Daily RC Article 34

Amos Tutuola

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With his first published works in the 1950s, Amos Tutuola became the first Nigerian writer to receive wide international recognition. Written in a mix of standard English, idiomatic Nigerian English, and literal translation of his native language, Yoruba, Tutuola’s works were quick to be praised by many literary critics as fresh, inventive approaches to the form of the novel. Others, however, dismissed his works as simple retellings of local tales, full of unwelcome liberties taken with the details of the well-known story lines. However, to estimate properly Tutuola’s rightful position in world literature, it is essential to be clear about the genre in which he wrote; literary critics have assumed too facilely that he wrote novels.

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No matter how flexible a definition of the novel one uses, establishing a set of criteria that enable Tutuola’s works to be described as such applies to his works a body of assumptions the works are not designed to satisfy. Tutuola is not a novelist but a teller of folktales. Many of his critics are right to suggest that Tutuola’s subjects are not strikingly original, but it is important to bear in mind that whereas realism and originality are expected of the novel, the teller of folktales is expected to derive subjects and frameworks from the corpus of traditional lore. The most useful approach to Tutuola’s works, then, is one that regards him as working within the African oral tradition.

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Within this tradition, a folktale is common property, an expression of a people’s culture and social circumstances. The teller of folktales knows that the basic story is already known to most listeners and, equally, that the teller’s reputation depends on the inventiveness with which the tale is modified and embellished, for what the audience anticipates is not an accurate retelling of the story but effective improvisation and delivery. Thus, within the framework of the basic story, the teller is allowed considerable room to maneuver—in fact, the most brilliant tellers of folktales transform them into unique works.

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Tutuola’s adherence to this tradition is clear: specific episodes, for example, are often repeated for emphasis, and he embellishes familiar tales with personal interpretations or by transferring them to modern settings. The blend of English with local idiom and Yoruba grammatical constructs, in which adjectives and verbs are often interchangeable, re-creates the folktales in singular ways. And, perhaps most revealingly, in the majority of Tutuola’s works, the traditional accents and techniques of the teller of folktales are clearly discernible, for example in the adoption of an omniscient, summarizing voice at the end of his narratives, a device that is generally recognized as being employed to conclude most folktales.

Topic and Scope:

The topic of the passage is ‘Amos Tutola’s works”, and the scope is ‘the proper classification of Tutuola’s works—and it probably cannot be classified as novels.’

Purpose and Main Idea:

Tutuola is not a novelist but a teller of folktales.” He’s not supposed to be original (like a novelist would be). Instead, Tutuola should be regarded as working in the African oral tradition of storytelling.

Paragraph Structure:

Paragraph 1 introduces us to the Topic of this passage, Amos Tutuola. Immediately, two contrasting opinions are provided about Tutuola’s works: those that praise his inventive approach to the novel and those that dismiss him for simply rehashing and taking liberties with well-known stories. The author clearly believes that Tutuola’s works are significant and finishes the paragraph by pointing out that true understanding of Tutuola’s contribution to literature requires clearly defining the genre of Tutuola’s works. By claiming that critics “too facilely” assume Tutuola writes novels, the author sets the stage for a discussion of the proper classification of Tutuola’s works—and it probably won’t be novels.

Paragraph 2 finds the author claiming that Tutuola won’t satisfy the definition of “novelist,” no matter how loose the definition is. Instead, the author offers an alternative classification in a sentence that clearly lays out the Main Point of the passage: “Tutuola is not a novelist but a teller of folktales.” He’s not supposed to be original (like a novelist would be). Instead, Tutuola should be regarded as working in the African oral tradition of storytelling.

Paragraph 3 defines the characteristics of a folktale teller in this tradition. The stories are already known and shared by the community. The teller is praised not for the story itself, but for the delivery and embellishments made to the tale for the sake of good storytelling. In fact, improvisation and modifications to the stories are expected and even praised.

Paragraph 4 shows how Tutuola utilizes these characteristics in his own works, thus solidifying the author’s Main Point. The author provides multiple examples of Tutuola’s adherence to the oral storytelling tradition (e.g., resetting stories in modern times, blending linguistic styles, incorporating traditional folktale telling techniques) as further evidence that Tutuola’s works should not be evaluated as novels, but as the literary equivalent of the art of telling folktales.

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