Chike’s School Days

Songs Symbol Icon

In “Chike’s School Days,” songs represent the broader struggle for the story’s Nigerian characters to parse out a sense of meaning or identity for themselves under British colonialism. One example of this is the Christian hymns which Chike’s father, Amos, leads the family in morning and night. As one of the only Christian families in their village, these religious songs represent “the ways of the white man” to which Chike’s family has conformed. Though representative of their faith, the hymns embody the tension between the family and the traditional culture of their community.

On the other hand, songs also allow Chike and his siblings to retain their Nigerian traditions in a small way. Just before Chike starts school, his sisters use a song in their native Igbo language to warn him about a schoolteacher who supposedly “flogged […] children to death” with his cane. Though this is clearly an exaggeration, it’s significant that the song used to convey the story is in Igbo rather than English, as it suggests that although the children have assimilated to British influence in many respects, their traditional language still serves a fundamental role in communicating information to one another.

When Chike enters school and is introduced to English songs, readers can recognize the use of song to symbolically illustrate the use of language for aesthetic rather than communicative purposes. At school, Chike and his schoolmates sing these songs with heavy accents. Since their mispronunciation is so strong, they are not able to communicate meaning through this song, nor does the teacher seem concerned with explaining the lyrics’ meaning to students. Rather, the function of their singing is superficial—the students are made to parrot English songs not to communicate in a meaningful way, but rather to submit to the influence and domination of British colonialism.

Chike’s self-invented songs in English also speak to this point. At the end of the story, he reads from his schoolbook and makes up nonsensical, meaningless songs based on words he’s heard at school, like “periwinkle.” As he is creating these songs, Chike envisions a mysterious new world that makes him happy. Here, Chike’s excitement about the future parallels his excitement about English: the language interests him not because he understands it, but because it has come to represent, due to colonialism, an exotic and captivating form of power. The English songs in the story are broken forms of communication that fail to imbue the colonized population with any genuine sense of meaning—rather, their singing only conveys the superficial appearance of assimilation which undermines their traditional culture.

Songs Quotes in Chike’s School Days

The Chike’s School Days quotes below all refer to the symbol of Songs. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Chike’s School Days published in 1991.
Chike’s School Days Quotes

It did not matter to their dancing that in the twentieth century Caesar was no longer ruler of the whole world.

Related Characters: Chike, The Schoolteacher
Related Symbols: Songs
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chike read it over and over again at home and then made a song of it. It was a meaningless song […] But it was like a window through which he saw in the distance a strange, magical new world. And he was happy.

Related Characters: Chike
Related Symbols: Songs
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
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Songs Symbol Timeline in Chike’s School Days

The timeline below shows where the symbol Songs appears in Chike’s School Days. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chike’s School Days
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...ways of the others in the village. Chike and his sisters grow up singing Christian hymns and praying first thing in the morning. What’s more, they’re not allowed to accept any... (full context)
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
Language and the Struggle to Create Meaning Theme Icon
...begin learning in spite of his older sisters’ threatening warnings about the schoolteacher. An Igbo song they sing ominously warns that the teacher, with his scary cane, “flogged them to death.”... (full context)
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Language and the Struggle to Create Meaning Theme Icon
...words they use, but he does enjoy the sound and the rhythm. In one Igbo song the students sing in class, the teacher asks the students who Julius Caesar is. Chike... (full context)
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Language and the Struggle to Create Meaning Theme Icon
The English songs they sing are even more mysterious to Chike. His favorite song is “Ten Green Bottles,”... (full context)
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...begins to develop individual likes and dislikes. Arithmetic is no good, but he still adores songs and stories. Most of all, he likes the way English words sound, “even when they... (full context)
Colonialism as a Form of Violence  Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...different world. Once he’s done reading, his favorite thing to do is to make up songs out of the things he’s read. The songs are “meaningless,” but still, they are like... (full context)