Three central issues pervade Emecheta’s writing: the oppression of women (especially African women), education as the means of their emancipation, and the effects of the conflict between tradition and Western influences on their development. Her central intention is to explore and protest the roots of women’s oppression. This is a personal crusade. What she has uncovered and relentlessly critiqued in all of her novels is the enslavement of women by institutions in the private and public spheres: from welfare states that pauperize and deskill women to the insidious institution of slavery, the oppressive institution of marriage, and the martyrdom of motherhood. In the Ditch chronicles a series of journey-flights that the protagonist makes from one form of bondage to another, from a failed marriage to the den of an exploitative landlord to the demeaning snare of a welfare system.

In the Ditch illustrates the enslaving power of poverty, the symbolic embodiment of a caste system based on race, sex, class, and property. The society depicted is menacing to the poor, the economically deprived, and the uneducated, particularly women—the single, unsupported “mums.” Emecheta’s purpose is to present the hierarchy of the Pussy Cat Mansions as a microcosm of the oppressive hierarchies of society at large. The culture of poverty has its own hierarchy, its own protocol for socialization, and its own value system. If the blows of the treacherous Nigerian landlord’s terrorism and exploitation have merely bruised Adah’s self-esteem, then the verbal lashing with which the Mansions’...

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