No Sweetness Here

by Ama Ata Aidoo

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Critical Overview

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Aidoo is best known for her stories, which combine both Western literary and African oral storytelling traditions in exploring themes of feminism and colonialism pertinent to the modern African woman. Aidoo's first two publications were the stage plays The Dilemma of the Ghost (1965) and Anowa (1970). Her third publication was the short story collection No Sweetness Here (1970). Aidoo's first novel, Our Sister Killjoy, was published in 1977. Her second novel, Changes: A Love Story, was published in 1991. Aidoo has also published collections of stories and poems for children, including An Eagle and Chickens and Other Stories (1986) and Birds and Other Poems (1987). She has also published two collections of poetry: Someone Talking to Someone (1985) and An Angry Letter in January and Other Poems (1992).

The short story ‘‘No Sweetness Here’’ was originally published in 1970 as the title story in Aidoo's first collection of short stories, No Sweetness Here. According to Naana Banyiwa Horne, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, No Sweetness Here ‘‘includes Aidoo's most successful efforts at integrating African oral techniques and Western literary conventions.’’ Horne goes on to say that Aidoo's ‘‘feminist concerns are most apparent’’ in this collection: ‘‘This gallery of female portraits offers perceptive images of womanhood, exposing sexism and degradation, and celebrating the physical and intellectual capabilities of women. In this panorama Aidoo covers a wide range of issues: budding girlhood and the identity crisis emanating from growing up female in a sexist environment. . .; modernization and its impact on both rural and urban women . . .; and transcendence over degradation, followed by the assertion of humanist values. . . .’’ Further, ‘‘Aidoo's interests are comprehensive and essentially tragic, with all the stories echoing the same theme: the absence of any quintessential sweetness in life.’’

Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, commenting on Aidoo's hybrid style, explains, ‘‘There is an experimental fusion of oral traditional forms, sharp dialogue and commentary, vivid imagery and adept use of language, which make [No Sweetness Here] a unique collection.’’ Opoku-Agyemang points to Aidoo's narrative style, in which she ‘‘excels, principally, in her methods of narration and in the creation of powerful scenes. There are shifting points of view and narrative turns in No Sweetness Here that bear testimony to exciting and successful artistic innovations.’’ Focusing on the dual narration in the story ‘‘No Sweetness Here’’, she states, "The absence of freedom for these women is seen through their point of view.’’ Chicha is the story's principal narrator, while Maami Ama is a secondary narrator, as she tells her own story to Chicha: ‘‘Chicha is a narrator and commentator, while Maami Ama is a narrator of her own story, and an autobiographer. The close relationship between the two is important. It allows Chicha to take over the narration of Maami Ama, when the death of Kwesi does not allow the latter to be sufficiently distanced emotionally to continue the narration.’’ Opoku-Agyemang goes on to demonstrate that, using innovative narrative techniques, Aidoo creates strong female characters who must face their particular predicament within their own culture: No Sweetness Here ‘‘confirms Aidoo's artistic talents as one who constructs her narratives by exploring various forms of the short story, and at the same time providing a variety of women in different contexts. These women are not superhuman. They are ordinary people who survive difficult circumstances. In using innovative forms to convey their plight, Aidoo shows artistic strength, pointing at possibilities and alternate ways of telling old tales to confront new problems."

Linda Strong-Leek also praises Aidoo's creation of strong female characters in

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Linda Strong-Leek also praises Aidoo's creation of strong female characters inNo Sweetness Here in illustrating issues facing the modern African woman: ‘‘She is 'speaking about' many of the 'painful' situations faced by African women in her stories, such as being wives, mothers, prostitutes, cooks and children, or all these conditions combined, from the colonizers, and the Africans who replaced the colonizers after independence.’’ Strong-Leek elaborates on this point: ‘‘The women in Aidoo's stories are strong, independent, and often willfully detached from society; yet they remain susceptible to the community's rules and definitions of womanhood. Although she seems to offer no final analysis or any definitive solution, Aidoo continually poses questions pertaining to how and why African women are subjugated, abused, neglected, and mistreated by post-colonial societies, and often by those they love."

Ada Uzoamaka Azodo and Gay Wilentz point out that Aidoo's feminist perspective is a distinctly African woman's perspective; Azodo and Wilentz caution that Aidoo's fiction points out the differences in feminist issues facing African women from those of Western women. They explain that Aidoo's "critical and creative writings have led to the development of a kind of African feminism based on the cultural traditions of the community and the region, which relates the political to the personal. She is one of the first women in African literature to address the fact that an acceptance of Western feminism, born from the patriarchal societies of Europe and the U.S., may not be what feminism has been set up to be for all peoples at all times; rather she turned to her own Akan cultural milieu, and began to examine what in that culture could direct an indigenous woman's movement that would make sense to the people.’’

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Essays and Criticism