The Concubine

by Elechi Amadi

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How are women presented in The Concubine?

Quick answer:

The author presents women in The Concubine as oppressed by traditional patriarchal society, yet also capable of acts of spirited resistance, such as when Ihuoma dares to harvest plantains on a disputed piece of land.

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It is interesting to note that, over the years, Elechi Amadi has been subjected to both praise and criticism for his portrayal of women. Some literary critics, especially feminist literary critics, have accused him of displaying the sexist and misogynist attitudes of the patriarchy in his presentation of female characters. Others, however, have argued that his portrayal of women is much more nuanced and sympathetic.

In The Concubine, both sides of the debate can point to various passages and situations in support of their arguments. Feminist critics can point to the following excerpt as alleged proof of Amadi's sexism:

Ihuoma put down the basket quietly, removed the plantain and began to move away. Only a very foolish woman would try to struggle with a man.

Yet those who see Amadi as much more nuanced in his portrayal of women point to his sympathetic treatment of Ihuoma's act of defiance in harvesting plantains on a disputed piece of land. Ihuoma's act of defiance may be futile; it may even be foolish. But at the very least, there's no doubting its bravery and little doubt that Amadi sees it in such a light.

Amadi's sympathy for women can be seen later on in the story during Ihuoma's conversation with Ekwueme. Here, Ihuoma complains about the many things that men are allowed to do, but not women. It's clear from the manner of presentation that the author does not regard Ihuoma's grievances as being in any way unreasonable.

None of this means, of course, that Amadi can be held up as some kind of feminist. But it does mean that his portrayal of women in The Concubine, as elsewhere in his work, is a lot more subtle than some of his critics would give him credit for.

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