A Stylistic Approach to Chimamanda Adichie’s Work: A Case Study of Americanah

A Stylistic Approach to Chimamanda Adichie’s Work

A Case Study of Americanah


This project aims at investigating features of style in Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. It majorly focuses on identification of features of style in line with contemporary stylistics and the analysis of the same features through graphological, syntactic and semantic levels. The features under study include: features that define textual medium, sociolinguistic code, actions and events, point of view, textual structure and intertextuality. This involves an explanation on how the meaning is realized through the mentioned levels. Foregrounding as a toolkit to studying of stylistics is a guide to this study. The study starts with an introduction to stylistics which gives an overview of what contemporary stylistics is. The study further demonstrates the motivation behind studying Chimamanda’s work as well as the essence and the argument of stylistic theory. This study argues that meaning in a text is realized through the levels of style as proposed by Short and Leech (1981) and that the identified features add value to the text.


1.1 Introduction

This study focuses on a stylistic approach to Chimamanda’s novel Americanah. The study involves a rigorous analysis of the features of stylistic domain that are foregrounded in the text. This work looks at how meaning is realized through the analysis of the different levels of style basing on the different levels of style as proposed by (Short and Leech, 1981, p.126).

Simpson‟s contribution to stylistics is viewed as one of the contemporary approaches to the field of study which was purely studied under literature (Lambrou and Stockwell, 2007,p.2).Stylistics is practiced in its broadest terms across the world, across all the fields of literary scholarship, genre, culture and period, and is increasingly used as the core discipline for further interdisciplinary encounters with literary historiography, critical theory, second language and cultural pedagogy and other forms of literary and language study (ibid).

Stylistics is usually drawn with its origins in classical rhetoric, though its modern incarnation stems most directly from the practical criticism and structuralism of the middle of the twentieth century. Stylistics has long outgrown this recent rebirth, and though it was never as formalist as its detractors liked to think, the field went on to gather to itself new analytical tools in pragmatics, text linguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, computational corpus linguistics and cognitive linguistics.

There are two views of what stylistics is for, what its functions are, and what it can achieve according to (Lambrou and Stockwell, 2007, p.3). All stylisticians would agree that the discipline accounts for the workings of literary texts. That is a matter of describing as systematically and openly as possible the nature of the textual evidence which accompanies a particular reading of the text. Stylistics can always do this, and it works 100% of the time with all texts and all readings. This basic outcome of stylistics provides a descriptive account of textual mechanics and the reading process which is made available in a common currency of register, in order to allow other stylisticians to compare their own account, verify or take issue with the analysis.

Stylistics offers an intersubjective analysis that can be shared, compared, and evaluated on the basis of explicit criteria. One happy consequence of this fact is that engaging with stylistic analyses often enriches the reading experience: the stylistician-reader gathers together perspectives from others and can make imaginative leaps into different viewpoints and feelings about a literary work.

The other view is that, stylistic frameworks are certainly often productive of new ways of seeing the literary work. This means stylistics can sometimes produce the sort of startling, pleasurable and perspective-changing moments in reading that literary criticism traditionally stumbles over clumsily and inarticulately (Lambrou and Stockwell, 2007, p.4).

By looking at features of stylistics as proposed by (Simpson, 2004, p.5) the researcher tackles some of the contemporary issues in stylistics such as narratology, mind style and cognitive science (Simpson, 2007; Hoover, 1999; Toolan, 1998).

1.1.1 Background to the Study

Contemporary stylistics has approaches which range from cognitive poetics to corpus linguistics, from explorations of mind style and spoken discourse in narrative to the workings of viewpoint in lyric poetry, from word meanings and emotions of literary worlds, and more (Lambrou and Stockwell, 2007, p.4). Stylistics often forms a core component of many creative writing courses, an application not surprising given the discipline‟s emphasis on techniques of creativity and invention in language (Simpson, 2004, p. 2; Short and Leech, 1981, p.121).

By looking at Adichie’s novel Americanah, this study conforms to the modern approaches to stylistics as it focuses on features of textual medium, features that define the sociolinguistic code, actions and events otherwise referred to as transitivity, point of view as pointed out by Lambrou and Stockwell (2007:118), textual structure and intertextuality. These are the elements that form narrative stylistics.

Stylistic theory as a theoretical framework offers that analysis of style involves analysis of levels style ranging from graphological, syntactic level and semantic level (Short and Leech, 1981, p.119) and within the three levels we have phonological and phonetic levels, lexicology and pragmatics (Simpson, 2004, p.5).This research intends to find out how these features are represented at the graphological and syntactic levels and how semantics which is purely meaning is realized through graphological and syntactic levels. Simpson provides that the levels of style that constitute linguistic structure are an important index of the function of the text hence through the analysis of the levels one needs to realize the meaning and not the structure alone.

Short and Leech (1981) propose that in studying style one looks at language as a code. A code is a means of conveying messages or a vehicle of communication whose operation is represented as follows in written language:

A Stylistic Approach to Chimamanda Adichie’s Work

Figure 1.1 Model of Reality (Short & Leech, 1981, p. 126)

This study will borrow a lot from the above diagram since it aims at realization of meaning from graphological and semantic level. Americanah is Adichie’s latest novel alongside Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing around Your Neck which is a collection of short stories. Americanah was chosen deliberately given that Adichie is recognized as the voice of Nigerian literature and the whole of Africa (Heather, 2005). Chimamanda’s earlier works have borrowed a lot from Chinua Achebe but Americanah takes a new turn which is realized through style and structure of the text, though this work does not intend to carry out a comparative study. Through Americanah,

Chimamanda enhances her theme through a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze who give their account of how blacks are treated in the USA and Britain. For example Obinze struggles to get hold of the ever elusive national security number that would enable him to work legally. When he was once invited for a party, he was shocked because food is served on self-consciously “ethnic plates” brought back from a holiday in India. Ifemelu also goes through a lot of torture as she tries to find a part time job. To achieve her themes she uses various features of style.

As argued by Kiguru (2012) Chimamanda’s work needs to be studied since she deals with themes that are relevant in the modern society for instance racial discrimination which is the main theme in Americanah. Kiguru argues that Chimamanda chooses unique language to pass across the themes that she deals with in her work. Chimamanda is one of the leading contemporary writers on the continent and this can be seen through her unique works (Yohannes, 2012). She proposes that Adichie’s uniqueness is seen through the use of different aspects of style like extensive use of translated and untranslated Igbo. The present study bases its argument on this proposition by identifying more aspects of style from Americanah. More arguments on the same are provided by (Heathers, 2005; Cooper, 2008).

Stylistics is viewed differently by different scholars for instance (Crystal and Davy, 1970, p.9) who define style as some or all the language habits of one person as when we talk of Shakespeare‟s style or the style of James Joyce or when we discuss questions of disputed authorship. Style hence is mistakenly said to be a man or his thought. More often, it refers in this way to a selection of language habits; the occasional linguistic eccentricity which characterize an individual‟s uniqueness. The present study borrows a lot from this assumption since it aims at identifying elements that make Chimamanda’s work unique.

Language as a means of spoken communication is regarded both traditionally and in modern linguistics as a system for translating meanings in the speaker‟s mind into sounds, or conversely for translating sounds into meanings in the hearer‟s mind. Whether we think of the ENCODING (meaning-to-sound) or the DECODING (sound-to-meaning) process, syntax is the formal code which mediates between structures of meaning and structures of sound (Short and Leech, 1981, p. 121). This study is basically structured on this argument.

They further argue that language is open-ended in that it permits the generation of new meanings and new forms for example metaphorical meanings and neologisms and it also has no clearly defined boundaries as to what is in the code and what breaks the rule. It is this creative extendability of the linguistic code that the researcher formed a basis for this study.

Foregrounding refers to the salient features in a text which receive this salience through prominence (Short and Leech, 1981). What is prominent is what is recurrent in a text. This study will borrow a lot from this definition because this study aims at investigating features that have been given prominence in the text. Foregrounding, according to the Routledge Linguistics Encyclopedia by (Kirsten Malmkjaer, 2013), is a linguistic-stylistic toolkit which seeks to highlight noteworthy linguistic patterns in a work and then more, in a responsible scholarly fashion from description to interpretation and finally to evaluation. The patterns are deviation, repetition and parallelism.

According to Simpson (2004) stylistics is a method of textual interpretation in which primacy of place is assigned to language. Language in this case is important to stylisticians because the various forms, patterns and levels that constitute linguistic structure are an important index of the function of the text. The text‟s functional significance as discourse acts in turn as a gateway to its interpretation. While linguistic features do not of themselves constitute a texts „meaning‟ an account of linguistic features nonetheless serves to ground a stylistic interpretation and to help explain why for the analyst, certain types of meaning are possible.

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