Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe is known in the world for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature. He continues to be considered among the most significant world writers. Achebe's global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. In addition, Achebe is distinguished in his substantial and weighty investment in the building of literary arts institutions. His work as the founding editor of the Heinemann African Writers Series led to his editing over one hundred titles in it. He continues his long-standing work on the development of institutional spaces where writers can be published and develop creative and intellectual community.
Anthills of the Savannah is set in a military regime in late-20th-century Kangan, a fictitious west African republic that bears resemblances to Chinua Achebe’s native Nigeria. Employing multiple voices and flashbacks, interweaving the past and the present, fantasy and reality together, Chinua Achebe not only represents vividly the inhuman treatment the native people suffer under dictatorship but also exposes the destruction of African cultural identity and the African people’s identities. Chinua Achebe is quite good at depicting characters full of voices claiming their identities. These different voices are singing in different ways on the same theme of intention of the characters who are trying to reconstruct the self and identity of which racial discrimination and dictatorship have deprived them. They form a dialogical relationship of agreement and disagreement, supplementation and corroboration, question and answer.
Except for the studies from the perspectives of the postcolonialism and postfeminism by the author herself and her classmates, the text Anthills of the Savannah has never been studied by scholars and researchers in China, while the study in this work is far from enough abroad. Therefore, the author will give it a try to study the work from the perspective of Bakhtin’s polyphonic theory to make a further exploration.
As one of the most influential African writer, Chinua Achebe has been increasingly gaining great concern devoted to his interpretation and appreciation despite limited study in the work Anthills of the Savannah. In order to have a deep understanding of Bakhtin’s polyphonic theory in the novel, the author studied the most representative papers on Chinua Achebe’s other great works and then classifies them into the following aspects:
First, Dr. Woode of the University of Oklahoma analyzes alterity and hybridity in Anglophone postcolonial literature including Achebe and his work Anthills of the Savannah. Second, Dr. Erritouni of the University of Miami explores nation-states, intellectuals, and utopias in postcolonial fiction also including Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. Third, Robin Ikegami explicitly addresses in detail knowledge and an exercise of power within the novel deep into the nature.
To sum up, we can see almost all the studies are from the perspective of postcolonialism. The viewpoint of Bakhtin’s polyphonic theory into the novel is quite a fresh experience to understand Anthills of the Savannah.
III. Theoretical Framework:
Bakhtin is gradually emerging as one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century. He wins the fame of an “encyclopedia of theory” in the field of humanities because his thoughts cover such as philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, linguistics, semiotics, and anthropology etc(Ling, 1999：53).
Bakhtin’s philosophical thought about dialogism stems from his original study on Dostoevsky’s novels. Bakhtin introduces his concept of “polyphony”, whereby and author creates characters that are ideologically different from himself. For the first time he uses the term “dialogic” to describe his views on philosophy of language. Dostoevsky was the first author to achieve full creation of characters whose consciousnesses were distinctively different from his own. Bakhtin coined this achievement “polyphony”, borrowing the term from a Soviet literary critic who in turn appropriated the phrase from music theory. Bakhtin said, “A plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices is in fact the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky’s novels.”
Dialogicality permeates every aspects of human life. “Everything in Dostoevsky’s novels gravitates toward the dialogue, toward dialogical opposition, as the center point. Everything is the means, the dialogue is the end. One voice alone concludes nothing. Two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum of existence.”(Bakhtin, 213) The polyphonic novel is thoroughly dialogical, so some scholars declare that polyphonic novel is also called dialogical novel.”(Bai, 102)
Because the polyphonic novel is dialogical, the polyphonic novel is full of multivoicedness. The characteristics of a polyphonic novel are not just embodied in the dialogicality of the characters. What is more important is that they are embodied in the multivoicedness of the characters. The so-called ‘multivoicedness’ reveals the variety of thoughts and the complexity of human experience. The multi-voices are interwoven with each other to serve the theme that the author wants to express, forming a dialogical relationship―“the relationship of agreement-disagreement, corroboration-supplementation, and question-answer”.(Bakhtin,156) In a dialogical novel, there is not just one arbitrary author or narrator to tell the story, but many consciousnesses to tell the same theme, not in unison, but in different ways. The multi-voices sing the same tune in different tones, and serve for the center theme. The voices still remain independent, and these voices are combined in a unity of a higher order.
Dialogicality and multivoicedness lead to the characteristic of unfinishedness of the novel. In Doestoevsky’s subsequent works, the characters no longer carry on a literary polemic with finalizing secondhand definitions of man(…), but they all do furious battle with such definitions of their personality in the mouths of other people. They all acutely sense their own inner unfinalizability, their capacity to outgrow, as it were, from within and to render untrue any externalizing and finalizing definition of them. As long as a person is alive he lives by the fact that he is not yet finalized, that he has not yet uttered his ultimate word.(Bakhtin,59)
The openness and unfinalizability of a polyphonic novel is not only embodied in interpretation for the protagonists, but also in its polyphonic internal structure, which takes the theme as the center. The author usually disrupts the time and space order. The reader needs to re-arrange the time and space in order to restore the chaotic plot into a story or a set of stories. The set of stories telling a general theme have no cause-result relationship, but they are united under the same general theme. The set of stories form an orderly structure, become complementary to each other and make the novels into an organic whole(Dong, 1994:221). Anthills of the Savannah conspicuously has the polyphonic internal structure, a story about the African experience, from dictatorship to democracy, from autocracy to freedom. Now let us cast our polyphonic view to the slave narrative and the monumental work Anthills of the Savannah in the historical development of African literature.
I. Major characters in Anthills of the Savannah.
In Anthills of the Savannah, the main characters tell their stories. The readers can hear many voices among whom the novel’s centre is a triumvirate of friends, once schoolboys together at Lord Lugard College: the Sandhurst trained president, Sam, growing from false messiah to monster; Ikem Osodi, a poet, ‘typical Abazonian’ in his rebelliousness and crusading editor of the National Gazette Newspaper; and the Christopher Oriko, the Commissioner for Information who tries to mediate between the two before being himself forced into hiding and flight to the sanctuary of Abazon. While an authorial voice occasionally intervenes, the fellow ‘witnesses’ Ikem and Christopher share the polyphonic narrative with Beatrice, Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, who is Christ’s girlfriend and a friend of Ikem. The main characters also include Ikem’s illiterate shop assistant girlfriend Elewa, who is left with Beatrice at the end in charge of the naming ceremony for Elewa’s daughter, Amaechina, meaning ‘May the path never close’―‘our own version of hope that springs eternal’.
II. Anthills of the Savannah as a Multivoiced Novel
Anthills of the Savannah has the most conspicuous characteristics of a polyphonic novel: multivoicedness. In this novel, we can see the same situation just as what Bakhtin had described a polyphonic novel:
The intersection, consonance, or interference of speeches in the overt dialog with the speeches in the heroes’ interior dialogs are everywhere present. The specific totality of ideas, thoughts and words is everywhere passed through several unmerged voices, taking on a different sound in each. The object of the author’s aspirations is not at all this totality of ideas in and of itself, as something neutral and identical with itself. No, the object is precisely the act of passing the themes through many and varied voices, it is, so to speak, the fundamental, irrescindable multivoicedness and varivoicedness of the theme.(Bakhtin,226)
These different voices sing the same theme of being eager for freedom and democracy in Anthills of the Savannah. These full valued voices hold contending ideas. The multivoices are interwoven with each other, forming a dialogic relationship. Now let’s listen to multivoicedness from the polyphonic novel Anthills of the Savannah.
1. Sam’s voice of claiming power.
Anthills of the Savannah is set in a military regime in late-20th-century Kangan, a fictitious west African republic that bears resemblances to Chinua Achebe’s native Nigeria in the decades after independence in1960. However, too much trouble has been seen since the white men left because those who make plans make plans for themselves only and their families. Kangan’s head of state, Sam, known as His Excellency, who has been installed by a coup against a corrupt civilian government, stokes an atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the country. The story becomes a dialogue：“The monologue became，in fact，a duet as they lay down together,” as“the two did the best they could to create what really happened”(Philip Page，1 55)His voice of claiming power is clearly embodied in the following dialogue and description
“His Excellency’s deep anxiety had been swiftly assuaged by his young brilliant and aggressive Director of the State Research Council. He proved once again in his Excellency’s words as efficient as the Cabinet was incompetent. His Excellency had decided to retire all military members of his Cabinet and to replace them with civilians and , to cap it all, add President to all his titles."(Achebe, 1987:13)
“How many times, for God’s sake, am I expected to repeat it? Why do you find it so difficult to swallow my ruling. On anything?
‘I am sorry. Your Excellency. But I have no difficulty swallowing and digesting your rulings.’”(Achebe, 1987:1)
Sam’s domination is inevitably driven on the way of dictatorship and his strong eagerness for power originates in the deepest bottom of his heart for fear of being overthrown by his rivals and people. On the opposite side of his great fear and dictatorship lies his crying for democracy and harmony of his country which is just the centre theme that the multivoices sing.
2. Ikem’s voice of claiming democracy.
Ikem, one of the elites in African countries, doesn’t flinch in the political turmoil and still keep his position, trying to wake up the people by his speech and poems.
“That night he composed his Hymn to the Sun:
Great Carrier of Sacrifice to the Almighty: Single Eye of God! Why have you brought this on us? What hideous abomination forbidden and forbidden and forbidden again seven times have we committed or else condoned, what error that no reparation can hope to erase?...... ”(Achebe, 1987:28)
In a dialogical novel, there is not just one arbitrary author to tell the story, but many consciousnesses to tell the same theme, not in unison, but in different ways. The multi-voices are interwoven with each other to serve the theme that the author wants to express, forming a dialogical relationship---“the relationship of agreement-disagreement, corroboration-supplementation, and question-answer”(Bakhtin, PDP156).
“The audience sat or stood silently entranced. Its sudden end was like a blow and it jolted them into shouts of protest. Calls of Fire! Fire! More! More and even Opposed! Soon turn into a rhythmic chant when Ikem sat down.
The chairman turned to him and said, they want some more!
‘Yes! More! More!’
‘I thank you, my friends, for the compliment. But as someone once said: There is nothing left in the pipeline!’
‘No! No! Opposed!”(Achebe, 1987:147)
Africa’s democracy and freedom and harmony are dependent on the mainstream in society. Powerful inner dialogue and dialogue with other characters interweave in the novel, loudly singing the theme of the desire for democracy. Anthills snatches hope from the jaws of despair partly through revealing the inevitability of corrupt power devouring itself. Yet there is more than political wisdom here, as Ikem insists that Man will surprise by his capacity for nobility as well as for villainy.
3. Christopher’s voice of claiming harmony in friendship and society.
Christopher, as a middleman between his two best friends, plays an important role in the struggle. Chris holds a post as Mr. Commissioner for Information just like the throat and mouth for a person. Although Chris is Sam’s best friend from their hometown in Kangan, Sam is suspicious of his best friend Chris after they take office in their nation. There exists rather difficulty and danger for Chris’s job. Every time his dialogue with Sam, His Excellency, conceals great risk but Chris always control the subtle situation with his wisdom. As a matter of fact, at the bottom of his inner heart, he utters his voice of claiming harmony in friendship and society.
“We are all connected. You cannot tell the story of any of us without implicating the others. Ikem may resent me but he probably resent Sam even more and Sam resents both of us most vehemently. We are too close together, I think.
‘Ok, Ikem was the intellectual, Sam the socialite, what about you?’
‘I have always been in the middle. Neither as bright as Ikem and not such a social success as Sam. I have always been the lucky one, in a way.”(Achebe, 1987:61)
Through this piece of dialogue, Chris sings his heart of the desire for the harmony in their friendship.
Chris is cast a blame on by the suspicion and fear of his best friend Sam who twists himself before the temptation of power. On the way of his fleeing from being caught to Abazon, Chris is deeply impressed by the pains and sufferings that the south Abazonians are enduring. In the end, Chris once again bravely sings the centre theme of upholding democracy with his life seemingly accidentally but actually inevitably.
4. Beatrice’s voice of claiming feminism.
In Achebe’s view: The female presence is there in all his novels. It seems as if it is not important-which is the reality of how it looks in Igbo society-till you get to a crisis which threatens survival. (Achebe, 1987:xiv)
Beatrice was born into a traditional African family in which women are despised low and useless. With a very stern father, as distant from us children as from their poor mother, her love and compassion for her mother don’t greet her mother’s heart. “I didn’t realize until much later that my mother bore me a huge grudge because I was a girl-her fifth in a row though one had died and that when I was born she had so desperately prayed for a boy to give my father.”(Achebe, 1987:82) Beatrice has known her status as a girl in the family since childhood. She deeply senses that she lives in a world different from the world of her father and mother and even her sisters. Of course, her growing experience teaches her to be independent. “Being a girl of maybe somewhat above average looks, a good education, a good job you learn quickly enough that you can’t open up to every sweet tongue that comes singing at your doorstep. …Every girls knows that from her mother’s breast although thereafter some may choose to be dazzled into forgetfulness for one reason or another. Or else they panic and get stampeded by the thought that time is passing them by. That’s when you hear all kinds of nonsense talk from girls: Better to marry a rascal than grow a moustache in your father’s compound; better an unhappy marriage than an unhappy spinsterhood; better marry Mr. Wrong in this world than wait for Mr. Right in heaven; all marriage is how-for-do; all men are the same; and a whole baggage of other foolishnesses like that.”(Achebe, 1987:83)
So Beatrice is quite different from those traditional female in the family. She is highly respected by Ikem who always looks on women to be useless and ignorant. She always puts her career in a very important place and meanwhile as a girlfriend of Chris, Mr. Commissioner for Information, she enjoys an equal status in their relationship and wins Chris’s respect. Therefore, Beatrice sings the theme of being independent and full of wisdom as a female and equally crying for democracy in society with her own action.
Anthills of Savannah is set in a fictitious west African republic that bears resemblances to Chinua Achebe’s native Nigeria. The novel has the conspicuous feature of a polyphonic novel: multivoicedness, the multivoices restore the lively state of ideologies for the readers, i.e., many voices are placed side by side with each other. There is not just one voice, one value judgment. There are contending voices between the heroes. There are also splitting voices in one consciousness. The desire and determination are juxtaposed in the voice of the main characters. There is the magnificence of a symphony. Achebe casts his concerns to the domestic situation in the African countries after the liberation. And he has successfully created a multivoiced text that is sufficiently detached from the mainstream to retain aesthetic independence by using traditional African myths, supernatural phenomena and superstitions in Anthills of the Savannah.
In the present world, the tide of economic globalization of sweeping every corner of the planet that we are living on. What Achebe gives us in his work is that even under the guise of dictatorship democracy is still the most valuable thing we all desire.We are all eager to construct a harmonious society full of democracy and freedom. Like Achebe, we should and we can on our own build our country, construct our system and respect our people.
 Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savannah. London: The Penguin Group, 1987.
 Bai Chunren。“Bakhtin in Search of Dialogical Thinking'’．Literature Criticism issue 5 1998：101一08．
 Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Ed. And trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1973.
 Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin:University of Texas Press, 1981.
 Ikegami, Robin. Knowledge and Power, the Story and the Storyteller: Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah MFS Modern Fiction Studies - Volume 37, Number 3, Fall 1991, pp. 493-507.