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The Other

Reference to the Other is used both in feminist and postcolonial literary theory. The Other refers to the concept of establishing a norm, then relegating everything that is not the norm to the sidelines where it becomes the Other. To make this a little clearer, in a patriarchal society, man is considered the norm. Everything is defined in terms of the masculine. In general, all who have masculinity as their biological trait are given power, priority, preference, and privilege. In other words, man is what is defined as important. Women, on the other hand, become the Other or the unimportant. They are categorized as the powerless and, thus, they are marginalized. Feminist literary theorists examine the marginalization of women that occurs in literature when man, or the patriarchy, is set up as the norm.

Postcolonial literary theorists examine the marginalization of groups of people who have been colonized by outside powers. In this case, it is the outside powers that have set themselves up as the norm. For example, when the Europeans descended on Nigeria, European law prevailed over traditional rules. European languages were used in schools. Schooling was based on the educational standards of Europe. European religious beliefs were ingrained in the minds of the indigenous people while the traditional practices were simultaneously outlawed. A postcolonial literary theorist looks at the ways in which the indigenous people, as well as their traditions, have become the Other.

In a colonized country like Nigeria, the setting of Buchi Emecheta's The Bride Price, this concept of the Other becomes even more complex. The indigenous people, as they prepare for independence (and, thus, enter a postcolonial era) have been changed. They have lived under colonial rule for many generations, and now they must decide what will become the new norm: what they have become under colonial rule or what they once were.

All these elements play themselves out in Aku-nna, the protagonist in The Bride Price. Relegated to the role of the Other by both the colonial powers and her patriarchal society, Aku-nna, once she becomes aware of her own marginalization, resists. Slowly she learns to vocalize her thoughts, which, in the beginning of the book, are heard only inside her head. It is through this development of her voice as she moves from daughter to wife, from city girl to country woman, from prepubescent teen to mother, that the reader gets a sense of how it feels to be the Other, and what it takes to resist and, hopefully, break down the confines of that role.

From the outset of this story, Aku-nna is still steeped in her traditional role. She wants to make her father proud of her and is determined to marry well so as to bring her father a good bride price. Once that issue is settled, she would first have her marriage "solemnised [sic] by the beautiful goddess of Ibuza, then the Christians would sing her a wedding march ... then her father Nna would call up the spirits of his great, great-grandparents to guide her." This is Aku-nna's dream.

In the beginning, Aku-nna is very silent. Although concerned about her father's health and his aberrant behavior, she wants to question him, but she keeps her thoughts to herself because in "Nigeria you are not allowed to speak in that way to an adult, especially your father. That is against the dictates of culture." In the beginning, Aku-nna does not question those dictates.

There is a hint of tension building in Aku-nna, but that tension is not totally conscious. It is still quiet, like Aku-nna's voice. When questions build up inside of her, she reminds herself that "good children don't ask too many questions." When her father does not come home for supper as he had insinuated he would, she relaxes with the thought that in her culture her "neighbors would look after them ... in that part of the world everyone is responsible for the next person." But Aku-nna feels betrayed by her father when she discovers, through her uncles,...

(The entire section is 9,459 words.)