International Council for Education, Research and Training

The need for a Philosophical reading of African Literature

Okolo, Mary Stella Chika

Communication and General Studies Department, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria


Literature permeates all the labyrinth of human experience. This is because literature acts as both a reflection and a reflector of society. Through the depiction of the life of individual characters the fundamental symbols and values which unite social groups across countries and in different periods of time are conveyed through literature. Important as this consideration may be, its full impact and import cannot be harnessed if they are presented as works of fiction. The main aim of literature as work of fiction is to entertain. Yet in the African context, especially given its historical burden with colonialism and its after affects, most African creative writers employ their work as weapon of social protest. How can African literature retain its fictional character, maintain its role of entertainment and yet act as a force in the re-ordering of African society? This is where philosophy comes in. As the discipline best equipped to guide humanity towards self-understanding by examining all issues confronting humanity and proffering the best solution, philosophy is employed here as the method to be used to extract ideas contained in African literature and subject them to critical evaluation in order to determine their usefulness and justifiability. This study finds that there is need for a philosophical reading of Africa literature. This study concludes that promoting and sustaining dialogue between philosophy and African literature is essential for African self-understanding and opening up new theories for understanding diversities and divergent issues confronting Africa. 


Keywords: Philosophy, Reading, Literature, African Literature, African society

Impact Statement

The core concern of this study is to underscore the need for a philosophical reading of African literature. This is because promoting dialogue between African literature and philosophy is critical for African self-understanding. In this wise, to re-order African society there is need to promote and sustain dialogue between philosophy and African literature as integral part of every scholarship in Africa. Unfortunately this strand is neglected in African knowledge production. This study locates its essential impact in highlighting this serious gap in the creation and utilization of knowledge in Africa and establishing how it should be addressed. Introducing a philosophical reading of African literature in African school curriculum, for instance, will go a long way in helping to produce students who can apply critical thinking and creative solutions to Africa’s needs. Ultimately, this is what is needed to open up new theories for understanding diversities and divergent issues confronting Africa.

About The Author

MSC Okolo studied Philosophy at the Universities of Calabar and Ibadan, Nigeria.  She is the author of African Literature as Political Philosophy and the recipient of CODESRIA Doctoral Prize for Africa in 2005. Okolo’s research interests include Philosophy and African literature, Language, and African identity.


Achebe, Chinua. (1958). Things Fall Apart.

Achebe, Chinua. (1987). Anthills of the Savannah. London: Heinemann.

Achebe, Chinua. (1988). Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987. London, Ibadan, Nairobi: Heinemann.

Achebe, Chinua. (2009). The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays. London: Penguin Classics.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. (2006). Purple Hibiscus. Lagos: Farafina.

Akpan, Uwem. (2011). An Ex-mas Feast. In The Granta Book of the African Short Story Helon Habila (ed.), 66-91. London: Granta Books.

Anagwonye, Ben & Anagwonye, Njideka (eds). (2012). Greatest speeches of Historic Black Leaders, vol.4, 197-216. Benin: Mindex Publishing Company limited. 

Appiah, K.A. (2006). Cosmopolitan: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton.

 Bartky, Sandra Lee. (1998). Women Are Not Free. In Gould, James A. Classic Philosophical Questions, Ninth edition, 494-509. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Bull-Christiansen, Lene. (2004). Tales of the Nation: Feminist Nationalism or Patriotic History? Defining National History and Identity in Zimbabwe. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet. 

Clark, J.P. (1975). The Casualties. In Soyinka, Wole ed. Poems of Black Africa, 112-113. London, Nairobi and Ibadan: Heineman.

Conrad, Joseph. 1972. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton.

Davies, David. (2007). Aesthetics and Literature. London and New York: Continuum.

Diop, David. (1976). Africa. In A Selection of African Poetry, 68-70. London: Longman. 

Gordimer, Nadine. (1999). Living in Hope and History: Notes from our Century. Cape Town: David Philip.

Gould, James A. (1998). Classic Philosophical Questions, Ninth edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Kant, I. (2007). Towards Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History. New Haven, NJ: York University Press.

Kasanda, Albert and Hrubec, Marek. (2022). Introduction: African dilemmas of a multilateral and cosmopolitan world. In Kasanda, Albert and Hrubec Marek, (eds.). Africa in a Multilateral World: Afropolitan Dilemmas, 1-15. London and New York: Routledge.

Marx, Karl. (1964). Economic and Philosophic Manucripts of 1844. Trans. by Martin Milligan. New York: International Publishers.

Mayhead, Robin. (1965). Understanding Literature. Cambridge: University Press.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. (2007). Wizard of the Crow. Lagos: Farafina.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. (1981). Writers in Politics: Essays. London: Heinemann.

Nolan, Patrick and Lenski, Gerhard. (2004). Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology, Ninth edition. Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers.

Nwaorgu, O.G.F, Ojukwu, C.C. and Okolo, M.S.C. (2017). Philosophy and Nation Building. In Ihuah, Alloy S. (ed.). Or-Che Uma: African Journal of Existential Philosophy,166-194. 

Okolo, MaryStella C. (2022). Understanding the philosophy of Africa in a cosmopolitan and multilateral world through language. In Kasanda, Albert and Hrubec Marek, (eds.). Africa in a Multilateral World: Afropolitan Dilemmas, 191-202. London and New York: Routledge.

Okolo, MSC. (2020). Understanding Social Environment through African Literature: A Philosophical Re-imaging of Shanty Town. Fahsanu Journal: Journal of the Arts/Humanities. 3(1):150-163.

Okolo, MSC. (2016). Gates of Dawn. Lagos: Beacon.

Okolo, MSC. (2015). Philosophy: Contemporary Concerns in Africa. Owerri: Book-Konzult.

Okolo, MSC. (2007). African Literature as Political Philosophy. Dakar: CODESRIA Books; London and New York: Zed.

Plato. (1941). The Republic. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.  

Reader’s Digest. (2008). How it all started: The History behind the way our world works today. London, New York, Sydney, Montreal: The Reader’s Digest Association limited.

Russell, Bertrand. (1998). Truth is Established by Correspondence. In Gould, James A. Classic Philosophical Questions, Ninth edition, 358-366. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

“Shanty Town.”  Mandela: The Authorised Portrait. (2006:32). London: Bloomsbury.

Vakunta, Peter. (2006). The Trouble with Africa. CODESRIA Bulletin. Nos. 3&4, pp.32-34.

Scroll to Top