Clearly the central method that the author uses to explore gender roles and sexuality in this story is the character of Anowa herself and the way in which a massively important theme of the novel is that of the power of tradition and custom and what happens to those who refuse to follow it. Anowa is a character who has flouted customs and traditions throughout her life. She refuses to marry after hitting puberty and refuses the various offers of marriage she receives until she marries a man that she wants to marry. In addition, she rejects the normal female role of housewife by helping her husband in his business. It is her consistent rejection of the traditional role of wife that alienates her from all of those around her and leads her to commit suicide at the end.
The story of Anowa then therefore carries a rather depressing message about the power of custom and tradition. Anowa is presented as something of a free spirit. Her refusal and adamant determination to be boxed in and inhibited by culture and tradition is something that makes her life much more difficult and impacts her husband as well. Gender roles in this culture present men as carers of their wives who provide for them, and wives as stay-at-home figures who sit around and are passive creatures. Anowa's fate shows the problematic nature of rejecting such established gender roles.
The character of Anowa is a woman who goes against tradition. She is represented as a capable, intelligent woman who determines who she wants to marry and has a great deal of strength. At the beginning of the play, the character of the Old Woman says of Anowa: "like all beautiful maidens in the tales, she has refused to marry any of the sturdy men who have asked for her hand." In deciding to marry Kofi Ako against her parents' wishes, Anowa is a modern woman.
Anowa finds that her strength is not respected in her marriage. She believes that her husband's slave dealing is wrong, but he refuses to listen to her. She says:
"They let a girl grow up as she pleases until she is married. And then she is like any woman anywhere: in order for her man to be a man, she must not think, she must not talk."
Her marriage is barren, and for a while, she believes that it is her fault until she realizes that her husband's slave dealing has left him impotent. In this play, women are represented as strong but crushed by marriage and society.
Kofi Ako, Anowa's husband, is represented as weak. He is criticized by Anowa's mother, Badua, for being "watery." He is clearly physically weaker than Anowa, and he is demonized for not meeting traditional masculine standards of strength. Later, Anowa learns that her husband cannot give her children because he has emasculated himself by his dealings with the slave trade. Anowa says at the end of the play, "My husband is a woman now." Men in the play are shown to be weak and undeserving of respect unless they can live up to traditional male standards of virility and physical strength. That Kofi Ako is rich only makes him more effeminate because he does not do his own work. While Anowa wants to be modern as a woman, her feelings about her husband are somewhat traditional and support traditional masculine roles.