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Problems of Femininity

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She adapts the style of to the content and circumstance of a particular novel. She uses this method in almost all her books. Quite prominent among these books are, In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974), which is a sequel to the first novel. These two are autobiographical and reveal Adah’s miserable experience as a mother, raising her five children single-handedly.

In these books, Emecheta discusses her marital problems and her decision to leave her husband who is the source of most of her problems. She sees her husband as a lazy and callous man who keeps her pregnant and delights in frustration her. She also has bitter feelings toward the white race whom she feels has some prejudice towards her, by the fact she is black.

In short, these novels discuss Emecheta’s attempt to survive in spite of all the odds. They also deal with problems in marriage, a problem treated in most works by African writers. The Bride Price (1976) and The Slave Girl (1978) deal with topics of social and cultural significance. They also depict some of the physical hardships and emotional torture that women who goes against the norms of her society marrying a man of her own choice only to suffer in the long run. Even though Aku-nna is aware of the consequences of a relationship with a man of slave ancestry, she goes ahead to elope with and marry this man called Chike. But she dies in childbirth and her death is attributed to the fact that her bride price was not paid in time. The Slave Girl, on the other hand, is about a girl called Ojebata, who is beloved by her parents because she is their only surviving daughter. Unfortunately, at the age of seven, she loses both her parents and her own brother sells her into slavery for a meagre sum of money to enable him to take part in a ge-group dance.

The novel discusses her life as a slave for a good nine years, which is combinations of joy and misery. With the death of her master, she is somehow free to return to her home town and to become a wife of the man who is prepared to marry her after clearing her debts as a slave. But Ojebata is not completely free since she still regards her husband as her new master. This novel emphasizes the negative effect of slavery on an individual. Joys of Motherhood (1979) is one of Buchi Emecheta’s complex works and it has the same setting as the last two works above. “The novel, which is told against the background of the second world war”, centres on the realities fo motherhood and the plight of the childless woman in African society. It emphasizes the need for a woman to be fertile, but more essentially, to give birth to sons. The subject of polygamy and its demerits are all discussed in this novel. The story is mainly about two people Nnu Ego, a chief’s daughter and her husband, Nnaife, who is employed as a domestic servant to a Whiteman in Lagos. This is her second, after a previous childless marriage in the village. She succeeds in giving birth to nine children, out of which seven survive, but unfortunately, they are all females. Thus, she is left to care for her children alone and under very poor conditions, with her husband drafted into the war. When he returns from the war, he compounds her problems by inheriting the wives of his dead brother, including the other women he marries, because he wants a son. The pathetic thing is that Nnu Ego dies “a lonely and forsake death, unattended by her own children”. The novel advocates the recognition of female children since they too can contribute to the development of society like male children. Destination Biafra(1981) is a fictional presentation of the Nigerian civil war of 1959 to the secession of Biafra. The work deals with “political mismanagement, civil commotion, personal and communal greed, unabated selfishness and corrupt leadership which only leads to social chaos, deprivation and death.” women are giben prominence in this novel as well as in Emecheta’s other novels. For instance, Debbie plays a number of decisive roles. She is the spoilt and well-educated daughter of a corrupt politician. As the novel progresses, she is retransformed into a loyal citizen prepared to fight for her liberation and that of the entire society.

In all these works, Emecheta show that there is a link between traditional an modernity. She portrays traditional practices as adequate for African societies, but at the same time, there is call “to make the necessary social adjustment at the appropriated time”, especially when tradition stands in the way of progress.

Anther common aspect of Buchi Emecheta’s novels is that she exhibits great imaginative powers and technical skill which make her works sound convincing and realistic. Her dramatic presentation of events is also excellent and sets her out as a writer with outstanding capabilities.

Above all, Emecheta’s novels constitute themselves into a strong support for feminists’ ideals of justice and equality, although she denies being a feminist. She thus qualifies feminism as follows:

“Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small ‘f’. in my books I write about families because I still believe in families. I write about women who try very hard to hold their family together until it becomes utterly impossible”.

As already stated, the works of Buchi Emecheta have attracted some critical attention from various quarters. After the publication of her first novel, In the Ditch, wendy davis of west Africa magazine noted that Emecheta makes her characters live and her talent, as a writer, lies in her description of hopelessness and her ability to convey the similarities and differences between the culture and outlook of her white neighbours. Another critic, Marie Umeh, commenting on this work in “African women in transition”, an article published in Presence africaine(1980), notes that Emecheta dwells not only on her own crises, but also establishes her views on the plight of vulnerable women in an over-industialized and male dominated society. She affirms that it is in this book that Emecheta established herself as a feminist writer.

Second Class citizen has also received some attention. In the world literature written in English, vol.16, Roberta Rubeinstein in her review of Second class citizen, describes Emecheta as the spokeswoman for many of the under-priviledged in African societies. She admits that the novels stress the indignities of poverty, discrimination and oppression afn seek for ways of coping with these situations.

Emecheta’s third novel The Bride Price, has also received some attention, but no as much as it deserves. Kenneth Cripwell of the “The Times Educational supplement” made the following comment about the text;

“Throughout the novel, the author exhibits a great sense of control over the story and its elements, giving the reader a sharp picture of the place of the woman in Ibo society o f the time”.

The blurb at the back cover of the heinemann edition from The Observer magazine states that Emecheta is an unstivingly poignant writer who convinces through plain narrative, authenticity and the feeling for character. In the world literature in English(1977),Margaret R. Luaer evaluates the contribution of Emecheta to African literature. She states that even though she is a woman living outside tribal culture, but still touched and affected by her knowledge of it. She brings a special clarity to her treatment of the all-important tradition of bride price. Another critic, Dr (Mrs) Helen Chukwuma writing on “Positivism and the Female crisis” comments that The Bride Price shows the economic value of women as analogue to chattels of trade and property for sale. Thus, it leads to the reduction of a girl’s worth as a human being to the economic level and everything depends on it: her parents, sustenance, payment of her brother’s fees, rehabilitation of the other members of the extended family.

The Joys of Motherhood, Emecheta’s fifth novel has received its share of attention from critics. A.N. Wilson, in The Observation notes that Buchi Emecheta has growing reputation for her treatment of African women and the problems associated with them. Marie Umeh in “African Women in Transaction” declares that Emecheta must have had difficulty in drawing provocative images of African motherhood against the already existing literary models, especially on such a sensitive subject.

The Slave Girl has also been criticized by a number of writers such as, M. Seymour-Smith of the Financial Times who notes that Buchi Emecheta tells the distressing story with lucidity and restraint and gets wonderfully well into the young mind of Ojebata. He describes the work as touchingly simple and unsentimental.

Destination Biafra, according to Oladele Taiwo, is a successful work, the most ample and perhaps the most memorable that the novelist has written so far. He admits that she has written well, but wonders if she has written with bitterness.

It is worthy to note that in almost all the above- mentioned reviews, Buchi Emecheta is described as an advocated for the emancipation of women. In almost all her work, her voice is a call to women to fight out their survival as individuals. She doesnot believe that men are better than women and therefore have a right to dominate them. Instead, she expects each individual, male or female, to act in freedom and dignity.

Furthermore, Buchi Emecheta addresses the issues of women in war, love affairs, slavery, family life and politics. In all such issues.” She offers faithfully portrayals , patterns of analysis and general insight into the female psyche.” It is no wonder that male writers such as Eldred Jones and Oladele Tawio refer to her as a feminist. This is because they feel she writes not in favour of men, but rather in favour of women. Thus they conclude that her portrayal of male characters in unfavourable light may be an Intentional device to take it back on men, for their portrayal of women as subservient, docile, subordinate and submissive, in their works. Buchi Emecheta denies being a feminist, but at the samw time, she declares in support of women: “we should be respected in our different roles, we should not be regarded as appendages of men, but as individuals.”

On the whole, even though Buchi emcheta has received as much attention as her works deserve, The Bride Price has not received enough critical evaluation even though it was the recipient of the New statesman jock cambell Award for 1978. It must be emphasized that this work Is remarkable for its excellent treatment of the problems which often assail women such as, problems women face in polugamous marriages; the problems of widows in the upbringing of their children; problems relate to the choosing of marriage partners for females and the problems of womanhood. In many African literary works, women or female characters are expected to conform to the culture and traditions of their society. Therefore, any female who fails to tow the line expected of her by the society is declared guilty and liable to sever punishment.

In the Bride Price, too, female characters are assigned various roles as mothers, wives or daughters. A girl has no right to choose her own marriage partner. That is the sole responsibility of her family especially her father and the relatives of her husband to-be. In the absence of her father, aku-nna’s uncle okonkwo takes the responsibility of choosing a marriage partner for her. But Aku-nna refuses to marry the husband chosen for her and instead elopes with, and marries the man she is forbidden to marry, thereby creating more problems for herself than she endure.

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