Literature has some unique features that make it admirable. It is
these features that possess the power that spark off the change in
people. An understanding of these features helps us to understand
literature better. Such features as Theme, Style, Plot, Character and
Characterization, Setting etc. All these deal with peoples' emotions and
their environments. Literary appreciation, as well as criticism has
helped to expose and entrench these features. In sum, literature through
its aesthetic and artistry have shaped and affected the society
positively. When you read any literary work, you find yourself in the
work which expresses some of the features mentioned earlier.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
This research entitled "Literature" a vehicle for social change" sets
out to study how literature can bring about change in the society.
In this research I might use the word "vehicle" and "tool"
interchangeably, in addition to the words "change” and "development" in
order to achieve the objective set for this work.
The issue of whether literature has the capacity to trigger off a
revolution has been an enduring controversy. Some people believe it does
not, while others argue that literature is of no use if writers write
and no one reads what they write. A work of art becomes effective only
when it is read. A writer and critic, Kole Omotoso has more to say on
The society has to use what it produces for literature to be
relevant. For instance, had not responded to some of the 18th and 19th
century novels depicting the suffering in Russia, the Russian revolution
would not have happened. It was when a member of the British parliament
read Charles Dickens' representation of poetry in London in
Oliver Twist that they decided in 1832 to come up with an education act.
... I still insist that literature has no function, except that which is given it by those who read it. On its own, it cannot change anything unless someone responds to the work and does something with it. If there is no response to literature, there is little literature can do (Ezeigbo 2000-13).
What we deduce from Omotoso's assertion is the fact that literature
can be a catalyst to revolutionary change. What is required is for an
individual (a reader) or individuals (readers) to apply the knowledge,
the information gathered from literature to bring social change.
The unrelenting persecution faced by writers all over the world is a
clear indication that literature can indeed be a weapon to achieve
change, which bad leaders dread; hence the persecution of courageous
writers. In apartheid South Africa, in Kenya during the time of Arap
Moi, in Nigeria under Abacha, and in Eastern European countries during
the cold war, many writers faced death sentence, imprisonment
and detention as a result of their work and their· activism. Literature
is a threat to dictators. Bad leaders fear and hate writers and their
In traditional African society, art was functional, and the artist,
performer or story teller was fully aware of this. The traditional oral
artist knows the didactic role his/her art had to play and geared the
performance towards achieving that end (Ezeigbo 2000: 57-58). Thus in
such a society, art was placed at the service of the society. Modern
African writers are a product of their species of the traditional
society. At the African-scandinavian writer's conference in Stockholm in
1967, Soyinka, among other things, declared "the artist has always
functioned in African societies as the record of mores and experiences
of his society and as the voice of vision in his time" (21).
Perhaps writers elsewhere have not always thought it their
responsibility to direct their societies. For instance the followers of
"The Aesthetic Movement" believed in the dictum" art for arts sake" and
defended this position in the late 19th century Europe.
This type of attitude has been rejected by most African writers.
Chinue Achebe believes that the writer "should match right in front" in
"the task of re-education and re-generation that must be done and that
the artist is "the sensitive point in his community" (45). Agreeing,
with Soyinka and Achebe, Romanus Egude adds that the literary artist"
dissects the society not only at its political level but also at its
moral levels" (64).
This is what other writers have done over the years Since Nigerian
literature came of age with the publication of Achebe's Things Fall
Apart in 1958. Our writers are among the best in the world; they are
contributing through the power of their imagination and artistic
creativity to the growth of literary productions that are changing the
face of world literature, Writers, with award wining titles, like Chinue
Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, Ben Okri, NiyiOsundare, Femi,
Osofisan, Zainab Alkali, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Promise
Ogochukwu and others have put Nigerian literature in the world's
literary hall of fame and contributed to Nigeria's cultural and
intellectual development. They have used art as a means of effecting
revolutionary changes in society.
It seems proper to mention the contribution women writers have made
in engendering equity and parity in gender relations and in creating
awareness of the plight of women in the world's largely patriarchal
societies. From Europe to the Americas, Asia and Africa, women writers
have consistently portrayed the injustice the female gender faces from
birth to old age. There is no doubt that some of the finest prose
writers-novelist especially-in the world, past and present, have been
women. This is even more evident in the African literary tradition.
Modern writers like Virginia Woolf, Margret Drabble, Emma Tennant,
Tone Morrison, Alue Walker, Buchi Emecheta, Flora Nwapa, Yvonne Vera,
Zaynab Alkali, Tess Onwueme, Grace Ogot etc, raised women's
consciousness, addressed the politics, thus drawing attention to the
fact that women are subjugated and marginalized. It is obvious that
culture is pivotal in the consideration of gender difference (Ezeigbo
1996). Culture plays a prominent role in the subordination of women· to a
subaltern position in discourse and in real life (Ezeegbo 2005).
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
As earlier remarked, this research sets out to study how literature
can change the society. There are many ways literature can change the
society I Shall be mentioning few of them.
· Literature teaches. It is teach us everything about humanity.
It is important to know that no writer writes in a vacuum. What they
depict In their writings is the experience of people in their
environments and societies of which are either good or bad. If good, it
is encouraged but if bad, it is corrected. A good teaching generally is
designed to bring about a change in behaviour. If literature goes on to
achieve this, then literature is good and should be encouraged.
· I also want to point out here that literature helps to
develop and promote language. Apart from English which has over the
years become the official and second language to most countries of the
world, including Africa, most African local language have entered into
English lexicon what we have as Nigerian language today is part of the
development and promotion of language. There is no other field of
discipline that develops and promotes language like literature. It is
only in a literary piece you can find such Nigerian English as "Oga",
"botton power" "go-slow", "garri", "agbada".
· Literature promotes and preserves culture. You, get to know
about people's culture through their literature. African culture and
tradition have commanded attention of many people of the world through
their literature, just like people from other continents of the world.
For instance, the culture of the Igbo people in the eastern part of
Nigeria is captured in Acbebe's Things Fall Apart before the corning of
the Whiteman. The younger generations are brought to the knowledge.
· Literature preserves history. For instance, the Nigerian
civil war story would have been forgotten if writers like Adichie in
her Half of the Yellow Sun and the playwright Onyebuchi's Bleeding
scare (2005) to mention a few.
· Literature also entertains. It is meant to entertain. It
brings happiness. Literature elicits the beating of nature. It is for
relaxation. It mirrors the society.
1.3 AIMS AND OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The aim of this research work is to sensitize the society on the need
to develop a reading culture on literary works. It is also aimed at
exposing the hidden powers that literature possesses. Literature is not
just for pleasure. There is more to it in our quest for societal changed
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The significance of the study will be drawn as we progress in the course of this research work.
1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
In the course of this project work, the following questions will be addressed;
· Has literature the ability to change the society?
· What are those features in literature that helps it achieve
· Are the societies willing to change?
· What is the relationship between literature and history?
· What is the relationship between literature and culture?
· How is the government encouraging up-coming artist?
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The scope of this study captures little part of English, American, East African and finally narrowed down to Nigeria.
1.7 LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
This study can only be limited by time and non-availability of data etc.
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Different terms will be used in the course of this research work and they will be well defined
· HISTORY: This is the events of the past records of people, nations and their culture.
· CULTURE: This is the way of life and value of people.
· RELIGION: This is the relationship between God and man through indirect and direct contact.
· SOCIETY: It is a cluster of people with the same speech and cultural belief.
· SETTING: Itis the location and time of an event.
· THEME: Itis the central idea of a story.
· DICTION: Itis the choice of language.
· PLOT: It is the story-line of the event.