No Sweetness Here

by Ama Ata Aidoo

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Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472

Aidoo was born in 1924, in the region of Africa now called Ghana. The history of Ghana, like that of many African nations, is that of colonization by Europeans, followed by national independence in the 20th century. The Portuguese first arrived in the region, by sea, in 1471. Their initial interest was in sources of gold, which they shipped to Europe. The area was thus known to Europeans as the Gold Coast until 1957. In the 1600s, Portuguese dominion in the Gold Coast ceded to the powers of Dutch, British, and Danish traders, who kidnapped Africans to be sold as slaves in the United States. In the early 1800s, these European nations outlawed slave trade. The British gradually increased their control in the Gold Coast during the 1800s, and in 1874 it was made a British colony. In the early 1900s, the primary trading resource of the Gold Coast became cocoa, from the development of vast cocoa plantations. In 1957, the region, renamed Ghana, achieved the right to self-government, although it remained a member of the British Commonwealth. In 1960, it became a republic. A military coup in 1972 resulted in an era of repressive policies; another military coup was carried out in 1981; in 1992, a new constitution was instituted, and in 1993 a fourth Republic of Ghana was established.

Education in Ghana
Chicha, the narrator of this story, is the schoolteacher in the small village of Bamso. Ghana enjoys a relatively high level of adult literacy, due in part to the government's establishment of a new system of education in 1974. There are three universities in Ghana, all of them owned and run by the government: The University of Ghana, the University of Science and Technology, and the University of Cape Coast.

West African Literature
M. Keith Booker has discussed Aidoo's works in the context of the development of the novel form in West African literature. Booker explains, ‘‘Writers from countries such as Nigeria and Ghana have been especially important in the development of the African novel, partially because Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and Ghana was the first African colony to achieve independence from British rule.’’ Citing Amos Tutuola as a key figure, Booker adds, "Nigerian novelists can draw upon an especially strong tradition of oral storytelling.’’ Tutuola's novel The Palm-Wine Drunkard (1952) was a seminal text in the development of West African literature in English. Booker claims that Tutuola "can be seen as a sort of bridge between traditional African oral narratives and the more conventionally literary African novels that began to be published soon after his work first appeared.’’ Among other key West African novelists, according to Booker, is Chinua Achebe, particularly for his novel Things Fall Apart (1958); Booker states, ‘‘Achebe has been an inspirational figure for the generation of African writers who followed him, not only in West Africa, but in the entire continent."

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 856

Narration This story is told from the perspective of the first person restricted point of view. This means that the narrator is a character in the story, and that the narrative point of view is limited to that of the narrator. The reader is given only information available to the narrator—in this case Chicha, the schoolteacher in the small Fanti village of Bamso. This narrative technique is effective for this story in that it allows the reader to identify with a woman who is an outsider to the traditional village culture in which she is living and working. Thus, her perspective on the characters and events around her, such as the conditions of the marriage and the traditions of divorce between Maami Ama and Kodjo Fi, is that...

(This entire section contains 856 words.)

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of an outside observer. Although this is her culture of origin, she has been educated in a Western culture and so her own traditions are unfamiliar to her. This allows her, and the reader, both a privileged inside view of a traditional African culture and the vantage point of an outside perspective. This narrative technique allows for the exploration of themes central to much of Aidoo's fiction: the conflicts faced by the African woman who has been immersed in Western education and culture, as well as the unfair conditions of African women in traditional African culture.

Language The use of language is central to Aidoo's story. Aidoo's fiction is written in English, but incorporates some elements of African languages and words, as well as hybridized terms that have grown out of the collision between African and Western culture. For instance, the narrator is called Chicha, which, it is explained, is the "Fanticized" pronunciation of the English word "teacher." Another example of "Fanticized" English occurs in an exchange between Chicha and Nana, whom she passes on her way home:

'Kudiimin-o, Chicha.' Then I would answer, 'Kudiimin, Nana.' When I greeted her first, the response was 'Tanchiw', that is 'Thank you.'

The reader may guess that "Kudiimin-o" must be the Fanticized pronunciation of "Good morning."

Dialogue Aidoo's first two literary publications were both stage plays. Critics have noted that her prose fiction, like a stage play, relies heavily on dialogue as a means of conveying character and developing the story. She thus allows the characters to speak for themselves, rather than telling the reader how to interpret them. This story makes use of dialogue between Maami Ama and Chicha in order to convey Maami Ama's feelings about her son and her relationship to her husband and his family. Dialogue is also central in the scene of the divorce proceedings, where Maami Ama's family members argue with Kodjo Fi's family members regarding the outcome of the divorce.

Description While dialogue is central to developing character and building the story, Aidoo also uses vivid descriptive language in order to convey the daily life of a traditional woman in her village. During the conversation Chicha has with Maami Ama about her son Kwesi and her marriage, the description of Maami Ama's preparation of the food she has just brought in from her field captures a sense of her everyday life and work. The description, rich with mouth-watering details of the food itself and vivid with color, is worth quoting at length:

. . .when I arrived at the hut, Maami Ama had just arrived from the farm. . .Oh, that picture is still vivid in my mind. She was sitting on a low stool with her load before her. Like all the loads the other women would bring from the farms into their homes, it was colourful with miscellaneous articles. At the very bottom of the wide wooden tray were the cassava and yam tubers, rich muddy brown, the colour of the earth. Next were the plantain, of the green colour of the woods from which they came. Then there were the gay vegetables, the scarlet pepper, garden eggs, golden pawpaw and crimson tomatoes. Over this riot of colours the little woman's eyes were fixed, absorbed, while the tiny hands delicately picked the pepper.

Literary Heritage Like many African countries and cultures, each ethnic group in Ghana has a tradition of oral storytelling, including myths and legends on their religious figures and the beginning of the universe. Folktales are particularly important ways of both entertaining and imparting values. One type of folk story is the ‘‘dilemma tale,’’ which presents social and moral issues in a way that provokes discussion of the topics raised. An example of this is Aidoo' s Anowa.

While there is an emphasis on performance in the oral transmission of folktales, Ghana has a more modern theatrical tradition. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, commercial theater shows and troupes traveled throughout Ghana, coming into their own after World War II. Part of so-called ‘‘concert parties,’’ three or more comedic actors in a troupe used stock characters to comment on social and familial problems while entertaining audiences. Primarily a nonurban phenomenon, these concert parties as a whole were rather like vaudeville in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in form, and, to some degree, content.

Compare and Contrast

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 145

Late 19th-Early 20th Centuries: From 1874 to 1957, the region now called Ghana was a colony of Britain known as the Gold Coast.

Late 20th Century: In 1957, the Gold Coast achieved national self-rule, and was eventually renamed the Republic of Ghana.

1970s: During the time Aidoo's early works were being published, Ghana experienced several military coups, resulting in various forms of repression within the nation.

1990s: Beginning in 1994, Ghana experienced violent ethnic discord, as well as violent protest against new tax measures.

Early 20th Century: Ghana, then called the Gold Coast, was no longer a major source of gold, but had developed cocoa plantations as a primary export.

Late 20th Century: In 1997, new sources of gold were discovered in the Republic of Ghana, leading to the development of renewed mining operations.

1960: The life expectancy in Ghana was approximately 46 years.

1990: The life expectancy in Ghana had reached 55 years.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 148

Sources Banyiwa Horne, Naana, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 117: Twentieth Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, Gale, 1992.

Booker, M. Keith, The African Novel in English, Heinemann, 1998, pp. 30-32.

Opoku-Agyemang, Naana Jane, ‘‘Narrative Turns in Ama Ata Aidoo's 'No Sweetness Here,'’’ in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, edited by Ada Uzoamaka Azodo and Gay Wilentz, Africa World Press, 1999, pp. 128-35.

Strong-Leek, Linda, ‘‘Inverting the Institutions: Ama Ata Aidoo's 'No Sweetness Here' and Deconstructive Theory,’’ in Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, edited by Ada Uzoamaka Azodo and Gay Wilentz, Africa World Press, 1999, p. 146.

Uzoamaka Azodo, Ada, and Gay Wilentz, eds., Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo, Africa World Press, 1999, pp. xv-xvi.

Further Reading Odamtten,Vincent O., The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo: Polylectics and Reading Against Neocolonialism, 1994. Odamtten includes critical essays on most of Aidoo's major works, interpreting them in the context of African history and culture.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide