In Chinua Achebe‘s Anthills of the Savannah, there are four major characters who dominate the story: the dictator, Sam; the editor, Ikem; the Commissioner for Information, Chris; and Senior Assistant Finance Minister, Beatrice. Besides these major characters, there are some minor characters as well: Elewa, Mad Medico, Professor Okong, Agatha, Emmanuel, and Chief of Abazon Delegation. Let’s discuss all the characters of Anthills of the Savannah in detail.
Analysis of Major Characters in Anthills of the Savannah
The story of Anthills of the Savannah revolves around three friends: Sam, Chris, and Ikem. They met in their early teenage years , while attending the same school. Despite the fact that they came from similar backgrounds, the three are extremely different in their thoughts, political leanings, and personal temperaments.
One of the leading male characters in Anthills of the Savannah is Christopher Oriko. He is the Commissioner for Information in Kangan. Also, he is one of the earliest advisers of His Excellency and a longtime friend of both Ikem Osodi and Sam. In his youth, he attended Lord Lugard College with Ikem and Sam. Chris is an intellectual, calm, and reserved man. He still retains his sense of honor, responsibility, and morality even in a corrupt regime. In fact, Chris is a good man in a bad regime.
Chris as a Detached Observer
Chris is one the major narrators of the novel. The novel opens with his heated conversation with His Excellency, Sam. At the beginning of the novel, Chris seems indifferent and detached from his surroundings. He doesn’t take much interest in the State affairs and the people around him. Thus, initially he plays his role as an observer instead of a participant. He sees Sam becoming mad with power and eventually refusing to give up his position as the President of Kangan. However, Chris still believes that Sam will serve his country if he remains in power.
But as the novel goes on, Chris is shaken out of his self- protective indifference. There comes a series of incidents which propel him to openly protest the oppression and injustice prevailing around him. His friends Ikem, Mad Medico and Beatrice repeatedly challenge his stance on contemporary affairs. But the turning point in Chris’s life is the arbitrary suspension of Ikem which replaces his indifference by a passionate intensity. When Sam commands him to fire Ikem from his position as an editor, Chris responds in a highly unusual way. He confronts Sam and openly refuses to obey his order.
However, it is Ikem’s murder that eventually opens his eyes to the true nature of the regime he is serving. The death of his dear friend spurs him to outright defiance against His Excellency, Sam. He calls for the international media and unveils the cruel nature of Sam’s Corrupt regime. After that, he goes underground with the help of Beatrice and Emmanuel.
His Relation with Beatrice
Chris enjoys being with Beatrice who is a strong woman whom he adores. Initially he takes her too lightly, but later on he realizes her wisdom and power. Since Beatrice is a confident and free-thinking woman, Chris lets her act that way because it pleases him to be with someone so modern. He describes her as very, very strong. Moreover, he also considers her incredible because “her demands were never such as to break a man’s back”. Chris often tells Beatrice about his past life such as his school days with Sam and Ikem. It is Beatrice who helps Chris to go into hiding after Ikem’s murder.
Chris finally overcomes his emotional alienation. He comes into contact with the people around him and begins to understand the issues hindering the progress of his country. But unfortunately on his way to Abazon, he is killed while trying to save a girl from being molested by a brutal sergeant. The last words that he utters before his death are ‘The Last Grin”. These words refer to the joke that he, Sam, and Ikem shared in the early days of their lives. At that time, they imagined themselves as three green bottles arrogantly placed on the self, each destined to fall one day.
Ikem is a crusading journalist. He is the editor of The National Gazette. An intellectual and a poet, he is outspoken in his views about the need to reform. Ikem is also a radical individual who is able to connect with the masses and bring social revolution. He studied with his boyhood friends Chris and Sam at the same English institution.
Ikem’s Duty as an Editor of the National Gazette
Ikem’s duty is to broadcast Sam’s messages to the people. But he mostly uses his position to criticize the president’s policies. He writes editorials that harshly criticize the ruling regime and draw general attention towards poverty and oppression prevailing in Kangan. Ikem strongly believes that the press should be free and independent of government regulation. He often debates over the effectiveness of his editorials with Chris and feels that even if they are futile, he shouldn’t stop publishing them.
The Most Radical of All Characters in Anthills of the Savannah
Ikem is the most radical character in Anthills of the Savannah. He is, in fact, the most powerful narrative voice of the story. He claims himself to be the defender of the poor and the oppressed.
In the course of the story, Ikem becomes more and more radical. His love of truth and people transcends all the barriers. He always prefers to do things in his own ways without compromising.The people admire him and his thinking.
His Dissociation from his Statements
Ikem also dissociates himself from what he talks about. Although he is very sensitive to the needs of the common masses, sometimes we don’t find it as high-minded as he presumes himself to be. This is particularly visible at the beginning of the novel. For instance, he claims himself to be the defender of the oppressed on one hand, while on the other we witness him twice in conflict with taxi drivers. Additionally, we find him wishing to get rid of his girlfriend, Elewa, in the middle of the night just because he wants to be alone in his apartment.
Ikem’s Suspension and Extremism
Ikem chooses to stand with the people of Abazon who have been ignored and punished by His Excellency. This makes Sam consider him as a treacherous. As a result, Sam dismisses him from the Gazette.
Ikem’s arbitrary suspension makes him a popular hero among students. Speaking to the group of students at the University of Bassa, Ikem discusses the role of the storyteller. He says that the role of the writer is to ask questions and make challenges. At the end of his speech, he proclaims, “Writers don’t give prescriptions. They give headaches!”. It is Ikem who presents Achebe’s views on the role of a writer in a country’s development.
Unlike Chris, Ikem is an extremist. He is also passionate and doesn’t believe in working gradually toward progress. That’s why he always uses his powerful position as a journalist to call for change. Chris, a mediator between Sam and Ikem, often advises Ikem to tone down his editorials and act carefully. But Ikem doesn’t pay heed to Chris’s advice and goes on acting without considering the consequences.
His Chauvinism & Self-Development
Beatrice accuses Ikem of being a gender bias because his political thinking doesn’t demonstrate any clear role for women. This accusation plays a significant role in his self-development. He reshapes his views and realizes the historical oppression of women. His reflections on the oppression of women result in the formulation of a radical social class theory:
‘The women are, of course, the biggest single group of oppressed people in the world and, if we are to believe the Book of Genesis, the very oldest. But they are not the only ones. There are others – rural peasants in every land, the urban poor in industrialised countries, Black people everywhere, including their own continent, ethnic and religious minorities and castes in all countries’ (p. 98). Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe
Ikem’s meeting with Abazon delegates gives him further awareness about the new perspectives. He learns from the old fashioned wisdom and dignity of the Abazon elder that writers are the repositories of communal memories.
While severely criticizing Sam’s policies in his address, Ikem makes a joke about putting Sam’s head on the country’s coins. It leads to a false propaganda against Ikem stating that Ikem has called for the beheading of the president. As a result, Ikem is abducted in the night by the government’s secret police and killed. His presence continues to be felt by his people as he has left behind Amaechina, who represents hope for the good future of Kangan.
His Excellency – Sam
Of the three male characters in Anthills of the Savannah, Sam is the least developed one. He is the president of the imaginary West African country of Kangan who took power two years ago after a successful military coup. A Sandhurst-trained officer, Sam is athletic, charming, and feels proud of adopting the ways of an English gentleman.
Sam, when comes into power, appears to be a green horn in the art of governance. At first, he feels quite terrified in his new role. He then seeks assistance from his friends, Chris and Ikem, and also gives them dominating positions in the government. But as Sam overcomes his fear, he begins to relish his power. Over time, he becomes a selfish, power hungry, and ruthless leader only concerned with securing more and more power. He is now a tyrannical dictator who only represents despotism.
Chris and Ikem as Sam’s Initial Supporters
Initially, Chris and Ikem helped Sam succeed in his high position. They encouraged him when he felt that his military background was inadequate preparation for a position of such importance. Now, both regret their previous support of Sam. This is because Sam has now become blinded by power. He doesn’t have any regard for his people and wants to acquire more power for himself by any means necessary. Chris and Ikem realize that Sam is a dictator-in-making and seek to control him in their own ways.
Sam’s Obsession with Power and His Paranoia
Meanwhile, Sam’s obsession with power makes him brutal, paranoid and temperamental. He relishes power so much can’t bear even the mildest demonstrations against him. His drive for power has been expanded into an ambition to be the president of Kangan for the rest of his life and he calls for a national referendum. But one of the regions of Kangan, Abazon, refuses to participate. Sam in turn denies the region access to water despite the fact that they are facing a drought. He does so hoping that without water or food the people will give in.
When the delegates from Abazon arrive at Kangan to plead for mercy, Sam suspects their arrival as a plan of insurrection. In fact, his paranoia forces him to believe that someone close to him is also behind this insurrection. At that time, his political ambitions are disappointed and he becomes insecure. When he recalls being told how dangerous boyhood friends can be, his suspicion goes to his friends, particularly Ikem. It shows that behind the facade of a despotic dictator, Sam also has a deep fear of civilian power.
Sam’s Decline and Death
Sam considers Ikem as the one who assists Abazon elders in their revolt against him. Ikem’s meeting with Abazon elders and his criticism of the regime in his address with a group of students further cements Sam’s suspicion. He first suspends Ikem and, later on, orders his assassination. When Chris exposes Sam in front of the international media, he is furious and calls for Chris’s arrest. But Chris successfully goes beyond his reach. After that, we are told about Sam’s abduction, murder and burial ‘under one foot of soil in the bush’. His regime has been toppled by another military coup.
Achebe’s group of three male characters reflect major aspects of the same entity. Sam represents power driven by self-interest. Ikem represents the desire for change. While Chris reflects man’s efforts to work for good within the system. Together they make-up a political setup that doesn’t work. Each of them fails and dies. So, when the components of a system fail to function properly, that system is surely destined to fail.
Analysis of the Female Characters in Anthills of the Savannah
Beatrice and Elewa play crucial roles in the lives of the major characters, Chris and Ikem. But both women are strikingly different from each other. In contrast to Elewa who belongs to the unprivileged group of society, Beatrice is an educated career woman and holds office in the government of Kangan. Of the two main female characters in Anthills of the Savannah, Beatrice plays the major role.
Beatrice Okoh is an educated, confident, sophisticated, and self-reliant woman. She earned a degree in English with first-class honors at Queen Mary’s College, University of London and works as a Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. She is Chris’s fiancée, a close friend of Ikem, and an employee of Sam. The fact that she has connections to the trio of main male protagonists makes her an important agent of the story who offers a resolution to the novel’s political and social crises.
Beatrice’s Upbringing in a Patriarchal Family
Beatrice has grown up in a patriarchal family. She was the fifth daughter of her parents. When she was born, her father had been hoping for a son. This time again seeing a daughter, he named her Nwanyibuife, meaning “A Woman Is Also Something”. Beatrice’s father was a stern man who wielded complete authority over his wife and children and often flogged them. Her mother, in particular, was a victim of domestic violence. It was very humiliating for Beatrice to see her mother in such a degraded state. But her mother never did anything in response.
Whenever Beatrice saw her father beating her mother, she felt anger and hatred towards him. Once, upon seeing her mother crying, she rushed to her and hugged her but her mother violently pushed her away. After that she comes to realize that her mother belongs to that category of women who can bear all the torture inflicted upon them by their husbands just to keep their marital status intact. This thinking and attitude of the women extremely displeased Beatrice.
An Embodiment of Power and Dignity
Beatrice despises the earlier role of women in her society and embodies an empowered and dignified woman who is free to live her life. She is a headstrong who never lets herself be degraded by any man. She represents a spokesperson, guide, mediator, diplomat, and a feminist. In fact, she envisions an idea of woman which enhances respect for women as well as the recognition of their identity.
Beatrice is strong, compassionate, and sometimes outspoken in her views. She criticizes Chris for his lack of interest in State affairs and forces him to recognize the flaws in his views about Kangan. Also, she convinces Ikem that his ideology has no clear role for women. When Ikem dies, it is Beatrice who takes care of Elewa, stays with her and also grieves with her over Ikem’s death. Being attuned to the common people on an intuitive level, she carves out room for the voices of all members. Moreover, she is able to observe the state of affairs with a perspective more geared towards reality.
Her Journey to Self-Realization
Beatrice is raised in a Westernized Christian compound and gets education in England. As a result, she goes far away from her traditional culture. The Western culture serves to repress some aspects of her personality and actual identity. Beatrice, in the course of the novel, makes a journey to self-realization. She passes through various cultural, spiritual, and emotional phases and reclaim the forgotten aspects of her personality. She also goes back in her memory and re-establishes her relation with her parents and traditional culture. As a result, she finally overcomes the problematic dualisms prevailing her life. She now comes to fully understand herself and develops into a peaceful and very strong woman.
Her Connections with Major Characters in Anthills of the Savannah
Since Beatrice has connections to all of the major characters, she observes all the activities of the government as well as the reactions of Chris and Ikem. Beatrice senses that Chris and Ikem are in danger and advises them to be cautious of Sam and their relationship with him. Moreover, she also warns them that they are sorting the problem incorrectly. Beatrice tells them that since they are not really connecting to the people and the land, they’ll not find any healthy solution.
Despite her Western education, Beatrice prefers the traditions of her ancestors. She opposes Sam’s policies based on Westernized values. She also attempts to make Sam aware of the consequences of his actions.
The Goddess of Idimili
Achebe also places Beatrice in the mythic tradition of Igbo by making her embodiment of the goddess Idemili. According to myth, Idimili serves as a mediator between men and power. Beatrice, as Idemili, in the story serves to mitigate authority. It is through Beatrice that Achebe highlights the significance of women in managing power. According to him, women must stand as mediators between men and their desires. He makes it evident that Beatrice is a key piece to shaping contemporary Kangan society.
Beatrice’s actions and thoughts do not merely present her as an independent woman, but also an independent Kangan woman. It is through Beatrice’s liberation and alternative politics that Achebe provides solutions to overcome social barriers. Despite her status, she embraces individuals of lower class and educational differences. Here Achebe gives a message of an inclusive in evolving politics. He wants a future that represents the unification of all classes.
The Naming Ceremony
At the end of the novel, Beatrice is the only surviving narrator. After the deaths of Chris and Ikem, she ensures that their memories will never fade. She performs the naming ceremony for Ikem and Elewa’s baby girl. The name that she gives to the baby girl is, Amaechina, a boy’s name meaning “May the Path Never Close.” Of all the steps she takes in the novel, this is the most courageous one. She not only gives a boy’s name to a girl, but also conducts the responsibility of naming traditionally belonging to a man. Here, Achebe presents Beatrice more than a character. She is a vision of a new Nigeria based on equality, peace, and fusion of tradition and change.
Minor Characters in Anthills of the Savannah
The minor characters in Anthills of the Savannah include: Elewa, Agatha, Emmanuel, Mad Medico, Professor Okong, and Chief of Abazon Delegates. All these minor characters also play an important role in Anthills of the Savannah.
Elewa, Ikem’s girlfriend and mother of his daughter, belongs to the unprivileged group of society. Her mother is a vendor in the Kangan market. Elewa is a naive, humble, and beautiful girl. She isn’t well educated and supports herself by working as a sales-girl in a Lebanese shop. She speaks pidgin English, a local African English which local people acquired from the British during colonization.
Despite the fact that Elewa isn’t as confident as Beatrice, she has a lot of potential and strength. But all her strength and protests go in vain when her lack of education renders her indecisive in her opinions and choices. It is because of the lack of education, exposure, and opportunity that she is unable to carve a path of her own and depends on Ikem who has intellectually energy.
Elewa is also highly emotional as well as rebellious. Sometimes her emotional bursts contradict her resilience and rebellion. She is also aware of men’s oppression around her and, at times, is able to see that Ikem is lying to her. It is Elewa who connects Ikem to the common masses of his country. She develops emotionally in the course of the story and makes Beatrice realize that one’s humble origins does not necessarily make him or her frail or insecure. Elewa, through her experiences, sees and comes to know plenty of things beyond the bookish knowledge that the privileged ones possess. At the end, when Ikem dies she is strong enough to raise their daughter alone.
Agatha is Beatrice’s Christian maid. Like Elewa, she also belongs to the unprivileged group of society and uses pidgin English while communicating. She is sometimes rude with Beatrice and also cruel to Elewa. Beatrice initially does not get along well with her. But later on, she realizes her poor treatment of Agatha and accepts her as an essential part of the female community.
Emmanuel is an intellectual and the President of the Students Union. He takes refuge in Chris’s safe house and also joins him on his journey to Abazon via bus. He falls in love with Adamma, a beautiful, shy girl whom he meets on the bus. Moreover, he is with Chris when he dies trying to protect a girl from being sexually assaulted. He is desperate to see Chris dying and hears his last words, “The Last Grin”. Emmanuel also attends the naming ceremony of Ikem and Elewa’s daughter.
The Chief of Abazon Delegation
The chief of Abazon Delegation is one of the important characters in Anthills of the Savannah. He is the bearded old man who leads the delegation from Abazon to the capital of Kangan. His delegation has come to the capital to plead his Excellency to continue with the work on bore-holes in drought-stricken Abazon. The work has stopped because of the people of Abazon’s refusal to support His Excellency’s claim to life presidency.
The Abazon elder represents traditional wisdom and is blessed with the gift of eloquence. He speaks about the importance of the storyteller. According to him stories are more powerful than battles. It is through stories that a community can retain its sense of history and tradition and also seek guidance for the future. The speeches of Abazon elder are permeated with traditional proverbs and metaphors. He tells Ikem the story of the tortoise and the leopard which becomes one of the prevailing themes of the novel. The Abazon elder also honors Ikem for his work on behalf of his people. He speaks with such compelling power and magic that everyone is captivated.
Mad Medico is a nickname of John Kent who is a British man. He met Chis, Ikem, and Sam while studying at Lord Lugard College. He is eccentric as well as an astute hospital administrator. Mad Medico is a man of double standards. He has a genuine regard for the African landscape. At the same time, he displays his contempt for the country’s attempt to run itself and a liking for essentialist statements. He is deported from Kangan without any valid reason.
Braimoh is an impoverished taxi-driver who shelters Chris. Chris uses his abode as a hideout before his escape from Bassa. Braimoh also accompanies Chris on his fateful journey to Abazon and joins Beatrice in the naming ceremony at the end of the novel.
If you enjoyed reading our Analysis of Characters in Anthills of the Savannah, check our analysis of Major Themes in Anthills of the Savannah. You might also enjoy our analysis of the Use of Narrative Strategies in Anthills of the Savannah and the Significance of Title in Anthills of the Savannah.