Ken Saro-Wiwa

Start Free Trial

Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa is highly critical of the traditions and customs of patriarchal Dukana community. Discuss with reference to the short story "The Divorcee."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "The Divorcee" by Ken Saro-Wiwa, it is very clear that, in Dukana, women are only meant to bear children. They also do household labor—washing and cooking and cleaning for their husbands—but this role is secondary to their duty to give birth. If they do not bear children, they have failed in their duties as wives. This is what their mothers tell them, and what they are to tell their daughters.

Lebia, the divorcee who gives the story its name, knows this and so is devastated to find herself not becoming pregnant year after year. She sees conception as a way to "secure her place" by her husband's side; when she does not become pregnant, indeed, she loses that place. Of course, the infertility could just as easily be her husband's fault, but in Dukana the provisions for divorce in the event of childlessness simply never punish the man. The patriarchal society blames women, returns them to their mothers' homes—or the street, if their families have passed—and forces their mothers to return the bride price the husband had paid.

By telling this story, Saro-Wiwa showcases the vast unfairness that he sees in Dukana society. He allows us to follow the story of the one who would usually be forgotten—a wife who could not fulfill what is seen as her only purpose—and paints a heart-wrenching picture of the harm that these patriarchal rules cause.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team