Chike’s School Days by Chinua Achebe
In Chike’s School Days by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of tradition, modernity, religion, change, language and conflict. Taken from his Girls at War and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Achebe may be exploring the theme of tradition. Chike’s mother does not allow Chike to eat with the other children in the village. She does not believe in following tradition in whereby all children eat together when invited into a neighbour’s home. Similarly in times of difficulty Amos’ mother resorts to getting help from the diviner even though she has briefly converted to Christianity. She believes that the diviner will help her when it comes to stopping Amos from marrying Sarah. However Amos still goes ahead and marries Sarah regardless of the actions of his mother and the diviner. If anything it is noticeable that religion is playing a big part in Amos’ life. Not only has he converted to Christianity but he also seems to have completely forgone any of his traditional beliefs. Which may be important as it highlights the influence of religion in particular Christianity among those who lived in Africa. Amos would be one of many who turned their backs on a traditional way of life. Favouring Christianity.
The theme of change is also self-evident in the story. Amos as an example and as mentioned has turned his back on the traditional values he was raised by. Similarly Sarah does not allow, again as mentioned, Chike to eat with the other children. There is a shift from tradition to what some might call modernity. Particularly when it comes to Chike’s education. He is being educated through the English language something that Chike likes very much. He is able to play with words and allow his mind to explore these words. Even if he does not fully understand what the words may mean. The important thing to remember is that Chike has an interest in his education. Even though it does not involve the teaching of the traditional values of the village. Which may be important as Achebe may be suggesting that Chike’s education is developmentally more superior to any education that he may receive through the traditional methods of the village. Again he may not understand everything that is being taught to him but he still none the less shows a great interest.
It is this breakaway from tradition which Achebe may be focusing on. He might be placing a spotlight on traditional values within the village and suggesting that they may not be comparable to what modernity or Christianity has to offer. Tradition can take a person so far. However they must venture that little bit further to ensure there is an understanding of the world outside the village. A place that Chike himself when he gets older may end up exploring. He is better equipped to understand the outside world by way of abandoning traditional teachings and embracing a more modern method of learning. The fact that the diviner is unable to stop Amos from marrying Sarah may also be important as Achebe could be suggesting that the ways of the diviner may not necessarily be the right path to follow. In essence his actions have failed and Achebe may be suggesting so too have the traditional values of the village. It is also interesting that part of the village still believes in the traditional values of people like the diviner (Amos’ mother as an example). As this suggests there is a conflict between tradition and modernity within the village.
Some people still believe that there is nothing wrong with the way they live their lives while Sarah on the other hand might consider the ways of the village not to be appropriate. Something that is clear to the reader by Sarah’s refusal to let Chike eat with the other children. There also doesn’t seem to be any common ground between those who wish to live their lives in a traditional manner and those who have embraced modernity or Christianity. There is no unity in the village. Tradition and modernity are not good bed fellows. It is also possible that Achebe by contrasting traditional values against those of modernity or Christianity is suggesting that the outcome will only lead to conflict. Which is self-evident in the story. The only person who appears to be unaffected is Chike who has found a new world to explore. A world that does not include the traditional values of the village and which is ignited by the words (in English) that he is learning. It may also be significant that Chike is happy at the end of the story as Achebe could be suggesting that modernity is more relevant to Chike than any values in which his village may bestow on him. Chike appears to be happy in life learning through English. Modernity or Christianity may be more progressive in life to Chike than anything he might learn from those who adhere to the traditional values in the village.