Buchi Emecheta World Literature Analysis
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.
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...
(The entire section is 2,535 words.)