The Bride Price Essay - Essays and Criticism

Buchi Emecheta

Essays and Criticism

The Other

Reference to the Other is used both in feminist and postcolonial literary theory. The Other refers to the concept of establishing a norm, then relegating everything that is not the norm to the sidelines where it becomes the Other. To make this a little clearer, in a patriarchal society, man is considered the norm. Everything is defined in terms of the masculine. In general, all who have masculinity as their biological trait are given power, priority, preference, and privilege. In other words, man is what is defined as important. Women, on the other hand, become the Other or the unimportant. They are categorized as the powerless and, thus, they are marginalized. Feminist literary theorists examine the marginalization of women that occurs in literature when man, or the patriarchy, is set up as the norm.

Postcolonial literary theorists examine the marginalization of groups of people who have been colonized by outside powers. In this case, it is the outside powers that have set themselves up as the norm. For example, when the Europeans descended on Nigeria, European law prevailed over traditional rules. European languages were used in schools. Schooling was based on the educational standards of Europe. European religious beliefs were ingrained in the minds of the indigenous people while the traditional practices were simultaneously outlawed. A postcolonial literary theorist looks at the ways in which the indigenous people, as well as their traditions, have become the Other.

In a colonized country like Nigeria, the setting of Buchi Emecheta's The Bride Price, this concept of the Other becomes even more complex. The indigenous people, as they prepare for independence (and, thus, enter a postcolonial era) have been changed. They have lived under colonial rule for many generations, and now they must decide what will become the new norm: what they have become under colonial rule or what they once were.

All these elements play themselves out in Aku-nna, the protagonist in The Bride Price. Relegated to the role of the Other by both the colonial powers and her patriarchal society, Aku-nna, once she becomes aware of her own marginalization, resists. Slowly she learns to vocalize her thoughts, which, in the beginning of the book, are heard only inside her head. It is through this development of her voice as she moves from daughter to wife, from city girl to country woman, from prepubescent teen to mother, that the reader gets a sense of how it feels to be the Other, and what it takes to resist and, hopefully, break down the confines of that role.

From the outset of this story, Aku-nna is still steeped in her traditional role. She wants to make her father proud of her and is determined to marry well so as to bring her father a good bride price. Once that issue is settled, she would first have her marriage "solemnised [sic] by the beautiful goddess of Ibuza, then the Christians would sing her a wedding march ... then her father Nna would call up the spirits of his great, great-grandparents to guide her." This is Aku-nna's dream.

In the beginning, Aku-nna is very silent. Although concerned about her father's health and his aberrant behavior, she wants to question him, but she keeps her thoughts to herself because in "Nigeria you are not allowed to speak in that way to an adult, especially your father. That is against the dictates of culture." In the beginning, Aku-nna does not question those dictates.

There is a hint of tension building in Aku-nna, but that tension is not totally conscious. It is still quiet, like Aku-nna's voice. When questions build up inside of her, she reminds herself that "good children don't ask too many questions." When her father does not come home for supper as he had insinuated he would, she relaxes with the thought that in her culture her "neighbors would look after them ... in that part of the world everyone is responsible for the next person." But Aku-nna feels betrayed by her father when she discovers, through her uncles, that he is not coming home, that he, in other words, has lied to her. It is the narrator's voice that must inform the reader about certain facts concerning the culture that Aku-nna herself has not yet learned. The narrator states that Aku-nna's people think with a "group mind." Not only do they think alike, but it "would not occur to any one of them to behave and act differently." Upon reflection, Aku-nna forgives her father for lying to her. "He responded as much as their custom allowed—for was she not only a girl?"

It is during her father's funeral that the realization of being fatherless dawns on Aku-nna. "Nobody is going to buy you any more [clothes]," an aunt tells her. Then the aunt turns to another woman and says, "The pity of it all ... is that they will marry her off very quickly in order to get enough money for Nna-nndo's [Aku-nna's brother] school fees." Then turning back to Aku-nna, the aunt continues, "This is the fate of us women. There is nothing we can do about it. We just have to learn to accept it."

With these thoughts stirring in her head, Aku-nna accepts her fate and leaves Lagos and her former life and returns to her parents' ancestral village. As she walks down the dusty road toward her village, a cousin tells her stories about village life, realizing that Aku-nna knew little about the customs of her people. Listening to the tales that her cousins relates, Aku-nna exclaims, "It's just like the stories you read in books." It is as if she has distanced herself from her own life, not yet realizing that she has become one of the characters in those books. It is also along this road that the first hint of rebellion expresses itself when Aku-nna stands her ground and refuses to take the bicycle ride that is offered her and then, later, refuses to undress to take a public bath. These are small discretions, but nonetheless they are Aku-nna's first steps toward asserting her opinions.

Once she reaches the village, Aku-nna watches as the women, who only minutes ago were laughing, immediately begin to cry. This abrupt change is Aku-nna's introduction into village life. At this point, although she thinks it strange that the women can change their emotions so quickly, she is resigned to join in. "After all, she was going to be one of them," she says. With this statement, it is apparent that Aku-nna is still trying to understand her role and accept the restrictions within it.

Two year pass between Aku-nna's arrival at the village and the next chapter in the story. Aku-nna is fifteen and attending school. Her education "by the Europeans," plus the fact that she has not yet had her first menstruation, set her apart from most of the other girls. In the meantime, Chike, the...

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