Chike and the River Summary

A book written by Chinua Achebe

"Chike and the River" by Chinua Achebe is a captivating novel that traces the journey of a young boy named Chike. His compelling quest to cross the formidable Niger River becomes a metaphor for the pursuit of dreams, personal identity, and the complexities of adapting to different environments. As Chike ventures from his rural village to the bustling city of Onitsha, he navigates a rich tapestry of cultural contrasts, coming of age, and the delicate balance between traditional values and the allure of modernity. This poignant story offers readers a heartfelt exploration of the universal themes of aspiration, friendship, and the eternal quest for self-discovery.

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Overall Summary of Chike and The River by Chinua Achebe

Chike and the River (1966) by Chinua Achebe is a bildungsroman of an eleven-year-old Chike who leaves his village to live with his uncle in the bustling city of Onitsha. The narrative follows Chike’s adventures and his desire to cross the mysterious Niger River, symbolising his journey towards independence and self-discovery while navigating the challenges and complexities of urban life.

In Onitsha, Chike is exposed to new experiences and faces various trials, including his encounters with city life, new friends, and moral dilemmas. His ultimate goal is to cross the River Niger, a feat that represents his aspirations and curiosity about the wider world. Also, his fascination with the river and determination to cross it led him to source money for the ferry fare, despite obstacles and temptations.

Throughout the story, Achebe highlights growth through Chike’s symbolic transition from innocence to experience, cultural contrasts, and the importance of perseverance and courage as relevant themes in the text. He also explores the impact of urbanisation and the clash between traditional and modern values, emphasising the importance of resilience and adaptability in the face of change. Ultimately, Chike and the River is a poignant exploration of a young boy’s quest for identity and belonging in a rapidly changing world.

 

Chapter 1

Achebe paints a lucid picture of the distinctions between rural and urban life through the thought process of an eleven-year-old Chike who’s to leave his mother and sister to stay with his uncle, who works as a clerk in Onitsha. He also highlights familial love and its importance. 

The story opens with Chike’s age-long dream and fantasy of leaving the rural life of his village, Umuofia,  for the urban life of Onitsha coming to pass when his mother breaks the news to him. He’d fallen in love with city life from the many stories Michael, his uncle’s servant, told him about Onitsha—stories of pipe-borne water and iron roofs. This made him imagine the reality of city life as different from village life. He’s now going to leave Umuofia to stay with his uncle in Onitsha. 

While the thought of city life fills and thrills Chike, he soon becomes sad and cries upon leaving. He’d not imagined having to leave his mother and sister. His mother, who had beforehand made preparations for his journey to Onitsha by purchasing a wooden box from James Okeke, the local carpenter, prays, advises, and warns him about the River Niger. 

Achebe makes us wonder about the significance of the River Niger while Chike embarks on his journey to Onitsha in a rickety lorry general referred to as “Slow and Steady.”

 

Chapter 2

Now in Onitsha, Chike is amazed at how entirely different life is in the city. Contrary to communal life and the easy know-how of things in the village, people could be inconsiderate, self-centred, and total strangers even when living under one roof. Achebe,  through this,  creates a subtle argument as to the reality and unprecedented nature of city life.  

Over time, Chike becomes popular among his peers in school. Just like his friend Samuel, who plays football so well and could dribble past anybody, he earned the “nickname” “S.M.O.G.” which is a cutout from his full name, “Samuel Maduka Obi.” Chike also earned the “nickname” “Chiks the Boy” from his friends. 

Samuel, who had spent all of his time in the city of Onitsha and had had the opportunity to explore some nooks and crannies of the city, told Chike how easy it is to cross the River Niger by ferry that costs just six pence. Not having any money or where to get some money, Chike keeps his eye on the bright side. He, however, becomes sad and amazed upon hearing that “they are building a bridge across the river” and that the other side of the River Niger, Asaba, is the Midwestern region of Nigeria—”poor man’s Lagos,” as Samuel would call it. 

Chapter 3

Chapter three unfolds with a description of Chike’s uncle, Chike’s fantasy of crossing the river by ferry, and his resolve to achieve this, come what may. 

Chike’s Uncle conforms to the stereotypical description of a man as rigid and strict. He barely laughs nor speaks, unless when having a beer with his neighbour and friend, Mr. Nwaba, who, like him, believes that children should spend their time reading and doing arithmetics rather than playing. Though Chike has a divergent opinion, he believes that ‘all work and no play makes anyone dull’, but he does not mention it. 

His fantasy of crossing the River Niger bulges him till he summons the courage to ask his uncle, who sends him off, for a shilling. He becomes crippled by his emotions for months and thinks of writing to his mother for some money but quickly dismisses it, for his mother had warned him about the River Niger. 

The saying ‘all that glitter is not gold’ comes into play when Chike learns that “a big town is not always better than the village”. He becomes nostalgic and longs for a bamboo bed in his mother’s thatched mud house. His expectations of Onitsha were not met. He’d dreamed of a conducive abode where he’d get to sleep on a proper bed and use a proper toilet, not the bedbug-infested mat he and Michael sleep on, nor the deplorable children’s toilet in his uncle’s house. His uncle lives in a house with ten rooms, and many tenants quarrel every day about “firewood, sweeping the yard or scrubbing the bathroom and the latrines.”. Chike, however, gets to enjoy the sight of the River Niger every Saturday when he and Michael go to the market to purchase food items. He always marvels at the sight of canoes,  boats and fishermen who spend days on the river fishing. 

Chapter 4

In this chapter of the story, Chike and the River, Achebe underscores the importance of proper parental training and the devastating effect of peer pressure. 

Chike’s desperation to cross the River Niger continues to grow daily and is abetted by his friend, Ezekiel, who is recognised for buying expensive meals during recess at school. Being the only son of a well-to-do trader among four sisters, Ezekiel was treated differently from his sisters. His mother conforms to traditional gender roles and does not allow Ezekiel to do any house chores. Rather, she’d have his sisters and the servants do all the tasks. As a result, he grew to become a “lawless little imp” and stole from his mother’s pot and purse. Even when he was caught by one of his sisters, his mother still wouldn’t believe that he truly did steal. 

The desperation to find money for his trip across the River Niger pushes Chike to become friends with Ezekiel and learn of a way to get money. He, however, almost lands himself in trouble when news of Ezekiel’s mischief and money-making scheme comes public. He had somehow gotten the names of three boys in a school in England who were looking to make Nigerian pen-friends. He makes fake promises of a leopard skin for each boy, in exchange for a camera, a pair of shoes, and some money. Weeks later, he receives some money from one of the boys and shows it to his friends who, as a result, join the exploit. Chike, however, was willing to join the exploit in the hope that some England boy would part with his money and he’d be able to fulfil his fantasy of crossing the River Niger by ferry, couldn’t get money for a postal stamp that enable him to send his letter to England, like Ezekiel, S.M.O.G and others. 

News of this criminal act gets to the school headmaster when a school in England sends a letter regarding the fraudulent actions of some of their students. Ezekiel, S.M.O.G, and others who were partakers of the fraudulent adventure were punished on the assembly ground. 

Chapter 5

In this chapter of Chike and the River, Achebe plays at the importance of facing fear head-on. 

He unfolds the chapter with Chike’s resolve to let his quest to cross the River Niger lie since he has no means of getting the required canoe fee and does not want to steal.   It’s the last day of the term and tension raids the atmosphere of the school premises. Students are filled with mixed feelings as it is the day the term’s examination results will be announced. 

Chike, Mark and some other boys in his class were selected by the principal to run an errand. The errand requires them to carry several logs across the Nkisa River. Not knowing how to swim, Chike’s aquaphobia grows when he hears stories of how deep and dangerous the river is, and he shivers to his bone marrow with fear. The event takes a ludicrous turn and becomes an eye-opening adventure when Chike faces his fear, summons courage and fearlessly crosses the river right after Mark, leaving other boys in shock and fear. 

Chapter 6

When we want something so much, the universe aligns to help us get it. 

Chike’s age-long desire to traverse the River Niger suddenly begins to see the light of day right after his adventure across the Nkisa River. After Chike and the other six boys were selected to run errands for the principal return, they went to the principal to get their results of the recently concluded exam. Chike, immediately after hearing his result, took to his heels for fear of getting beaten by Mark, who had tried so much prior to the exam but failed. He remembers the poem the principal once composed for three pupils who had almost killed themselves in an attempt to pass an exam. They were swindled by a dishonest trader who sold them some pills that were meant to enhance their brain and enable them to pass the forthcoming exam. Rather than passing the exam, they developed some psychological issues that almost caused them death as a result of the drug, and eventually, they failed woefully.

Chike’s mind was brought back to the present by a shiny substance on the floor. He picks it up and realises it’s a coin. A sixpence. He keeps the coin in his pocket and soon starts running, hoping no one will come looking for the coin. Perhaps his dream of going across the Niger River to Asaba is valid after all. 

Chapter 7

Now with sixpence lying in Chike’s safety, he still bulges himself with his ambition of traversing the River Niger.

 Before now, Chike had never had as much money as sixpence. The highest he’s had to himself is threepence which he received from making music during Easter with a group of boys back in Umuofia. They had gone from house to house, making music for the inhabitants of each house and they were gifted in return. The gifts range from food to biscuits or some money. The boys had shared their earnings among themselves at the end of the adventure, and Chike had received threepence which he spent on groundnut. 

Now having way more than threepence in his possession, Chike seeks means of getting more money because he needs one shilling to enable him to go on his River Niger adventure. After thinking of ways to get money to no avail, he asks his friend Samuel, popularly called S.M.O.G at school, for help. After much thinking, Samuel proposed that they go in search of a money doubler the next day and went to play with the hope of doubling Chike’s sixpence to a shilling the next day. 

On their way to the playground, both jolly friends passed by people selling cooked guinea fowl and Suya. Samuel convinces Chike to buy three eggs from his sixpence while he also buys Suya worth threepence from the money he had left in his pocket. After buying the eggs and the suya, they locate a nearby mango tree and sit under its shade to eat what they have bought. 

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Chapter 8

After easing onto the roots of the mango tree, both friends ate their suya and soon decided to play a game with their eggs as S.M.O.G had suggested.  He wraps a palm around one of his eggs, allowing a little opening between his thumb and index finger and asks Chike to knock his egg against the one enclosed in his palm. Whoever ends up with a broken egg loses, and the winner gets both eggs. After selecting the egg with a harder shell by knocking it against his incisors, Chike strikes the selected egg against the one in S.M.O.G’s palm, and there is a crack. S.M.O.G loses his egg to Chike and feels sad about it. 

Chike eats his egg and begins to tease his friend for losing in a game he had picked. S.M.O.G, angry, plays a fast one on his friend with a rotten mango and lets a bee sting Chike who gets angry and begins to walk home. S.M.O.G apologises to his friend, and they soon forget about their fallout. 

Chapter 9

A bird at hand, they say, is better than a thousand birds in the forest and one who chases two rats at a time will end up with none. 

This chapter of Achebe’s Chike and The River brings to mind old tales of contentment as Chike prepares to reap the harvest of his lack of contentment. 

Chike sets out on the journey to see the money doubler alone. His friend S.M.O.G had gone to the hospital to see his sick mother but had left him with the money doubler’s house address. 

On getting to the address, Chike meets a stout man in an oversized short and a supposedly white singlet that had turned brown, his name is Professor Chandus, and he’s the one he’d come in search of. Chike explains his plight to the magician and requests that he double his threepence. Professor Chandus performs some magic and hands Chike a ring of wire with the power to bring him money. He was to dip the ring in water seven times and place it under his pillow when he wanted to sleep. In return for his service, the professor takes Chike’s threepence. 

Full of hope and anticipation, Chike does as he’s told and puts the ring under his pillow, but couldn’t sleep for long. He woke up twice before in the middle of the night, hoping it was dawn already but when morning came, he was fast asleep and was awoken by Michael. Wide awake, he pushes his pillow aside in the hope of seeing his dream come through but is met with disbelief when he sees the ring lying just as he’s left it. He’d been pimped of his threepence. 

Chapter 10

The outcome of Chike’s encounter with Chandus continues to haunt him and he couldn’t eat or stop brooding. He decides to relay his experience to S.M.O.G who initially suggested Chandus, the money doubler. He meets his friend having a meal and joins him after much persuasion. After the meal, he relays the disheartening outcome of his encounter with the money doubler to his S.M.O.G who threatens to deal with Chandus. Both friends set out to meet Chandus and accuse him of being a fraud. 

When they got to Chandus’ house, they met him having soaked garri and coconut for lunch. The boys accused him of giving Chike a ring of wire that has no magic potion after collecting his threepence. Chandus denies their claims, gets angry and sends them running when he brandishes a machete at them. 

Chapter 11

The school holiday came with more adventures for Chike as his friend, S.M.O.G, teaches him to ride a bicycle. Both friends had hired a bicycle sixpence for an hour from a bicycle mechanic who lives in a one-room apartment in S.M.O.G’s father’s house. Chike, with help from S.M.O.G, quickly grasped the ropes of cycling and could soon ride a bicycle confidently. 

However, he’d not rode a bicycle on tarred roads, aside from S.M.O.G’s compound where he had learned to cycle. Samuel then suggests that they take the bicycles for a ride on the main road as this was the true test of a cyclist. Chike eased into the road with confidence and soon began to whistle. He wonders why people always say riding a bicycle is difficult when it can be so easy. 

He felt so proud until a car eased onto the road from the side street and was approaching him. He trembled, lost his nerves and swerved off the road, crashing into an electric pole which left the front wheel of the bicycle twisted and its brakes jammed.  Both boys tried to straighten the wheel to no avail and were left with no other option than to take the damaged bicycle to the bicycle mechanic.

Seeing the state of his bicycle, the mechanic got angry and demanded that Chike pays for the damages he’s caused to his bicycle. 

Despite Chike’s begging that he had no money, the mechanic insisted that Chike takes him to his parent for someone to pay the damages. However, rather than taking the mechanic to his uncle’s house, Chike takes him around the town until the mechanic bumps into a woman returning from the market with a basket on her head. The basket falls off her head and its contents are emptied on the road. While another upheaval begins between the woman and the mechanic, Chike seizes the opportunity and takes to his heels. 

Chapter 12

Chike is now becoming tired of his River Niger dream not coming to fruition because he has no means of getting money. However, he did not stop dreaming even after remembering his mother’s saying that “a poor man should not dream of rice”. 

One evening, he noticed Mr Nwaba, his uncle’s friend and neighbour, counting bundles of pounds notes. His eyes widened and he decided to go in the act of servitude for Mr Nwaba hoping he would be gifted some pounds note. He’d helped him roll his bicycle in, among other things, for days until one day when it seemed luck was going to shine on him. Chike’s eyes glistened with joy and his heart beat to the uncertainty of it when he, one day, Mr Nwaba reached into his pocket after he had helped him. However, his hand only resurfaced with three groundnuts which he handed to Chike. 

Mr Nwaba had money but still lived like a pauper. He’d shout, curse and beat his wife if she added more fish than he’d expected in the soup. His children were so malnourished and unkempt that they wore frayed clothes to school and despite all the money Mr Nwaba has, he was always the last to pay school fees. People would wonder why a man would have that much money and still choose to ride a rickety bicycle or live like a pauper. They called him “Money-miss-road”. 

Nwaba was all about money and he was well known in the town. He was also known for wearing gorgeous Agbada to church on Sundays and attending Bible study on Fridays. Chike wonders how one who’s so cruel could be a devotee. According to popular opinion, Mr Nwaba belongs to a secret society that only meets at night because he, too, would mostly go out when it’s dark and not return until dawn. Achebe leaves us pondering on his source of income and our suspicion is further raised when Chike had seen Mr Nwaba with a strange man at dusk. Both men had talked for a while before they departed and Nwaba retired to his room. 

Chapter 13

Dreams do come true when you believe. Chike didn’t give up his dream until it eventually saw the light. 

Chike’s uncle goes to the village on a public holiday and isn’t expected to be back until the next day. Chike seizes this opportunity and leaves for the riverside without Michael’s knowledge. His intention was only to relish the magnificent view of the river and boats, and people going to Asaba by boat. He did not know his long-held dream was about to see the light of the day. 

On getting to the rivers Chike saw many cars and boys his age washing these cars. He wonders why he’d never taught of washing cars to make money. He runs home to get a bucket and a rag hoping to join the boys and wash to earn. However, by the time he arrived, all the cars had gone. But not long after, other cars started arriving and Chike is soon spurred with life and hope anew. He approaches a long car whose owner appears to be an important person and this makes Chike tremble and he loses his boldness as he wonders what to say.  While he stood transfixed, another boy approached the car owner confidently and was allowed to wash the car. This made Chike summon courage as he approached a new car. He spoke to the car owner who appears to be a wealthy man in good English and was permitted to wash. After washing, he was paid one shilling for his service and this made him jump for joy and he thanked the car owner. 

Chapter 14

Chike now sings songs of old now that he has one shilling in his possession. He buys a boat ticket to Asaba and joins the long list of passengers waiting for the next boat to Asaba. It was a long wait for the next boat en route to Asaba and Chike was becoming impatient. He consoles himself with songs he’s learnt from C.M.S Central School, Umuofia. 

When the boat arrived, all cars and lorries were moved aboard then passengers rushed on in numbers. Chike was at the fore of the rush and he headed for the deck. As the boat is set to sail, Chike is proud of himself and his achievement. He, at last, was aboard a boat to Asaba, finally crossing the River Niger. 

Chapter 15

The grass, they say, is always greener on the other side, and disappointment is friends with those whose expectations are high. 

Chike arrives Asaba in utter disbelief. He’d expected it to rave with radiance, colour, and everything synonym for beauty. 

He joined the multitude on the market, which was not much different from Onitsha’s, and he wonders what the hype about Asaba was all about. Though he feels disappointed that his expectations were not met, he consoles himself with the fact that he’s now worthy of engaging his friends in conversations about Asaba. 

Chike begins his sightseeing adventure in midwestern Nigeria, in Asaba. He went farther inland and relished the magnificent buildings the city had to offer, but they were still not up to his expectations compared to the colossal buildings in Onitsha. 

When Chike had filled himself with the sight of everything visible to the eyes, he realised he was distant away from the port and decided to return. He began running seeing how far he was from the river. 

Coming to Asaba is easier than returning. When he got to the river, it was too late as the last boat for the day had left the shore. He could see the boat ebbing away, closer to Onitsha. He cried and sought help from a marine official who was about to close for the day; however, it was to no avail, and he was to pass the night there in Asaba. His fascination with the river had been cleared now he needed to return to the safety of his uncle’s house. 

After much crying, Chike remembered his mother’s words that crying wouldn’t solve the problem, and he began to look for solutions. After much trying, he finds a lorry with the name S.M.O.G and decides to sleep in it for its friendly and less harmless name.  

Chapter 16

Ever since Chike’s fascination with the River Niger began, things have been taking different turns.  

Even now that he’s achieved his dream of crossing the River Niger, he gets entangled in something bigger than him. What more could he have asked for than the warmth and safety of his mother’s abode or uncle’s house. 

When the night grew thicker and market women closed their stalls to go home, Chike climbed into the lorry to sleep on a bench he found in it. However,  because he was afraid and thought it better to hide,  he decided to sleep coiled under the bench instead. Disturbed by mosquitoes,  fear, supposed approaching footsteps, and a nightmarish sleep, Chike couldn’t sleep much. He awoke, in the middle of the night, to the whispering voices of some three robbers who’d made a sinister arrangement with a night watchman to arrive when the bell struck three o’clock. Chike hears them whisper to one another, contemplating the mission. When the clock struck 3 am, the men entered the lorry and prepared to leave. Chike froze with fear when one of the men entered the back of the lorry. Though it was dark and neither of them could see clearly, Chike remained paralysed with fear for as long as the journey lasted. 

Chapter 17

In this chapter of Chike and the River, Achebe captures the intense anxiety and suspense of Chike’s experience in Asaba as he navigates the perilous situation with the thieves and attempts to find safety in the night.

Chike found himself in a tense and dangerous situation when the lorry stopped and three men began speaking in whispers. The arrival of a fourth man, identified as a night watchman, heightened the tension as the leader of the thieves threatened him with a gun. The night watchman, motivated by financial necessity, complied with their demands and assured them that all was well as he showed them a door. 

During this commotion, Chike seized an opportunity to escape. As the men were distracted, he quietly slipped out of the lorry and began to walk away, despite the darkness. His stealth was compromised when he accidentally kicked a tin, alerting the driver, who shone a flashlight in his direction. Chike quickly hid inside what seemed to be a large box with an open door.

The men, misled by the night watchman’s suggestion that a stray cat might have caused the noise, resumed their activities. Chike remained hidden, his heart pounding with fear, as the men continued loading items into the lorry. Eventually, the lorry drove away, providing Chike with a fleeting sense of relief, which was soon overshadowed by the realisation that the night watchman might still be nearby.

As Chike prayed for daylight, there was a distant crowing of roosters, signalling the approaching dawn. Exhausted by the night’s events, Chike fell asleep while standing. 

Chapter 18

Chike was jolted awake by the voices of a crowd in the daylight. Emerging from his hiding place, he approached the commotion and saw a man tied to a mango tree, gagged, and immobilised. The crowd awaited the police, and upon their arrival, the man was untied and revived with water. The man claimed to have been overpowered by robbers who tied him up and looted the shop he was guarding.

However, Chike, recalling his harrowing encounter, accused the man of colluding with the thieves. The man’s violent reaction to Chike’s accusation only confirmed the crowd’s suspicions. Chike described the events in detail, revealing the lorry’s name and the driver’s identity. His testimony led to the arrest of the thieves and the recovery of stolen goods.

Chike was celebrated as a hero, receiving accolades, a promise of a present from the shop manager, and widespread recognition. The thieves, including the deceptive nightwatchman, were imprisoned. Chike’s bravery was rewarded with a scholarship from the shop’s company, ensuring his education. This adventure not only brought Chike fame and fortune but also unmasked the ringleader, Mr. Peter Nwaba, “the rich but miserly trader, “who had masterminded the robbery.

Relevant themes of Chike and The River 

Chinua Achebe’s Chike and The River is a bildungsroman novella set in Nigeria that follows the protagonist, Chike, a young boy living in the small village of Umuofia. Fascinated by tales of the majestic River Niger, Chike dreams of travelling to the nearby city of Onitsha to see the river for himself. Despite his mother’s initial reluctance, Chike eventually secures permission to visit the city

Achebe’s Chike and The River is a bildungsroman that explores Chike’s journey of self-discovery as he navigates the bustling urban environment, encountering various characters and challenges that test his courage and ingenuity. Achebe deftly contrasts the simplicity of village life with the complexities of urban existence, highlighting the cultural and generational shifts occurring in mid-20th century Nigeria. Through the innocent eye angle of narrative, readers witness the intersection of tradition and modernity, as well as the impact of colonial influences on indigenous identities. Themes of curiosity, innocence and experience, and the distinctions between tradition and modernity, are some of the delicate themes that surround Chike’s adventures. Ultimately, Chike and The River is a poignant exploration of the universal quest for understanding and the resilience required to bridge the gap between one’s origins and aspirations.

Tradition vs. Modernity

Achebe’s narrative juxtaposes the traditional life in Umuofia with the modernity represented by Onitsha and the River Niger. Chike’s village is emblematic of traditional Igbo culture, where communal values and ancestral customs prevail. In contrast, Onitsha represents the allure and complexities of modern urban life. When Chike first contemplates going to Onitsha, he is mesmerised by the stories he’s heard over time, about the river and the city. This fascination symbolises the allures of modernity: “He was tired of living in a bush village and wanted to see a big city. He had heard many wonderful stories about Onitsha” (Achebe, p. 8). His journey to Onitsha, where he encounters new ways of living and thinking, highlights the conflict and integration between old and new.

Innocence and Experience  

The bildungsroman characteristics of the novella allowed the privilege of following Chike’s transition from innocence to experience at a close range, and this is a central theme in the novella. His initial naivety is evident in his simplistic view of the city and the river Niger, but as he navigates the urban environment, he gains a deeper understanding of the world and himself. Upon his arrival in Onitsha, Chike is overwhelmed by the city’s vibrancy and chaos, contrary to the sedentary life led in Umuofia.  “…Onitsha looked very strange to Chike, he could not say who was a thief or kidnapper and who was not.” (Achebe, p. 5). His experiences, from being cheated by a con artist to making new friends, contribute to his maturation. This progression is marked by a loss of innocence and the acquisition of worldly knowledge.

Curiosity and Exploration

Chike’s journey is driven by his innate curiosity and desire to explore beyond the confines of his village and immediate environment. This theme underscores the human impulse to seek new horizons and experiences, challenging the familiar and the unknown. Chike’s curiosity about the river Niger is a constant motivator for him. His mother’s cautionary tales do little to diminish his eagerness to traverse the river: This unyielding curiosity propels him into new adventures, highlighting the importance of exploration in personal growth.

Community and Individuality

Chike’s journey underscores the tension between communal responsibilities and individual aspirations. His village life is rooted in community, but his desires push him to seek individuality in the city. He was told that he must not go to the river alone. It was dangerous. But Chike was determined to achieve his long-held fantasy of crossing the River Niger. This theme highlights the delicate balance between fulfilling communal expectations and pursuing personal dreams.

Characters and Characterization

The novella Chike and The River by Chinua Achebe is one of his earliest works of literature, first published in 1966. The story is a bildungsroman that chronicles the life and lived experiences of an eleven-year-old Chike, his growth, struggles, daring explorations, and eventual achievement of his dream. Achebe, through the actions and inactions of the characters, underscores multiple didactics in the story. He helped us understand the importance of perseverance and resilience in chasing one’s dream. Some of the characters in Chike and The River include Chike, Samuel, Ezekiel, Michael, James Okeke, and Peter Nwaba, among others. 

  • Chike

Chike, the protagonist of the narrative, is an eleven-year-old boy whose determination and fascination with the River Niger drive the progression of the narrative. His desire to explore the River Niger symbolises a quest for knowledge and adventure. Through his experiences, the themes of innocence, growth, and the clash between tradition and modernity are explored. Chike’s journey from his village to Onitsha and his encounters there highlight his transition from childhood to adolescence, marked by new insights and experiences. His relentless effort to traverse the River Niger is ultimately crowned with the attainment of his dream, national recognition, and a scholarship offer. 

  • Samuel

Samuel, popularly referred to by his alias, S.M.O.G., is Chike’s schoolmate and friend. He serves as an influence and motivator for Chike by assisting him in every way possible to achieve his dream of exploring the River Niger. Samuel, unlike Chike, was born in Onitsha and had explored the River Niger. Through the character of Samuel, Achebe helps us understand the importance of keeping meaningful friendships. It was Samuel who taught Chike how to ride a bicycle and supported him on his quest to get money for his ambition of traversing the River Niger. 

  • Ezekiel 

Ezekiel is the only male child of his mother, a trader. He plays a crucial role in the narrative by influencing the actions of many other students in the school. Achebe portrays the character of Ezekiel as a negative influence in the lives of his friends and schoolmates. Ezekiel is a mischievous and uncultured boy who has been overpampered by his mother, who would never believe a report of Ezekiel’s wrongdoings. He influenced his friends, Samuel, Chike, and others, into engaging in fraudulent activities, which later resulted in severe punishment for all of the students who engaged in it. 

  • Michael

Michael is Chike’s uncle’s housekeeper. His fascinating stories about the River Niger, and the beauty and glimmers of Onitsha spark the ambition of going to the big city, Onitsha, in Chike, and the quest to traverse Asaba and the River Niger. He sometimes takes Chike with him to the market, where he gets to see the magnificent River Niger. Michael is one of the characters that aid the progression of Chike’s quest to explore the River Niger. 

  • Peter Nwaba

Mr. Nwaba is Chike’s uncle’s neighbour and a miserly rich supposed trader. He is known for pauperised living despite having so much money. He, like Chike’s uncle, believes that children should spend more time doing arithmetic rather than wasting away playing. Mr. Nwaba’s source of wealth remains a misery to the neighbours until Chike uncovers him to be an armed robber during a mysterious encounter in Asaba, where Nwaba was the leader of an armed robbery gang that burgled a store in Asaba. 

The key take away of this book

Vivid Imagery: The novel is known for its vivid and evocative descriptions of Nigerian landscapes, culture, and traditions, which provide readers with a rich and immersive reading experience. Chike's Journey: The central character, Chike, takes readers on a compelling journey from his rural village to the bustling city of Onitsha, exploring themes of dreams, growth, and adaptation. Cultural Exploration: The book offers a unique opportunity to explore the clash between traditional rural life and the modern urban culture of Nigeria, shedding light on the country's diverse and evolving society. Coming of Age: Readers witness Chike's coming of age and the valuable life lessons he learns as he faces various challenges and makes important decisions. Themes of Identity: The novel delves into questions of personal and cultural identity, as Chike grapples with his place in the world and the cultural influences that shape him.

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