Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 710

In one of the few public performances of Anowa—a 1991 production in London, some twenty-one years after its publication—many critics praised the play, drawing parallels between it and contemporary society. Comparing Anowa to a work by William Shakespeare, Malcolm Rutherford of the Financial Times writes, "do not go to see Anowa looking for something exotic. What will strike you is not how different it is from developed western culture, but how similar." Louise Kingsley of The Independent makes an analogous statement. She argues that "though the intimate bickerings of husband and wife are common to males and females the world over, Anowa's decline is, to European eyes at least, as much a consequence of her uncompromising nature as of her moral stance."

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One London critic echoes the sentiments of many scholars who have commented on Anowa. Anne Karpf in The Guardian writes, "Lyrical and eloquent ... Anowa brings us a typical Aidoo heroine, strong and nonconformist, but ultimately felled by conservative forces." Many scholars compare Anowa with Aidoo's previous play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, as well as her novels, looking at how she has handled certain themes and her development of characters.

For example, Eldred Durosimi Jones in African Literature Today writes, "Like the earlier play, it [Anowa] preserves something of the representative nature of the folk-tale. It keeps in touch with social reality but does not become totally absorbed in realistic detail. The impact of particularities is dulled ... This eschewing of too much inconsequential realism gives the play its archetypal quality." Vincent O. Odamtten makes a similar point in his book The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo. He believes Aidoo's second play is more honest in its confrontation of history. He argues, "Anowa enables us to better see how, as social beings, as both producers and products, we are implicated in the transmission and perpetuation of our past in our present and possible futures."

Several scholars have found the dream that Anowa describes near the beginning of phase three particularly important. Comparing Aidoo's writing with several other African women authors, Maggi Phillips in Research in African Literatures believes "Anowa's bleak tones present the breakdown of human relationships, a breakdown that may not be salvaged unless we listen, as the Old Man advises, to the cries and dreams of the embattled heart." In Maureen N. Eke's essay in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, "Diasporic Ruptures and (Re)membering History: Africa as Home and Exile in Anowa and Dilemma of a Ghost," she also analyzes the dream. Eke believes the dream accounts for Anowa's oddness and also that it raised questions she has needed to be answered her whole life. Anowa is on a quest for the truth. However, Eke writes, "Like her community, Anowa is encouraged to sleep the sleep of silence and forgetfulness" over slavery.

Other critical scholars look at Anowa in terms of motherhood. Naana Banyiwa Horne, in "The Politics of Mothering: Multiple Subjectivity and Gendered Discourse in Aidoo's Plays" (also included in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo), focuses on the Anowa's failed quest to become a mother. She examines motives of each of the female characters in the play, focusing on Anowa, as well as matrilineal kinship in Ghanaian society. Horne blames Kofi Ako for the situation at the end of the play.

Horne writes, "through Anowa , Aidoo pays tribute to the industry and ingenuity of our foremothers. In fact, the story of Anowa, symbolically, mirrors patriarchy's maneuvers to erode women's effective participation in the global economy ... Even though Anowa is the brains behind the business, Kofi Ako eventually runs her out, vetoing her participation so that he can freely exploit slave labor to build an economic empire."

In his The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, Odamtten makes a similar point. He argues, "What comes through in Aidoo's play is that the issues of gender oppression are materially based, that the dominant social relations that arise and are part of the economic production relations of a given society, at a particular historical moment, produce specific modes of behavior or cultural practices. These practices may not be the result of deliberate or malicious intent by individuals in that society. But neither is it one's destiny to accept cultural practices that one finds abhorrent or counterproductive."

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Essays and Criticism