Buchi Emecheta World Literature Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2535

In the essay “Feminism with a Small’f’!” and in her autobiography, Emecheta states that it was through growing up listening to storytellers that she decided that she wanted to become a storyteller herself. This explains her writing style, which is much like that of storytelling. Although her work does not...

(The entire section contains 2535 words.)

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In the essay “Feminism with a Small’f’!” and in her autobiography, Emecheta states that it was through growing up listening to storytellers that she decided that she wanted to become a storyteller herself. This explains her writing style, which is much like that of storytelling. Although her work does not only tell stories about the subjugation of women or advance an African view of feminism, as is often asserted by critics, it is writing that focuses primarily on the experiences of women. Running throughout Emecheta’s fiction are the themes of women desiring education, defying tradition, and making choices about their own lives.

The desire for education is present in almost all of Emecheta’s novels, from a young girl who decides to attend school, even when her parents do not allow it, to a young woman enduring humiliation and harassment while pursuing higher education. Choosing a husband of one’s own choice, rather than being controlled by the bride price, is also a prevalent theme. A number of Emecheta’s women choose men who cannot afford the bride price; other women run to the men, likewise keeping them from having to pay the bride price. Women also choose to have or abort children, to leave abusive husbands, and to reject polygamous relationships.

While Emecheta does reveal a number of African practices and traditions that may be repressive for women, she also writes about practices that empower them. Thus, while women suffer because of problems with fertility or because of incest and polygamy, there are those who experience financial independence as traders and businesswomen, as well as those who achieve emotional and psychological independence.

Emecheta also tells stories about family. She focuses on issues such as orphans (both female and male), women bonding, and mother-daughter as well as father-daughter relationships. Because feminist readings of the novels often become the focus of her work, the fact that the father-daughter bond is stronger than that of the mother-daughter relationship in a number of her novels is usually ignored.

Emecheta is aware that her work serves not only to reveal African practices and traditions, and their contradictions, but also to introduce readers to African culture and traditions—mythic histories before the era of colonization, proverbs and sayings, songs, foods, cultural artifacts, and language, both African (such as the words “dibia” and “lappa”) and Africanized English (such as “dokita” for “doctor”, or “felenza” for “influenza”). The setting for many of her novels is the early half of the twentieth century, where traditional cultures are affected not only by the end of colonialism but also by modernism. As a result, her work presents such themes as the clashing and blending of cultures—African and European, traditional religions versus Christianity, and the generational differences between elders and the young. Whatever the themes, almost all of Emecheta’s work is tinged with irony, which she asserts is a feature of storytelling, and all of her stories contain philosophical lessons.

Second-Class Citizen

First published: 1974

Type of work: Novel

Adah immigrates with her husband to London, where she is treated as a second-class citizen, not in society but in her own home.

Second Class-Citizen, which tells the story of Adah Ofili from her childhood to her early years in London, begins with a discussion of dreams. The eight-year-old Adah, who was born in Lagos during World War II, can only dream of going to school, since she was not allowed to attend because she was not a boy. One day when her mother is distracted, Adah goes to the Methodist School where a neighbor teaches, and he allows her to remain for the day. When she returns home, the police are there. Her mother is punished for child neglect, yet Adah is allowed to continue attending school.

A few months later, Adah’s father goes to the hospital but does not return. Her mother is inherited by her father’s brother, her brother goes to live with one of her father’s cousins, and Adah is sent to live with one of her mother’s brothers. Only because she could bring a higher bride price if educated, she is allowed to remain in school. Suitors come; however, she is not interested in any of them. Instead, fascinated with the possibility of winning a scholarship to secondary school, Adah steals the money for the sitting fee, passes the examination, and wins the scholarship. She attends the Methodist Girls’ School and completes the four-year course.

Wanting to continue her education at the university, Adah knows that she will not be allowed to live on her own. Therefore, she marries a student, Francis Obi, who is too poor to pay the bride price, with the hope of being able to attend school and study at her own pace. Instead, she gives birth to a daughter and begins working for the American consulate library. Having had the dream of going to the United Kingdom, she shares it with her husband. They decide to go, but his family, who depend upon her income, approves of his leaving but insists that Adah remain in Lagos. She agrees for a time but eventually persuades her in-laws to allow her also to travel to England.

Adah’s dream comes true as she sails for London with two young children; however, the narrator makes it clear that all dreamers know that there are setbacks to dreams. For Adah, there are complications when she gives birth to her third child. She is in the hospital for a few weeks but is ignored by her husband. Rather than being concerned about her welfare or the child’s, he is more interested in using the money she receives from work for his personal advancement. Adah then comes to accept that she did not marry the man of her dreams.

Francis informs Adah that in England she is a second-class citizen. Noting Adah’s disappointment at their living conditions among a lower class than they would have associated with in Lagos, he tells her she cannot discriminate against her own people, for they are all second-class now. In spite of Francis’s conciliation, Adah rejects the notion of being a second-class citizen: She has what is considered a first-class citizen’s job and insists upon taking care of her own children, a trait linked in England only to white women. When her son, Victor, becomes seriously ill and she believes it is because of the conditions at the home where he is staying while she works, Adah approaches her children’s social worker and insists that they be moved from that sitter. Because of Adah’s fierce persistence, her children are placed in a nursery. Thus, she learns that what Francis has been telling her is not true: Second-class citizens can fight for their rights.

Francis’s idea is further undermined when Victor again becomes ill, this time on Christmas Day. Francis calls their doctor, but the doctor refuses to make a house visit. Francis summons two policemen, who come to see the child and agree that a doctor is needed. Although the family doctor, an Indian, does not come, a Chinese one does. Adah is keenly aware of that which Francis mostly likely does not see: England equally provides some services for both its first-and second-class citizens. When it is clear that she will not accept the second-class citizenship that Francis seeks to impose at home, and when she realizes that he does not respect her and her dreams, scoffing at her desire to be a writer and destroying her first manuscript, Adah takes her five children and leaves.

The Bride Price

First published: 1976

Type of work: Novel

Aku-nna’s life changes upon her father’s death. She leaves Lagos for the town of Ibuza and comes into conflict with her ancestral home’s customs and traditions.

The Bride Price, set in Lagos in the early 1950s, opens with the thirteen-year-old Aku-nna (whose name means “a father’s wealth”) and her eleven-year-old brother, Nna-nndo (“father is the shelter”) walking into their apartment and seeing their father, Ezekiel Odia, home from work. He explains that he is going to the hospital for medical attention for a foot wound he had received while fighting in World War II, but he promises to be back by the evening meal. When he does not return, two uncles, Uche and Joseph, come to assist, for the children’s mother, Ma Blackie (so named because of her black skin) is in Ibuza, visiting the river goddess because of fertility problems. Three weeks later, the father does return—to be buried. The children realize that they are orphans and that their lives will no longer be the same.

Once Ma Blackie returns to Lagos, the family learns its fate: They are to move to Ibuza, as Ma Blackie is to live with her husband’s older brother, Okonkwo. Ezekiel has made financial provisions for his family; consequently, they can remain together. Ma Blackie is able to invest in and trade palm oil, and Nna-nndo, as well as Aku-nna, who will be forced to marry so the bride price can be used to ensure her brother’s education, are able to remain in school. Ma Blackie soon becomes Okonkwo’s fourth wife.

Aku-nna quickly captures the attention of her twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher, Chike Ofolue, because she is quiet yet intelligent. Nevetheless, she is informed by her cousin that the Ibuza women are not allowed to associate with him as he is the son of former slaves, those who had been kidnapped to be sold to the Europeans. (According to a story that his mother told Chike, his princess grandmother was not sold because she was so beautiful. She was allowed to have children, and when the slave trade became illegal, her sons were given to the missionaries. As a result, they were educated and became teachers; their children became lawyers and doctors.) Aku-nna responds to Chike’s attentions, as he is the only one who takes an interest in her thoughts as well as her growing womanhood.

The love interest might have been a passing fancy for Chike and Aku-nna had it not been for the resistance from the community. Instead their love grows, and Chike, who affectionately calls Aku-nna “akum” or “my wealth,” is prepared to follow the village custom. His parents will ask her parents for Aku-nna and also pay the bride price. Insulted because an oshu, or slave, would dare think of marrying Aku-nna, another suitor, Okoboshi, kidnaps her as his bride. Deciding to fight back, Aku-nna tells Okoboshi that she has already given herself to Chike and, with Chike’s help, escapes. They travel to a town in midwest Nigeria and marry.

Since Okoboshi states that he has taken a lock of Aku-nna’s hair, and therefore is her husband, retaliation takes place in Ibuza: Okonkwo publicly divorces Ma Blackie and refuses to accept the bride price, the cocoa plants on the Ofolue plantation are destroyed, and the Ofolues, in turn, sue—and win. Although their actions cause much dissension in Ibuza, Aku-nna and Chike are happy. He is a manager for an oil company, she teaches school, and they soon are expecting their first child. In the midst of their happiness, Aku-nna takes ill, and even though she receives proper medical treatment, she dies in childbirth. Her last request to Chike is to name their daughter “Joy.”

The novel concludes with a paragraph that explains how Aku-nna and Chike fulfill the superstition that if a woman is to live to see her children’s children, the bride price must be paid. With this paragraph, it becomes apparent that the novel is a story, told by an omniscient narrator, that contains a philosophical lesson.

The Slave Girl

First published: 1977

Type of work: Novel

The orphaned Ojebeta is sold by her brother; after twenty-eight years, she returns to Ibuza and marries, and her bride price is finally paid.

That The Slave Girl is narrated by a storyteller is apparent through its structure: Its prologue is one of mythical beginnings that relates the founding of Ibuza by a young prince, Umejei. The stage is set for the story, which takes place in the early twentieth century, of Okweukwu and Umeadi Oda, their two sons, Owezim and Okolie, and their daughter, Ojebeta.

Although “only a daughter,” Ojebeta is beloved because she is the only girl child who survives after so many have not. Her specialness is demonstrated through her ogbanje charms, which her father has to travel miles through dangerous territory to obtain, and her intricate facial tattoos, both of which are to ensure that she will not be sold into slavery. However, when Ojebeta’s parents die of “felenza,” the seven-year-old is sold to a relative by her brother, Okolie, for eight pounds, money that he uses to pay for his coming-of-age dance. Ojebeta becomes one of five slave girls and two boys owned by Ma Palagada, a successful market trader.

In Onitsha, Ojebeta lives the life of a slave girl; however, because of Ma Palagada’s wealth and eventual conversion to Christianity, she is allowed to attend school, to learn to sew, and—once Ma Palagada’s son, Clifford, informs his mother of his desire to marry Ojebeta—to receive special, more sophisticated refinement training. When Ma Palagada dies, Clifford becomes preoccupied with taking over the business, and one of Ma’s daughters intends to take Ojebeta as a maid for her children. Remembering her past life in Ibuza and having had dreams of running away, Ojebeta decides to return to her homeland rather than be bought a second time.

The more refined Ojebeta does return home, begins to sell palm oil, and becomes rich based upon the village standards. That the enslaved Ojebeta has fared better than those who have never been enslaved is suggested with her prosperous return. This notion is also reiterated through the fate of some of the other slaves. The oldest slave girl, Chiago, marries Pa Palagada, becomes head of the household, and bears him four sons; Amanna, who encouraged Ojebeta to return home, is a successful business owner; and Jienuaka, one of the male slaves, marries another one of the slave girls, Nwayinuzo, and becomes a successful businessman.

When Ojebeta learns that a relative wishes to sell her for the bride price, she shaves her hair to prevent a lock from being taken. She instead chooses to marry Jacob Okonji, a man from Ibuza who was educated and lived in Lagos. Wanting to adhere to tradition, Ojebeta and Jacob seek approval from her brothers, and Okolie admits that he had sold Ojebeta. The two marry and have two children. When Ojebeta later begins to miscarry, Jacob fears it is a result of the bride price not being paid, for Ojebeta still legally belongs to the Palagadas.

When Ojebeta’s husband and brothers learn that Clifford Palagada is coming to Lagos, they know he is there to collect the bride price. Jacob welcomes him into their home and pays the bride price. The storyteller-narrator concludes that years after having been sold into slavery and years after Britain had outlawed slavery, Ojebeta was once again changing masters.

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Buchi Emecheta Long Fiction Analysis


Emecheta, (Florence Onye) Buchi