Towards a Reading of Post-Colonial Identity as a “Free-Floating Signifier” in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road Trilogy

Abdelkader Ben Rhit


The paper examines the attributes of postcolonial African identity in Ben Okri’sabikutrilogy2 namely The Famished Road, Songs of Enchantment, and Infinite Riches, and roots them in a typical tradition, which gauges the equilibrium of the past that marked the identity of the society with the stamp of the co-existence of the spiritual and the material. It reads the post-colonial Nigerian/African identity as a “free-floating signifier”, which resists fixity. Through creative use of the Abiku myth, Okri creates the character of Azaro, the narrator-cum-protagonist spirit-child that navigates between two ostensibly opposed worlds: the secular world of Western modernism and the spiritual world founded on Yoruba culture and belief to serve his purposes of a thoroughly imaginative purveyor of the sense of the doubling of identity. In The Famished Road trilogy, Nigeria, like the protagonist Azaro, is allegorically presented as an abiku nation whose identity is located in multiple realms. The very duality which characterizes Azaro’s identity, and by implication the dreamed nation Nigeria, the paper argues, is a signifier of what Claude Levi-Strauss has called “the free-floating signifier”, a signifier that resists fixity, constantly “wandering” wishing to “stay” yet unable to do so, at least in Nigeria’s turbulent times. Therefore, the main objective of this paper is to shed light on postcolonial national identity as being fluid and always in the making through a close reading of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road trilogy.


Identity, (Post)colonialism, Abiku, Free-floating Signifier, Chronotope

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