNIT 2: INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN LITERARY TRADITIONS
UNIT 3: LITERARY TECHNIQUES IN NOVELS
UNIT 4: THEMES AND MESSAGES IN A NOVEL
UNIT 5: HAIKU AND TANKA
UNIT 6: SONNET AND RHYME
UNIT 7: EPIGRAMS
UNIT 8: DIFFERENT FORMS OF DRAMA
UNIT 9: KEY ASPECTS OF DRAMA
UNIT 10: PERIODS OF AFRICAN DRAMA
UNIT IV. THEMES AND MESSAGES IN A NOVEL
As you have noted, novels are stories about life. They are stories about human experience. Novels are written in different contexts or situations. It could be a historical, economic or social context. The context or existing environment, affects the themes that an author chooses to address. One could choose to write about love, war or independence, depending on the existing situation. For example, Things Fall Apart is set in pre-colonial Nigeria – this is the historical context. Umuofia is a conservative African village where tradition and belief in deities is expected of all Umuofians – this is the social context. These contexts enabled Chinua Achebe to talk about yams, wrestling matches, war among other concerns.
IV.1. THEMES AND MESSAGES IN A NOVEL
The key functions of a novel are firstly to entertain and secondly to communicate ideas. Theme is the main/central idea of a story. It is the view about life that is expressed in the story. Message is the lesson the author hopes the reader can get from the novel or the moral of the novel.
Themes and messages may be stated explicitly. This is when the writer states them openly and clearly. Themes and messages could also be implied. This is when the author does not state them directly. Themes may also be major or minor. A major theme is an idea the author returns to time and again. It becomes one of the most important ideas in the story. Minor themes are ideas that may appear once in a while in a story.
In interpreting themes, one has to deduce evidence from the story. You must identify a cross section of examples from the text to support your interpretation of the story’s theme. When writing about themes do not merely describe what happens in the story. The theme should be an idea we learn after reading the story.
There are some common/universal themes, such as love, suffering, hope and betrayal. Other themes include friendship, war, crime/mystery, revenge, rivalry, heroism, past vs. present, etc. Every element of a story can highlight a theme. For instance:
- The title often provides insights into the theme or themes in a story.
- The statements of the narrator or other characters could reveal a theme.
- The arrangement of events – plot – can also reveal themes.
- Conflicts in a story are also indicators of themes.
- Central symbols in a story may also point out to important themes.
Ask yourself the following questions when interpreting themes in a novel:
- What is the central or main theme of the story?
- What other themes can you identify?
- Does the title of the story suggest a theme?
- Does the narrator or any other characters, make statements that express or imply a theme?
- In what ways does the arrangement of events in the story suggest a theme?
- In what ways does the central conflict suggest a theme?
- How does the point of view shed light on the story’s central theme?
- Are there any symbols that suggest a theme?
A message is the lesson the reader learns after reading a novel but sometimes a novel can have a particular kind of message which is called “moral”. A moral is a kind of message that teaches a reader a life lesson, like what is right or wrong, how to make decisions, or how to treat other people.
While reading a novel, you have to try to figure out the message that the author is trying to deliver or transmit through his/her novel. We find the message of the novel by examining what characters do, say or think. Furthermore, what happens to characters and their reactions generally show what the author wants to teach you.
Context is referred to the circumstances forming the background of an event, idea or statement, in a such a way as to enable the audience (readers, listeners, spectators) understand the narrative or a literary piece. Generally, context refers to the whole situation, background or environment relevant to a literary work.
The types of context include:
It refers to the immediate physical and social setting in which people live or in which something happens or develops. It is also the reflection of how the characters’ actions and attitudes are affected by events occurring around the time and place where they live. It involves the characters’ interactions in all levels of life. In The River Between, for example, the social context is an idyllic rural community with people interacting with each other and their petty inter-ridges rivalries. The people have their prophets and medicine men. They are engaged in their daily endeavours to survive.
It refers to the moods, attitudes and conditions that existed in a certain time. Historical context is also the time period in which a story occurs. Both historical events (like wars) can influence the story.
It is an aspect of setting that pertains to when events and when characters live and interact. As an example, the historical context of The River Between is pre-colonial Africa and the coming of the Europeans. The story gives the traditions, beliefs and activities of this community before the Europeans came as we are told of the hills they lived in, their myths on how they settled, relationships with their neighbours, etc.
It can be described as the sustained conditions, collective expectations and prevailing norms among a group of people or a social network. It includes the values of a society, their beliefs social and moral norms as well as the meanings people give to the human actions and behaviours. It looks at the society in which characters live in and how their culture can affect their behaviours and their opportunities.
This deals with the leadership characteristics and dynamics of a society. It includes the types of leadership (like democracy, monarchy, kingdom, chiefdom), the role of people in determining their leadership, freedoms and rights. It is also referred to the disposition of decision makers surrounding an event or idea.
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