Child and youth protagonists in Habila’s Measuring Time and Dangor’s Bitter Fruit
Helon Habila’s Measuring Time (2007) and Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit (2001) deploy child and youth protagonists to offer nuanced and revealing perspectives on contemporary nationhood in Nigeria and South Africa respectively. By these means, these two important novels displace the adult—and mostly male—viewpoints that have dominated novelistic portrayals of postcolonial nationhood for decades. Using notions of the literary symbolism of childhood and the biological family as points of departure, this article analyses the portrayal of these protagonists in terms of their allegorical and metonymic representation of the nation as a social unit. This article explores the ways in which the subjectivities of the protagonists may reflect national anxieties in general and the problems of contemporary socio-political transition in particular. It highlights how the different pathways followed by Habila’s and Dangor’s characters may represent simultaneously dystopian and auspicious futures for Nigeria and South Africa while also bringing recent writing from two of Africa’s eminent literary sites into a rare conversation that helps to extend our understanding of the continent’s contemporary realities.
Keywords: children, dystopia, family, nation, transition, youth