A Man of the People Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “A Man of the People” by Chinua Achebe includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 13 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Corruption vs. Naivety and Intellectualism.
Written in 1966, A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe is a story of warlords, mentorship, and even revenge and romance. It begins with the narrator, Odili, who is a teacher in a small African village, central to a corrupt and debased government. Odili receives a letter one day from his mentor and former teacher Mr. Nanga, who has risen in the ranks of government and has become the Minister of Culture in their unnamed African country – he now goes mainly by Chief Nanga. The letter informs Odili of Chief Nanga’s arrival to his home village, where they meet, reminisce and Odili is offered a chance to come back with Nanga to the capital city, where Nanga will help him leave the village and study abroad.
Odili agrees to visit Chief Nanga’s city, and as they become more friendly, Odili learns more about his mentor’s part in the African government. Although he finds himself entranced by his old teacher’s charisma, he despises what he stands for politically, and especially loathes the corrupt ways he achieved his status. Odili also learns that despite being a Minister of Culture, Chief Nanga knows nothing about the culture, and is only residing in this position because of the extravagant living comforts that come with it. As they spend more time together, Odili finds himself enamored with Edna, a woman who travels with Chief Nanga, and is betrothed to be his second wife. This causes Odili to find his own woman, Elise, who he seduces and brings back with him to Nanga’s home, to stay with her during the night, however Chief Nanga ends up spending the night with her instead. Odili is both hurt and furious because of this, and sets his sights on Nanga’s fiancée, Edna.
Along with pursuing Edna, Odili agrees to join an opposition party against Chief Nanga’s organization, despite his hate for politics, however revenge is now more important to him, and begins to work towards taking Chief Nanga’s position away from him. To counter his distaste for government, Odili decides on running an honest organization, however he finds it more difficult than he had first thought, as every other official is only after filling their pockets, and the people of this African country are both used to and have accepted corruption as the status quo. This jaded view of the village people also contributes to the fact that Odili is unable to smear the current government, because the people have lost complete faith in the concept as a whole, and he is unable to gain the upper hand. Other issues Odili has to deal with are considering taking a large sum of money to drop out of the political race, trying to prove that the current government is corrupt and taking bribes to the unreceptive people, and having his family and his village threatened as well as being browbeaten into stepping down.
Along with all these political struggles, Odili slowly discovers that his plan to seduce Edna to hurt the chief has backfired, because Odili finds himself in love with her, and he desires her; however, she feels forced to marry Chief Nanga because he had paid her father a great deal of money. Odili, growing more frustrated with his opponent, attends Nanga’s campaign party, where is recognized as the rival candidate, and is beaten to an inch of his life, and is forced to spend weeks in the hospital.
During Odili’s recovery he remains out of action, causing Chief Nanga’s party to gain the electoral victory, which naturally thrills Chief Nanga, however the residents of the African country are livid, and start a military coup in which Nanga’s government is overthrown, causing more people to come forward and discuss their hatred for the government that they were under all these years.
The book really pushes the satire by highlighting the types of people in this world – how people are never satisfied and often angered by their own decisions, like how the countrymen voted for Chief Nanga, but then were unhappy when he won, and how no one wanted to step up when it mattered except Odili, and even when he did, he suffered greatly for it. A Man of the People had grown in popularity since its publication, mostly because many other authors have hailed it and Chinua Achebe as being a form of premonition, since all the fictional events happened in different African countries under the rule of monstrous dictators.
Near the end, Edna stays by Odili’s side the entire time, helping him heal, revealing her love for him, and their families make arrangements and help the couple stay together, and eventually Odili and Edna marry. Odili discovers much loss at the end of the book, like losing the election, having the countrymen resort to chaos and violence to bring down the government that they themselves elected, and having lost many people in the war, including one of his closest friends who was killed by a government official. Despite that, he feels that at least he had won the heart of the woman he loves, and that now his country lies in ruins, but at least he tried.