Balancing The Remains Of Female Characters English Literature Essay

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In spite of the acclaim won by African female authors for presenting a more balanced portrait of the female character, so much still remains to be done by way of creating awareness and continuing to work toward the empowerment of all women. Seguin maintains that "Women must have a strong voice in civil society, considering that they form more than half the population. Women's organizations should act as pressure groups to end male domination, not only of the cultural and social spheres of life but also of the political arena". She maintains that as things stand the scope of African feministic writing is severely limited Female writers confine their writings almost exclusively to the domestic scene, thus giving the impression that patriarchal society is justified in excluding women from the public arena. Their themes centre mostly on love, marriage, motherhood, barrenness, marital infidelity and rape. There is thus the paradox of woman who claims equality with man but does not venture into the male preserve politics.

Feminist writers must tackle the systems that oppress and subjugate women. This is a way of helping women "unlearn the lessons of the past, engendering in them a new dynamism borne of their new awareness of their inherent strengths and potentialities for effecting change in their society as equal partners with men. Judging from the way that the tide is turning it has become urgent that the woman's story be told, and feministic scholars believe that that story should best flow from the pen of a woman. Female writers should be prepared to play dual roles in society as writers and as women. Admittedly, the

Task ahead for women writers is far from easy, considering that the female voice is very much in its infancy in African literature, but women "have an additional commitment to employ their art to place women at the centre of development and change.

Theirs should be the sort of empowerment that reveals to women their potentialities, for so long suppressed by male domination. Since women are in a better position to motivate fellow women, the challenge to writers, and to women writers especially, Research into their her stories and tell about women's lives and accomplishments; tell about the battered voiceless wife, also tell about the women of means who ruled their households tell about the merchant queens, the tell about the priestesses of deities, yes, tell about women because indeed there are some herstorical precedents whose stories will give hope to women. Go tell about them. Currently, women have made significant contributions to African society and have proved. The success of these women is rooted in "their strong commitment to the general cause, their loyalty, selfless service, natural incorruptibility, their steadfastness and resilience. It is therefore imperative that all educated women in positions of authority join forces in uplifting fellow women, for women possess a natural ability for nurturing and getting things done. It is important to reiterate further that education is indispensable in women's causes and invariably gives them the confidence they need to look inward and begin to shake off the many years of cultural and religious indoctrination and realize their complementary role and indispensability to the male. Feministic writing inspires and motivates them to do just that, the success of feminism in the African context derives from the discovered awareness by women of their indispensability to the male. This is the bedrock other actions. This gives her the anchor and the voice. Thus the myth of male superiority disappears, for the woman looks inward for a fresh appreciation of self. The dearth of female presence in the early novels has been taken up by feminist critics for the obvious disparity in the delineation of male-female relations. Helen Chukwuma, an acclaimed feminist critic and advocate for African women's causes, comments that the female character in African fiction is a facile lack-luster human being, the quiet member of a household, only to bear children, unfulfilled if she does not, and handicapped if she bears only daughters. This lop-sided depiction of male-female relations has prompted feminist critics such as Helen Chukwum and many others t lend to voice to this patriarchal delineation of women in the African first novels. They question the consistent pattern in these novels in which women have been portrayed as voiceless and in which the actions solely revolve around the male.

It is against this background that the epochal explosion of African female writers onto the world stage has been received with much excitement because they have dared to challenge the statuesque of male domination by redirecting the course of the female character in the African novel. This new breed of women writers are determined to entrench feministic sensibilities in the African novel by casting the African female character in a new light and in ways hitherto unknown. About this new type of writing Chukwuma writes: Feministic writing in Africa today shows the difficult haranguing process of female self-actualization. The affirmation "I am" presupposes that the subject knows what she is. The whole rubric of feministic literature traces the process of this self-knowledge and selfhood. This cause is by its nature and goal revolutionary and different and in most cases radical. The cause cuts across the socio-cultural norm and in the process sets aside the old ways so as to carve out the new, and must so succeed in the new way that it will attract to itself acclaim, recognition and acceptance. Feministic writing is a welcome diversion from the status quo, its objective being to reclaim women's rights and positions in society. Until the debut of feministic writing in African literature, male characters dominated all spheres of achievement in the African novel. Chukwuma refers to the writers as the "New homegrown intelligentsia, educated, erudite and probing, fired with the zeal of having a voice and being heard. Their efforts to present brand-new, assertive and individualistic females have helped to salvage the lop-sided image that male writers have created. In appreciation of the female writers‟ efforts Rose Mezu reminds African women of the need to show gratitude and reverence to all those parents and mentors who have taken it upon themselves to educate women, faithless women, femmes fatales, viragos, and playthings of capricious gods. Following the excitement brought about by female writers with respect to the woman's

Condition, Chukwuma again intones: "The rural, back-house, timid, subservient, lack-Ulsterwoman has been replaced by her modern counterpart, a full-rounded human being, rational, individualistic and assertive, fighting for, claiming and keeping her own. This paper therefore seeks to show how African women writers have changed the status quo of male domination in the African novel by empowering women in ways they have never imagined and how they can continue the task of empowerment through literature. This can be achieved by casting the female character not as subdued and voiceless but as positively assertive, resilient and resourceful, and encouraging women to resist any form of literature that encourages them to accept their subordination. African women's writing has opened up a whole new world of opportunities and awareness forewomen and the society at large. More than ever before, women have become more conscious of the value of a good education and of the need to resist all forms of subjugation, denial and marginalization. Flora Nwapa, Africa's first published female novelist, opened a new chapter in African literature by making women the central characters in her novels. In Efuru, Idu and One is Enough, for example, Nwapa depicts women who are accomplished, well behaved and relatively

Wealthy. But as accomplished as these heroines are they all have troubled marriages due to problems arising from infertility. With the exception of Amaka in One is enough, the female protagonists in Efuru and Idu are illiterate and glued to tradition, the very tradition that ultimately brings them down. In One is Enough, Amaka is an educated school teacher whose survival instincts propel her to jettison tradition. After six years of a childless marriage Amaka decides she has had enough when her mother-in-law informs her that another woman and her children, fathered by Amaka's husband, will move into her home. This latest humiliation proves too much for Amaka and shemoves out of her matrimonial home and to the city of Lagos. In this city, in an effort to achieveindividualism and fulfillment, Amaka ironically achieves motherhood, self-actualization andgreat wealth.In her novels Nwapa deals with infertility in marriage as does Buchi Emecheta in The Joys ofMotherhood. Both Nwapa and Emecheta depict their society‟s reaction to the problem ofinfertility and how women are affected by it. In Efuru Nwapa informs the reader thatchildlessness is both a curse and a failure on the woman‟s part , and in The Joys ofMotherhood when Nnu Ego fails to conceive a child, her husband marries another wife whobecomes pregnant right away. This development heightens Nnu Ego‟s self-doubt, reinforcing herbelief that she has failed as a woman and causing her to sink into despair. So we see two kinds ofheroines operative here: the illiterate and the literate. Judging from the case of Amaka in One isEnough, need anyone be reminded that education bestows not only confidence but better opportunities, and for women it opens doors of opportunity for them to pursue theirindividual empowerment.Education has remained the most effective tool for African women‟s empowerment and hassustained and helped them to rise to the occasion in moments of crises. It has made womenaware of the many choices available to them and to know that they should not just sit and wallowin self-pity but that they should think, plan and execute. An excellent example of this strategizing is found in Emecheta‟s Second Class Citizen where insteadof arguing with her parents-in-law, Adah tactfully decides to "be as cunning as a serpent but asharmless as a dove in order to bring to fruition her dream of joining her husband in England,a strategy that works out just right. In one is Enough Amaka opts to walk away from her husband who prefers an illiterate woman toa loving, hardworking and prosperous wife, and then refuses to marry the man who eventuallyfathers her twin sons. Her self-confidence and financial independence combine to embolden herand strengthen her decision to channel her energies to her contract business and to raise her twinsons all by herself. Nwapa uses Amaka to highlight the importance of women‟s economicindependence, with the implication that education, hard work and determination ultimately opendoors for women. This point is articulated further by Nwapa in Women Are Different where thecharacter Chinwe divorces her husband without asking for or expecting any form of support fromhimChinwe has done the right thing. Her generation was doing better than her

mother‟s own. Her generation was telling the men that there are different ways ofliving one‟s life fully and fruitfully. They are saying that women have options.Their lives cannot be ruined because of a bad marriage. They have a choice, achoice to set up a business of their own, a choice to marry and have children, achoice to marry or divorce their husbands. Marriage is not the only way. In So Long a Letter Mariama Bâ presents Aissatou, the mother of four sons, expressing herdisappointment at her husband' decision to marry another wife after years of a happy marriage.Aissatou is faced with a dilemma: to remain with Mawdo Bâ and to accept all the ramifications attendant on that decision, or to leave him. Aissatou, unwavering in her decision, stoically walksaway from a compromised marriage, taking only her dignity and self-esteem and, of course, herfour sons. One of the reasons she is advised against leaving her husband is that sons need theirfather, but she pays no heed to that and leaves anyway . In the end, contrary to popularassumption, she recovers from her betrayal, relocates to North America with her sons, and fromall indications, finds fulfillment and settles to a dream job. Here we are presented with acourageous woman whose determination and sense of purpose propel her to control her destiny.By this singular act, Aissatou confronts and dismantles the shackles of subjugation and setsherself free, unlike her friend Ramatoulaye, who passively broods over her husband‟s betrayaland eventual death. Certainly Bâ supports the idea that a woman should not remain in a marriageunder stifling circumstances, absorbing humiliation after humiliation, until she is completelydestroyed. She affirms that "Marriage is no chain. It is a mutual agreement over a life'sprogramme . In effect Bâ wants the readerto know that "There is nothing wrong if a woman wears trousers, goes to the cinema alone orkeeps male friends. She also suggests, through Daouda Dieng, a male character, that a promisingway out for women is for them to take a keener interest in the destiny of their countries.Although it is to the African female writers‟ credit that the incorrect depiction of the woman hasbegun to be reversed, some male writers later joined in the effort by focusing their attention onwomen and elevating them as central characters in their novels. Some of those who have focusedon elevating women are Chinua Achebe, Ousmane Sembène, Ngugi wa Thiong‟o, Elechi Amadi,Cyprian Ekwensi, Isidore Okpewho, Chuks Iloegbunam, and so on. Achebe achieves this inAnthills of the Savannah about which Mezu admits that Segun contendsthat in Ngugi‟s Petals of Blood and Sembène‟s God's Bits of Wood the two writers "havedemonstrated that the inequality of the sexes is neither a biological given nor a divine mandatebut a cultural construct," and urges the female writer to "deconstruct gender and the socialparadigms that support it". She goes further to mention that the deconstruction should notbe limited to adult literature alone but should extend to even juvenilia. In more recent times, oneof the most exciting examples of the evolution of the African female character is portrayed inChuks Iloegbunam‟s 2004 novel Surbenia's Day. This novel is all the more exciting becauseIloegbunam is not female, but male.In this novel the female protagonist, Ilinna Nwamama, a Brigadier General and Commander ofthe all-female commando brigade, is given charge of ground operations during a coup d‟etatwhich topples a ruthless dictator and restores equilibrium to a new social order. The militarywomen are portrayed as resilient and with boundless capabilities. In Surbenia's DayIloegbunam‟s clarity of vision exposes the future in a clear and truthful exposition of the present

and reminds us all of the untapped energy and potential of African women. The reader is left towonder whether the events of this novel are a prediction of the future of African nation states. Inthe face of unrelenting turmoil, corruption and fratricidal wars, are African women beingprojected as the future leaders who will salvage Africa from the throes of death?

So much still remains to be done with respect to the situation of the woman in Africa. Womenare marginalized the world over but Africa and the rest of the Third World top the list, theirsocieties being largely patriarchal. Patriarchy bestows absolute power on the male and throughtheir customs and traditions which are tailored to favor men patriarchal societies subjugate women. Merun Nasser has a suspicion that something is not quite right there because "Thetraditional role of the African woman has always been a complementary role and evidence ofthat fact has been widely supplied by social scientists . She notes that African malenovelists have failed to depict that complementary role of the African woman in society and, as aresult, readers have "come away with the impression that the role of the African woman is barelyabove that of „chattel‟" .Rose Acholonu advances this argument further by stating that:

In Things Fall Apart, we see Okonkwo playing his role as the traditional head ofthe family. He is a typical tyrant. He rules and directs his wives in the manner of acattle herdsman. He roars like "the thunder" and administers physical blows to hiswives at the slightest provocation. The wives live in awe of him. Achebe, true totradition and the precepts of Igbo custom, seems to condone this inhumantreatment of Okonkwo‟s wives." Continuing, Nasser opines that Achebe‟s novels have "no room for the woman who does notconform to the role he has chosen for her. It is this state of benign neglect of an important aspect

of the woman … which forces the following conclusion: Chinua Achebe has not presented arealistic portfolio of the woman, both in the traditional and modern settings in African society". In her turn, Chukwuma contends that African "indigenous cultures had more regard forwomen in terms of the role they played" but notes that culture has essentially served the purposeof men especially during the colonial period:Colonialism built its systems on men which economically empowered the menand had the contrary effect on women. The men by acquiring education andwhite-collar jobs abandoned the women to the circumscribed domains of homeand farm. Women‟s dependency on men increased and so were their passivity,voicelessness and marginalization. She maintains that despite the tremendous benefit of colonialism and self-governance,colonialism "completely eroded all forms of women partnership and women had to trail behindnot as partners in progress but as second-class citizens made content only by the crumbs from theSo far there appears to be a consensus in the denunciation of the condition of African women inliterature. All interested parties seem to agree that the best way to fix this apparent anomaly is

through education and a new socialization. One of the ways through which the lot of women canbegin to change is through the instrumentality of literature for "the writer cannot expect to beexcused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done. It iscommon knowledge that art not only reflects society but is equally influenced by it. The beautyof literature lies in its dissemination and enjoyment and, as Chukwuma contends, "what ispleasurable to the reader must also be relevant and informative" .It may be argued that in the early years of the development of African literature male writersdominated the scene and so their literature projected only their perspective. But as much as wemay argue about this we must admit that that was where we were at that point in time. It is truethat at that time there were not as many women of note; even then, some are of the contentionthat "In every age and time there had been women who exhibited economic sense and resourcemanagement within and outside their homes even in the rural environment" Chukwuma.Certainly, in times past, there existed women of prominence and power who wieldedextraordinary influence on their households and communities, women whose lives would serve

as sources of inspiration, but no effort has been made to record their lives and influence forposterity. In the southeastern part of Nigeria, for example, many deities and towns have beenidentified as having been named after women, but little or no research has been conducted to thateffect and much of that may have been lost.Creative writers are, therefore, being urged to research into the lives of these extraordinary

women in history and model women characters on them as models of African womanhood. Their

stories will inspire women and give them hope. Mabel Segun urges women writers to strive toincorporate all aspects of women‟s achievements in their writing, affirming that:There have been women activists such as those in the celebrated Aba Women‟sriots of 1937, who faced colonial guns to protest against what they considered aninjustice-the erosion of their traditional powers in the township councils,

although the immediate cause of the riots was a rumour Therewas also Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti‟s grassroots mobilization of Egba women in Abeokuta against perceived victimization by a despotic ruler whom theysucceeded in driving into exile. But the impression given in our literature is thatsuch women have never existed in our society. Because of the strong feelings elicited by the condition of African women and the unflatteringdepiction of women in those early African novels written by men, the most prominent of whomis Achebe, much of the vilification and queries about the whys and wherefores are directed athim. In an interview granted by Achebe to Anna Rutherford in London in 1987, the year that

Achebe‟s Anthills of the Savannah was nominated for the Booker Prize, Rutherford pointedlyasks Achebe: "Could we look at what you see the role of women to be in the new African state?"Achebe‟s reply:First of all let me say that, looking at the past and present, I think that we havebeen ambivalent, we have been deceitful even, about the role of the woman. Wehave sometimes said „The woman is supreme-mother is supreme,‟ we have saidall kinds of grandiloquent things about womanhood, but in our practical life theplace of the woman has not been adequate. At the same time I‟m not saying „This

is how it is going to be from now on‟ because I am aware of my own limitations.In mapping out in detail what woman‟s role is going to be, I am aware that radicalnew thinking is required. The quality of compassion and humaneness which thewoman brings to the world generally has not been given enough scope up till nowto influence the way the world is run. We have created all kinds of myths tosupport the suppression of the woman, and what the group around Beatrice is saying is that the time has now come to put an end to that. the woman herself will be in the forefront in designing what her role is going to

be, with the humble cooperation of men. The position of Beatrice as sensitiveleader of that group is indicative of what I see as necessary in the transition to thekind of society which I think we should be aiming to create.Coming from Achebe the above viewpoint is significant since he has borne the brunt of

feminists‟ chastisements for his depiction of women in his historical novels. To this end, wecould use the wisdom of Sojourner Truth, the nineteenth century African American anti-slaverylegend, who in a convention stated: "I can‟t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and havelearned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set itright up again" By the same token, if Achebe by his position as themost prominent African writer seemed to have started an unpopular trend in his depiction ofwomen, he has now turned full circle and is championing the cause of women. Let us hope thatAchebe, the trend setter, again draws multitudes of followers.