Evocations of poverty in selected novels of Meja Mwangi and Roddy Doyle : a study of literary representation

Ticha, Ignatius Khan (2013-12)

Thesis (PhD)-- Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The study explores fictional representations of poverty in selected novels of Meja Mwangi and Roddy Doyle, respectively Kenyan and Irish – examining techniques of literary representation and how the two authors make imaginative use of various stylistic techniques and verbal skills in a selection of their texts to achieve compelling representations of poverty. The study recognizes that poverty is one of the most recurrent subjects of discussion in the world, that it is a complex and multifaceted concept and condition and that it affects societal, political and economic dimensions of life. The study considers the (broad) United Nations definition of poverty as: “… a human condition characterised by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights” (United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, 2002). Rather than suggest that fiction replaces other approaches in the study of poverty, the study calls for a complementary “conversation” between fiction and the social sciences in depictions of the condition of poverty. However, the study notes the advantage that fiction has in its nuanced exploration of the subject of poverty. In fact, fiction reflects social reality in interestingly subversive but also empowering ways – showing a unique way of dealing with difficult situations. Fiction is equipped with the subtle instruments and complex power of literary devices to articulate multiple layers of possible meanings and human experiences and conditions vividly and movingly – in ways that are accessible to a variety of readers. While giving a voice to the voiceless – the poor – narrative fiction opens inner feelings and thoughts of the depicted poor and enables the reader to probe deeply into the inner feelings of characters depicted; allowing the reader to develop a deeper understanding of the condition of poverty, but also allowing the reader to bring his or her interpretation to bear on what is represented. The five main chapters of the thesis are thematically arranged, but the analysis draws on a variety of theoretical paradigms including but not limited to those of Maria Pia Lara and Mikhail Bakhtin. Significant to the study is Maria Pia Lara’s ideas of literature as a “frame for struggles of recognition and transformation” (Lara, 1998: 7) and of the “illocutionary force” (1998: 5) of literature – its ability to articulate aspects of a human condition (such as poverty) vividly and compellingly. Bakhtin’s suggestion that “language is not self-evident and not in itself incontestable” (Bakhtin, 2004: 332) is important – capturing the idea of a distinctive flexibility of discourse in the novel and rejecting simplistic ideas that there is a single truth concerning a particular situation such as poverty.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis onderneem ‘n studie van literêre voorstellings van armoede in geselekteerde romans van Meja Mwangi en Roddy Doyle, respektiewelik ‘n Keniaanse en ‘n Ierse outeur. Die analise sentreer rondom die literêre tegnieke waarvan die skrywers gebruik maak en ondersoek hul verbeeldingryke gebruik van verskillende stilistiese tegnieke en verbale kunste in ‘n seleksie van hul tekste om sodoende indrukwekkende voorstellings van armoede te boekstaaf. Die studie erken dat armoede een van die mees bespreekte onderwerpe in die wêreld is, dat dit ‘n komplekse en veelkantige konsep en tipe lewenservaring is en dat dit by sosiale, politiese en ekonomiese lewensdimensies aansny. Die studie maak gebruik van die breë definisie van armoede soos verskaf deur die Verenigde Volke: “… ‘n menslike kondisie wat gekenmerk word deur die langdurige of kroniese ontneming van die bronne, kapasiteite, keuses, sekuriteit en mag wat nodig is ten einde ‘n adekwate lewensstandaard en ander siviele, kulturele, ekonomiese, politiese en sosiale regte te kan geniet” (Verenigde Volke Kommissie van Menseregte, 2002). Instede daarvan om te suggereer dat fiksie ander maniere om oor armoede te bestudeer, behoort te vervang, stel hierdie studie voor dat ‘n komplementerende “gesprek” tussen fiksie en die sosiale wetenskappe behoort plaas te vind aangaande die toestand van armoede. Nogtans meld hierdie studie die voordeel aan waaroor fiksie beskik in die genuanseerde ondersoek aangaande die onderwerp van armoede. Fiksie reflekteer sosiale werklikhede op interessante, selfs subversiewe maar ook bemagtigende maniere – sodoende manifesteer dit ‘n unieke metode van omgaan met moeilike situasies. Fiksie beskik oor subtiele instrumente en die komplekse krag van literêre metodes om die veellagige moontlike betekenisse en toestande waardeur armoede gekenmerk word, te artikuleer – op heldere asook aandoenlike maniere wat terselfdertyd weerklank kan vind by ‘n verskeidenheid van lesers. Terwyl dit ‘n stem verskaf aan die stemloses – die armes – open narratiewe fiksie die dieper gevoelens en gedagtes van die armes en maak sulke werke dit vir die leser moontlik om deur te dring tot die binneste gevoelslewe van die karakters. Op hierdie manier maak fiksie dit vir die leser moontlik om ‘n beter begrip van die ervaringswêreld van armoedige mense te bekom, maar word dit ook vir die leser moontlik om sy of haar eie interpretasie te maak van die voorgestelde toestand van armoede. Die vyf hoofstukke van die tesis is tematies gestruktureer, maar die analise maak gebruik van ‘n paar teoretiese perspektiewe wat díe van Maria Pia Lara en Mikhail Bakhtin insluit. Lara se idees aangaande letterkunde as “[a] frame for struggles of recognition and transformation” en oor die “illocutionary force” (Lara, 1998: 7, 5) van letterkunde – m.a.w. die mag van literêre voorstellings om aspekte van menslike ervaring (bv. armoede) op duidelike en kragtige maniere uit te beeld – en Bakhtin se suggestie: “language is not self-evident and not in itself contestable” (Bakhtin, 2004: 332) is belangrik omdat dit die kenmerkende buigsaamheid van diskoers in die roman saamvat en simplistiese idees dat daar ‘n enkelmatige waarheid i.v.m. ‘n komplekse toestand soos armoede kan wees, verwerp.

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