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The previous post discusses the theme of traditions. I agree with that post, and I would like to add some additional thoughts to the theme of tradition. Anowa is unique in her community because she openly flaunts long standing traditions of what it means to be a woman and what is expected of her as a woman. While I agree that tradition is a big part of that theme, I also see that the play has running through it a theme about gender roles.
Anowa is not a woman who wants to be kept at home in order to make babies and cook food for her husband. Anowa wants to work, and she wants to work beside her husband. She's viewed as odd because of how hard she works, and her husband knows this. In phase two of the play, Anowa's husband even comments that Anowa is not behaving the way a woman should behave.
"This life is not good for a woman. No, not even a woman like you."
What her husband doesn't understand is that Anowa likes working. She thrives on it. It gives her life a purpose and direction. Late in phase two, Anowa even flat out tells her husband this.
"I cannot be happy if I am going to stop working."
Thematically, I see Anowa as a character that is teaching audiences about gender equality. The husband believes that his wife shouldn't work because she is a woman. That's it. That's his only reason; therefore, he buys slaves to allow her to rest. What Anowa believes is that a person should be allowed to work at what makes them happy regardless of gender. Her passion and zeal in this regard do make her a very prideful person, which is another theme in the play. That pride in her own work drives Anowa, her decisions, and her actions; therefore, a final theme of the play is a theme about choices and consequences. She chooses to tell her husband that he should remarry a more traditional woman. He chooses not to and instead buys slaves to do Anowa's work. This angers her, and she chooses to angrily respond. Their marriage continues in this downward spiral until they both commit suicide.
One of the primary themes represented in the play is the power of tradition. Anowa flaunts the traditions of her people. She does not marry immediately after reaching puberty as is expected, and when she finally does marry, she does not follow the cultural expectations that a woman does not work outside the home. Although her actions are the result of Anowa remaining true to her own beliefs, they have dire consequences within the context of her cultural unit, and lead to a tumultuous marriage and the deaths of Anowa and her husband by suicide.
Pride is another theme explored in the play. Anowa is driven to adhere to her ideals by pride, working hard in her husband's business and achieving a large part in its success. Her pride gives her a strong enough sense of herself so that she is able to withstand the pressure to treat the servants her husband buys as slaves, but it also causes havoc within her marriage. Pride, then, is both Anowa's strength and her downfall.
The themes of choices and consequences are also represented in the play. Anowa has many extremely difficult decisions to make, including her choice of a spouse and specific lifestyle. Each choice she makes has a definite and sometimes dire consequence.
There is a much more complete discussion of themes at the second enotes link referrenced below. Take a look!
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