Reserve Text from Omar Sougou, Writing Across Cultures: Gender Politics and Difference in the Fiction of Buchi Emecheta. New York: Rodopi, 2002

Chapter 3: Articulating Protest
The Bride Price and The Slave Girl

LOYD BROWN DESCRIBES EMECHETA'S as "the most sustained and vigorous voice of direct, feminist protest" in African literature. His phrase "rhetoric of impassioned protest" characterizes
Emecheta's early fiction quite well.! This corpus includes In the Ditch (1972), Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), and The Joys of Motherhood (1979).

Destination Biafra (1982) can be added to these, for, even though it investigates new areas -national politics and war -it rests broadly on women's preoccupations. There seems increasingly to be an interest in national -Nigerian -issues, and also a greater degree of equanimity or fatalism about the tone of protest, as will be seen in the later chapters.

The Bride Price and The Slave Girl focus on the implications of such societal factors as tradition, Christianity and colonialism on the lives of girls and women.2 The novels retrospectively chart how these phenomena individually operate or collude to entrench the oppression of the female gender. Emecheta goes as far back as the nineteenth century in order to probe into womanhood in traditional, precolonial, colonial and urbanized Nigerian society, which might stand for Africa in general


The chronological order of production and publication of these novels does not correspond to the time in which the events and characters are set; the action of The Bride Price occurs in the 1940s onwards. The Slave Girl covers a span of time from the early 1900s to the end of the Second World War. Both novels are supposedly influenced by family history.3 The Joys of

1 Women Writers in Black Africa (Westport CT: Greenwood, 1981): 35.
2 Page references are, respectively, to The Bride Price (London: Collins/Fontana, 1978) and The Slave Girl (London: Collins/Fontana, 1979).
3 Head Above Water (London: Flamingo, 1986): 204. 228.


Motherhood completes what will be referred to as the African trilogy. This third book spans a period of time equal to that covered by the other two novels together. It delves into the mid-nineteenth century and ends in the 1950s, as if to offer an overview of the representation of African women. My enquiry into the novels seeks to otfer insight not only into the manner in which African women are defined by the world in which they live, but also into the process by which they articulate their subjectivity. In the present chapter I shall concern myself with The Bride Price and The Slave Girl. The Joys of Motherhood will then be considered alongside Destination Biaji-a.

Emecheta's readers will remember The Bride Price as the novel Adah wrote and that her husband burnt to ashes. It was to be the first novel written by Emecheta.4 It is the story of a young girl, Aku-nna, who marries Chike, an osu or outcast. "Having been dedicated to a god, the osu was taboo, and was not allowed to mix with the freeborn in any way."5 Emecheta re-creates "The Bride Price" as her third novel. In the meantime, the first version of the book has undergone a change which Emecheta explains with hindsight:


The original story ended with a husband and wife going home and living happily ever after, disregarding their people. But I have grown wiser since that first manuscript. I had realized that what makes all of us human is belonging to a group. And if one belongs to a group, one should try and abide by the group's law. If one could not abide by the group's law, then one was an outsider, a radical, someone different who had found a way of living and being happy outside the group. Aku-nna was too young to do all that. She had to die.6

Emecheta's view, like that of the traditionalist, stresses the communal sense of belonging.

This text, like The Slave Girl, carries some significance as one produced by a displaced African writer living in a metropolitan environment and addressing an audience seemingly located in this area. Both of the narratives set in Africa are likely to be loci of tensions, assertions, silences, and perhaps mimicry. The Bride Price reveals ambivalent attitudes, also catalogued in The Slave Girl, such as rejection, endorsement of local customs, and identification with and resistance to the defining norms of the metropole. Indeed, matters correlative to or inherent in women's bondage, resulting not only

4 See Second-Class Citizen, ch. 13.
5 Achebe, "A glossary of Ibo words and phrases," in Things Fall Apart (London: Heinemann, 1958).
6 Head Above Water. 166


from traditional patriarchal ideology but also from colonial culture and politics and the mode of production that comes along with these, are under consideration in the fictional world of pre-independence Nigeria where the heroines of The Bride Price and of The Slave Girl are found.

The narrative tone of voice and ideology identified in The Bride Price have currency in The Slave Girl, through which transpires a gendered perspective sustained by a discourse aiming at subverting the privilege of patriarchy and colonialism. In the following analysis, I wish to show how the texts work towards a kind of mimicry of the centre or resist it, and to analyse the manner in which they set out to undermine the societal practices obstructive to women's fulfilment.

The Bride Price is based on the notion of the subjection of women; as the title suggests, it radically questions this custom. The commodification process is shown in operation by means of an adolescent girl, Aku-nna. The idea is coupled with slavery, and this time men are the victims of the traditionalslave- holding system which, although nominally abandoned, still tacitly regulates people's lives. This move away from the female-only emphasis reduces the gender focus in a way. The parallelism established between the situation of Aku-nna and the exclusion of the slave family, the Ofulue, serves to condemn the discriminating principles in force in Ibuza society. The slaves --osu as Emecheta names them --are lodged in a silenced space by the "unwritten laws/ways' of Ibuza, a phrase that recurs repeatedly in the narrative (46).
Just as Emecheta uses an element of Igbo mythology, the ogbal?J'e, to construct The Slave Girl, so she does in The Bride Price by tapping another ingredient of Igbo culture, the osu. The textual treatment of the custom highlights the predicament of women and girls, subjected to the exclusionary practices of a semi-feudal society. Anger at and alienation from the culture that is so oppressive for the marginalized and muted is constantly stated or mediated in some way or another. This is sustained by the double perspective running through the novels. The nature of the narrative voice thus needs to be addressed in conjunction with the audience at whom it is directed; the ideological location of the text-producer is more likely to be identified in this manner.

It is practically the same voice that we hear in all the novels, including the African trilogy. It is double-voiced, both castigating and condoning, affiliating itself with yet dissociating itself from the dominant ideology of patriarchy and the colonial culture. What justifies the double standard? Does it


betray a double loyalty to two antagonistic worlds that both attract and repel? Is it a sign of ideological crisis -feminist consciousness conflicting with entrenched cultural values about which one has mixed feelings?

The voice that comes through the novels speaks within tile frame of the patriarchal discursive field while questioning patriarchal assumptions. Similarly, it speaks against a culture some of whose aspects are loathsome and uncouth to a writer who has been to the centre or metropolis. The discursive scheme at some moments discloses a sense of filiation with the centre that indicates a distancing from the motherland. This disaffiliation is expressive of anger and resentment at the reprehensible side of customs, especially when they go against the writer's convictions -feminist, in the present case. Whatever Emecheta's claims, her writing is feminist, especially the first half of her production, from In the Ditch to Double Yoke. The evolution of the narrative
perspective in this regard will be examined later.

There is evidence that The Bride Price makes allowance, albeit unintentionally, for a non-Nigerian readership. The target audience of both novels is without doubt Western. The profile of this community of readers is primarily defined by the text-producer, but it may also be predetermined by publishers in some cases. The publishing story of The Slave Girl may be an indication of the agency of marketing pressures on literary production and their influence on the text. This novel, following the Heinemann African Writers Series' silence after being solicited, was to be slightly altered to allay the concern of a publisher about the taste of his non-African readership. Head Above Water reveals that The Slave Girl was turned down by George Braziller on the grounds that the language did not quite fit Emecheta' s early books, and he "was not quite sure how the average American reader would take it" (184). This book was considered too African, according to Emecheta. Renaming the first chapter "Introduction" ("Prologue" in the current edition) was the subterfuge the agent hit on to get it published by Braziller. This is an example of how the mechanisms of publication can affect literary production -indeed, induce the filiation process.

On the other hand, this occurrence requires attention as an indication that the audience may be the determining factor in the ultimate creative output of writers, especially such professional ones as Emecheta. The politics of literary production in such cases may weigh on the orientation of a text. In the case of Emecheta, one may wonder whether awareness of potential audience interest did not orient her creative energy towards catering to the needs of

that readership. This may also be the situation of V.S. Naipaul, as seen by critics like Rob Nixon who

contend that Naipaul's success stems trom the 'programmatic negativity' of his portrayal of postcolonial societies; that while he affects an independence from ideology, his true affiliation is to the London-New York axis of metropolitan power and values.7

'Programmatic negativity' may be part of the strategy behind the reproduction of stereotypes in Emecheta' s African trilogy, and which caused critics to take issue with her.8

The concern for the non-Nigerian reader, or simply the audience located in the metropolis, as enacted in the texts, becomes a signifier of "filiation." It is, according to Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, a scheme in which "the privileging norm" of the centre rapidly incorporates elements of the periphery and margin which threaten the exclusive claims of the centre:

This was a process, in Edward Said's terms, of conscious affiliation proceeding under the guise of filiation, that is a mimicry of the centre proceeding from a desire not only to be accepted but to be adopted and absorbed. It caused those from the periphery to immerse themselves in the imported culture, denying their origins in an attempt to become 'more English than the English."9

This is particularly relevant for postcolonial writers located and writing in the metropolis, but does not imply that postcolonial writers outside the centre are immune in that respect. Ashcroft et al. argue as follows:


One of most persistent prejudices underlying the production of the texts of the metropolitan canon is that only certain categories of experience are capable of being rendered as "literature." This privileging of particular types of experience denies access to the world for the writer subject to a dominating colonial culture. It works in a complicated and reciprocal way by denying value to the post-colonial experience itself, as "unworthy' of literature, and preventing post-colonial texts from engaging with that experience. The result is that the

7 As quoted by Maya Jaggi in her review of Rob Nixon's London Calling: V. S. Naipaul. Postcolonial Mandarin (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992) in The Guardian
18 June 1992).

8 Some Nigerians scholars are critical of Emecheta's treatment of traditional life and
culture. See Atam Ebeogu, "Enter the Iconoclast: Buchi Emecheta and Igbo Culture,"
Commonwealth: Essays and Studies 7.2 (1985): 83-94, and Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi. "Buchi Emecheta: The Shaping ofa Self," Komparatistische Hefle 8 (1983): 65-77.

9 Ashcrott Griffiths & Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back, 4.
VS. Nai(18 June


post-colonial writer is consigned to a world of mimicry and imitation, since he is forced to write about material which lies at one remove trom the significant experiences of the post-colonial world. (88)

This view is relevant to the writing of Emecheta. Ashcroft et al. maintain that in Naipaul's The Mimic Men the idea of the imperial centre as locus of order is both stated and deconstructed:

There is no centre of reality, just as there is no pre-given unmediated reality. If language constructs the world then the margins are the centre and may reconstruct it according to a different pattern of conventions, expectations and experiences. (91)
This problematizes the situation of the postcolonial writer operating within the confines of the centre and having to comply with the strictur~s pertaining to the control of the means of literary transmission. And I would argue that the margin can become the centre only if its discourse is conveyed to the world, and also when it is able to impose its construction of the centre in a conscious and determinate manner, and is prepared to resist, antagonize, or question metropolitan assumptions about its own centrality and the marginalization of the 'Other.'

Naipaul's ambivalence has been commonly agreed upon. "Yet," as Ashcroft et al. put it, "such an ambivalence is by no means disabling, tor it provides the tension out of which emerges a rich and incisive reconstruction of postcolonial experience" (91). The same could be said of the ambivalence symptomatic of Emecheta's works. That the narrative voices she employs consciously signposts and documents items which do not fit the frame of reference of a metropolitan audience seems to fall into the category of mimicry rather than into that of appropriation or abrogation.10 Reading The Bride Price, one notes the many bracketed references, the narrative voice's asides, and the long glossing notes to the reader. This may be explained by the background of the author as a sociologist, on the one hand, and, on the other, by the attention paid to a readership for which anything falling outside the realm of the normative dominant culture needs to be justified. This justification may appear, too, as a sort of legitimization rather than something motivated by empathy alone. More than once, Aku-nna's attitude and feelings are thought worth explicating: "However in Nigeria you are not allowed


10 These strategies will be examined in Emecheta's later works, especially The Rape of Shavi; see Chapter 6 below.

to speak in that way to an adult, especially against your father. That is against the dictates of culture" (14).

A tissue of ambivalence spreads over the text, just as in The Slave Girl, which are grounded on the centre/margin binarism. Such an ambivalence is best explained as partaking of the struggle for power, "that power focused in the control of language."JJ The Bride Price was presented, in the history of its production as provided in Second-Class Citizen, as a struggle to control the language of the centre, of authority, by a writing subject from the periphery. The novel also reflects the manichaean opposition of colonizer/colonized, dominant/muted. In this respect, it may be useful to note that these binary opposites also characterize domination by the "free' over the slaves in colonial Ibuza. The dominant principle, then, denotes the site of authority, but we can easily perceive that the dialectic of dominance ensures that the dominant patriarchy in Ibuza is under thecontrol of the colonial metropolis while holding sway over women and slaves. A similar pattern is found in The Slave Girl. Both novels display ambivalence about the colonial culture in the same way as they do about Igbo culture.

The Bride Price
In this novel, a condescending attitude towards the traditional world is conveyed through the contrast between Ma blackie, the city-woman, and the Ibuza women. She is portrayed differently from the rural women, who are shown "chattering like monkeys." They are usually represented in Emecheta's fiction as inarticulate, and caricatured in a way that sails close to being stereotypical. The same typifying procedure is employed in The Slave Girl, which puts semi-educated women such as Ojebeta on a pedestal.

On the other hand, the narrator, juxtaposing the followers of traditional religion and the Christians at the funeral of Ezekiel Odia, emphasizes the discrepancy between them and shows appreciation for tradition. During the wake, autochthonous songs sound harmonious, whereas Christian hymns "though sung in Ibo to a heavily Africanized beat, [...] still had far to go before they could compete with the traditional death songs" (41). The picture is a clear indication that Christianity alienates these people, as is the case in The Slave Girl. This is dramatized in the resolution of the quarrel between


11 Foucault, quoted in The Empire Writes Back, 167-68.


Christians and traditionalists for which of them will sit nearer the mortal remains of Ezekiel. The treatment of the funeral reveals the narrator's loyalty to tradition.
By contrast, the young Aku-nna does not commit herself to either side. The customary creed does not come to any harm in her registering the funeral proceedings. However, from her point of view the display of emotions looks too intense to be sincere. The whole mourning ceremony seems to her to be the rehearsal of a ritual. The narrator exposes this indigenous custom as theatrical when Ma blackie and her children reach Ibuza. The cheerful women who meet them at the roadside instantly turn grief-stricken as soon as they enter Ibuza. Okonkwo, Ezekiel's brother, who is now custodian of the family, is portrayed ostentatiously wailing as the bereaved proceed into his compound. The whole thing is registered as hypocrisy.

Folklore remains perhaps that part of tradition which is consistently depicted in a positive light. In Lagos, Auntie Uzo's stories are appreciated by the narrator and Aku-nna. But the stated philosophical and didactic value of such folktales is slighted by the Tarzan-film evocation of "wild dances of coal-black maidens wearing short raffia skirts" they conjure up (29). A similar device is the elaborate description of the funeral dance as a nostalgic representation which, upon closer examination, reveals a tension between the narrative voice and the main character: from latter's perspective, the beauty of the dance and its rhythm finally look chaotic and wild, so that the compound resembles a battlefield and items lying around are "like swords and shields of the Zulu warriors after their numerous defeats by the British soldiers" (41). Such textual events betray the nostalgia of a narrative voice looking at these customs from a Western angle. Furthermore, they suggest a gesture towards a Western audience whose exotic expectations the text seeks to anticipate.


The centrepoint of The Bride Price is the tension between traditional patriarchal values in Ibuza and the requirements of the modern world. The link between The Bride Price and slavery is forged effectively. Both structures of dependence derive from customary practices, and slavery serves as a metaphor for women's experience in traditional society as the tethered chattels of patriarchy. The members of Aku-nna's family are introduced early in the


first chapter with an emphasis on the father's illness and the mother's barrenness since the birth of her second child (Ma blackie has not conceived since her husband, Ezekiel Odia, returned from the war). Here we are in Emecheta's t'avourite terrain of struggle, the assimilation of womanhood to mothering and nurture.

Ma blackie is said, by a narrative voice disapproving of this tradition, to have sought a cure for infertility:

Ma blackie was not pregnant. In despair she decided to go home to their town, Ibuza, to placate their Oboshi river goddess into giving her some babies. While Ma was recharging her fertility, Aku-nna and Nanndo were left to take care of themselves and their father. (10)

The voice marks a shifting perspective, from detachment in the opening paragraph to involvement. The narrator, through the words used, displays disapproval of the Cherubim and Seraphim who "babbled their prayers," and of the way in which women are seen as reproductive appliances, as it were, whose batteries can be recharged.

Ma blackie is an important character through whom Emecheta represents womanhood as defined by the gender ideology at work in traditional society. She remains an absence, an absence confirmed by Ezekiel Odia' s final words to the children: "Always remember that you are mine." This injunction, repeated at the close of the first chapter, expresses the might of patriarchy. Ma blackie's physical absence symbolizes her erasure. Tradition sends her for a cure to facilitate childbearing and denies her claim to her family. Just as she is not present in the initial part of the novel and during Ezekiel Odia' s funeral, so she is absent from her daughter's Jife. Ma's physical strength and stature as "a giant of woman [...] so tall and straight" is countered by her selfeffacement before the authority of tradition.

While Ojebeta's loss of her mother is an absence in real terms, Aku-nna's mother is present but missed. This absence denotes lack of proximity and affective relationship, and is due to Ma's flight into patriarchy. Her deep involvement in the economy of Okonkwo's household is repeatedly resented by Aku-nna and the narrative voice. The mother is so preoccupied that she is unaware of her daughter's growing-up problems. The narrator very often moves into close emotional identification with Aku-nna, and this produces a joint perspective, as when Ma's levirate is mediated:


The bitterness Aku-nna was feeling had gone beyond tears. She had heard it said often enough that one's mother was one's best friend, but she was beginning to doubt it. (150)

The text emphasizes that the bond with her father is stronger than that with her mother. The father is grievously missed:

Aku-nna knew that there was a kind of bond between her and her father which did not exist between her and her mother. She loved her father, and he responded as much as their customs allowed -for was she not a girl? A girl belonged to you today as your daughter, and tomorrow, before your very eyes, would go to another man in marriage. (20)

Alienation from the mother occurring after the death of the father and consequential upon the mother's second marriage is a fairly common theme in literature, and psychoanalysis has thrived on how it affects children regardless of gender. The narrative designates Okonkwo and tradition as obstacles barring Aku-nna from her mother's love. Tradition is instrumental in Akunna's doom, and kindles anger in the character: "Oh, what savage custom was it that could be so heartless and so make many people unhappy" (150).
Aku-nna, sixteen years old at the height of the story, collides with traditional laws. The community of Ibuza resists the thrust of the changes that have been shaping themselves in post-war Nigerian society. Issues related to traditional ethics are at the forefront in the 'natural' milieu, and here resides the significance of the resettlement of Aku-nna from Lagos, her birthplace, to Ibuza. This transp)antation from Lagos to Ibuza, the reverse of which occurs in The Joys of Motherhood, is a device which Emecheta frequently uses to underscore the differences between modern values and old customs, both sociallly and spiritually, against the backdrop of the growing industrialization of the land. It also allows enquiry into women's position in these two interacting yet radically different worlds.
The Ibuza episode constitutes the bulk of the novel, the place revealing itself as a battlefield between tradition and change, as pictured in the predicament of the children:
Aku-nna and Nna-nndo soon grew accustomed to things at Ibuza, learning at school the European ways of living and coming home to be faced with the countless and unchanging traditions of their own people. Yet they were like helpless fishes caught in a net; they could not as it were go back to the sea, tor they were trapped fast, and yet they were still alive. (102)


Aku-nna, more than her brother, finds herself caught in the web of tradition, at the centre of which are domestic slavery and The Bride Price.

Emecheta gives the heroine the name Aku-nna, which is a derivation of Ojebeta's father's praise-name in The Slave Girl, Aku nna yi ka meaning "your father's wealth is the greatest" (31). But The Bride Price makes Aku-nna signify "father's wealth"; a debunking metaphor for patriarchal expectations with regard to daughters. It is suggested that Okonkwo is likely to negotiate his niece's bride price with Chike's father despite his slave status because he needs the money to acquire a higher title, that of Eze. Thus the bride price, which at the beginning was said to be destined to pay her brother's school fees, changes function and beneficiary. This transfer and Aku-nna's name, "father's wealth," are textual strategies to undermine traditional practices that oppress women in order to secure them as male property.


Through the conventions of romantic fiction, Emecheta constructs a heroine who questions society's gender determinations but does not make her strong enough to meet the challenge. Emecheta visits domestic slavery by figuratively connecting Aku-nna's plight to it within the background of romantic love. Casting romance as the site of a traditional stronghold, and creating a situation of impossible love, the narrative lays bare the repressive sides of the culture. Through the misery that Aku-nna endures for being in love with Chike Ofulue, such customs as those which entrench gender or social discrimination are vilified. Aku-nna' s female cousin, and her mentor regarding Ibuza folkways, warns her outright that Okonkwo would rather see her dead than tolerate her friendship with Chike. Her male cousin vows to kill Akunna (98) --an expression of the feeling shared by the whole community.

The romance thus goes against the community's conventions, and to the detriment of Aku-nna. Aku-nna as a girl suffers more than Chike, in that she has no say in her destiny. Society has cast her in a mould within the confines of which she must remain. Their courtship, portrayed in romantic language, remains surreptitious. "Sometimes they listened to the music of the river and the noises made by the leaves of the nearby bushes, but in the main they listened to their hearts" (129). The courting is mediated by way of such romantic symbolism as birds building nests (109- 10) and by such other signifiers as angels, softness, richness and the like. Even the rescue operation that


Chike carries out to release Aku-nna and elope with her is part of romance. The novel builds on the theme of star-crossed lovers of romantic literature in the same way as Aku-nna learns from reading True Romance. Yet, Aku-nna takes the initiative in mentioning marriage, which is contrary to the expectations of romantic fiction. 12
The divulging of Aku-nna's menstruation serves to catalogue the taboos attached to women and how they operate as exclusionary means; and the text impeaches the value system in the process. According to custom, Aku-nna is safe from being married off until she becomes a woman. Womanhood connotes fears of entrapment and loss of control over one's life. It means exposure to the threat of lock-cutting by a young man who cannot pay The Bride Price and to the consequent fate of being forced into marriage. Aku-nna's abduction on the night when she is admitted into the circle of mature girls in the dance hut, and has just succeeded in her examination, is represented as the most severe attack against patriarchal power abuse.

The narrative voice endorses Aku-nna's resistance to forced marriage and identifies with her when Okoboshi wants to force her into bed (170). The lie Aku-nna tells in order to escape from rape -that she has slept with Chike is tantamount to what Susan Gubar calls a "potent act of resistance" in her essay'" The Blank Page' and the Issues of Female Creativity.,,13 Just as the wedding sheet of one princess refuses to display the mark of virginal blood, so Aku-nna remains silent about her own virginity, although she Imows that this entails public humiliation and chastisement that will also affect her family. The lie pertains to the trope of refusal and silence in the face of patriarchal imperiousness. This self-inflicted disgrace in order to escape the sacrificial altar of tradition is equivalent to a questioning and rejection of harmful mores. Aku-nna's act becomes a twofold sacrifice: one made on behalf of love, the other in the name of the other female members of the community. Further developments suggest physical self-sacrifice, enhanced by her elopement with Chike.


12 I discuss African romantic fiction in Chapter 5 with reference to Naira Power and
Double Yoke.

13 Susan Gubar, " , The Blank Page' and the Issues of Female Creativity," in Writing
and Sexual Difference
, ed. Elizabeth Abel (Brighton: Harvester, 1982): 73-93. M.J. Daymond refers to this in her essay "Buchi Emecheta, Laughter and Silence: Changes in the Concerts of 'Woman." 'Wife' and 'Mother'." Journal of Literary Studies 4.1 (1988): 71.


Events are packed dramatically into the two last chapters of the novel. Following their elopement, the couple is shown on the verge of living happily forever, as romantic fiction would have it. Aku-nna obtains a teaching post, and is expecting a baby. It is then that the monstrous aspect of traditional superstition is conjured up in terms of the taboo about her. She is an Ogbanje "a living dead," and such people are said to be likely to die in childbirth.14 Moreover, local superstition has it that failing to pay The Bride Price may cause the bride's death at childbirth.


The retrogressive aspects of traditional customs also appear in the manner in which Aku-nna and her mother are turned into scapegoats for Okonkwo's humiliation. He is the vehicle through which the narrative represents the worst part of tradition, such as his exposing his backside to seal his repudiation of Ma blackie and his employment of occult means to retaliate against Aku-nna. His treatment is a metonym for patriarchal injustice, greed and ugliness. He is portrayed as a covetous, self-centred man, unfair and despotic in his polygamous menage. His behaviour towards Aku-nna makes him a destructive person, hence a symbol and tool of the notorious side of tradition which Emecheta here decries. She expresses disapproval of traditions that are deemed no longer relevant in this era, deploying through Okonkwo a counterdiscourse to the prevailing adulation of traditional social formations found in mainstream African literature. That his name can be associated with Achebe's well-known hero seems to be intentional and parodic, and further reinforces the challenge of patriarchal ideology.

The chapter "Tempting Providence' is perhaps one in which the narrative voice conflates more with Aku-nna' s to disparage oppressive customary practices. The slippage is clearly achieved in the episode where Aku-nna is under severe pressure following the night at Okoboshi's. There the narrator loudly expresses sympathy for the heroine, saying "but she was wrong," then goes on to describe the assault from a distance before shifting back to mingle her voice with that of Aku-nna. The perspective of the heroine blends with her own; the character's thoughts are thus mediated in a manner that points to closeness of the two voices in condemning the traditional laws:

14 See Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, ch. 9 and "Glossary." See also Wole Soyinka's pocm "Ahiku" in ldanre and Other P(Jeml' (London: Methuen. 1907): 28-30.


But if she was forced to live with these people tor long, she would soon die, tor that was the intention behind all the taboos and customs. Anyone who contravened them was better dead. If you tried to hang on to lite, you would gradually be helped towards death by psychological pressures. And when you were dead, people would ask: Did we not say so? Nobody goes against the laws of the lands and survives. (175)

The narrator's indignant voice can be heard over Aku-nna's recriminative monologue against societal dictates. The dejected tone of the passage also forewarns about the tragic outcome of the story. As if succumbing to the death sentence implied in her remark about the taboos and customs of the land, Aku-nna dies after giving birth to a baby girl, named Joy to mark her ephemeral happiness.

The reader is left in some slight doubt as to the real cause of her death. Was it the result of Okonkwo's curse, or because she was an ogbanje? Did she die because of her anaemic condition? The novel provides no definite answer. But the narrator unambiguously concludes the novel with these often quoted words:

So it was that Chike and Aku-nna substantiated the traditional superstition they had unknowingly set out to eradicate. Every girl born in Ibuza after Akunna's death was told her story, to reinforce the old taboos of the land. If a girl wished to live long and see her children's children, she must accept the husband chosen tor her by her people, and the bride price must be paid. If the bride price was not paid, she would never survive the birth of her first child. It was a psychological hold over every young girl that would continue to exist, even in the face of every modernisation, until the present day. Why this is so is, as the saying goes, anybody's guess.

The Bride Price sanctions the might of tradition and the helplessness of the individual, especially the female, against the community governed by the law of the father. The scathing manner in which oppressive customs are denounced leaves no doubt about the militant ideology driving the novel, which clearly supports feminist ideals. It equally emerges from this reading of the text that anger with the motherland and the mother and awareness of an alien readership tinge the narrative and sometimes invest it with a vision close to that of colonial stereotypes. Again it appears that the attitude towards tradition is fickle, inconsistent, as if subject to ambivalence. There is pride, nostalgia and aversion, notably in the shifts in perspectives. It is noteworthy that positive aspects of traditional ways are highlighted in Lagos. By contrast,


In Ibuza, apart trom the tact that people "seemed more relaxed, more naturally beautiful than their relatives in Lagos" (75), nothing but the ugly side of tradition is shown, except for the initiation dances. It is significant that Emecheta's impeachment of local practices is all the more patent when these hamper temale fulfilment; even the theme of slavery and its condemnation are conveyed via Aku-nna's predicament. Despite its dogged resilience, tradition seems to be losing out to modernity, which is depicted here in the economic status and confidence ofMr Ofulue, who is sharply contrasted with Okonkwo. Otlilue epitomizes, perhaps, the ideal modern African man. IS Chike's tather and his osu family are represented in a light that is the antithesis of Aku-nna. Their social freedom, symbolic of victory over traditional institutions, does not match the parallelism established between the women's condition and their own within in the social formation depicted in the novel.
The contiguous discourse of ambivalence -in the narrator's feminist consciousness, hostile to and severely critical of customs and at the same time appreciative of those aspects which do not interfere with women's freedom -pervades the narrative. Emecheta's killing her heroine because she is too young to confront society appears to be acceptance of the idea that tradition is a giant which no single individual can challenge unharmed. A parable would have it this way: the individual is like an egg and tradition a boulder; the egg is smashed when it pitches itself against the boulder; a similar fate awaits the egg, should the boulder move against it. The text suggests this in the ants' procession disrupted by Chike (111). In rewriting The Bride Price, Emecheta withholds the escapist function it initially possessed. A triumphant Aku-nna and Chike would bestow on the novel the hope expected from works showing the feminist ideological concerns to be found in this text. The new version yields to pessimism, the sort of which is also encountered in The Slave Girl with regard to customs and the development of the female protagonist. On the whole, The Bride Price continues the protest of Emecheta against the lot of women by using Igbo culture as a structuring device in the African trilogy -Ogbanje and domestic slavery in The Bride Price and The Slave Girl; the chi in The Joys of l11otherhood -as a means of appropriating and abrogating such concepts of cultural formation as are constitutive of particular human experiences. About The Slave Girl, one critic has observed: "It is in this book that Emecheta most fully explores her central vision of

15 Cf Mr Okpara in Second Class Citizen.


female bondage, her underlying metaphor of African womanhood as a condition of victimization and servitude."16

The Slave Girl
Emecheta opens The Slave Girl by plunging the reader straight into traditional Ibuza, which the prologue maps out via a narrative voice conscious of a readership other than Nigerian. To such readers, located probably in the West, site of the dominant culture, customs and topography are explained. The prologue makes a point about the women of Umusuiagba, whose independence seemingly places them beyond the realm of the muted, in Elaine Showalter's terminology. I7 These women mean to express themselves in a language that belongs to them and is not determined by the dominant gender politics. This is evidenced by their will to swear not by the gods of their husbands but by the gods of their own home, though those home-gods are their own fathers. Their adherence to their fathers' gods rather than those of their husbands still betrays faithfulness to patriarchal ideology, and makes the attitude of Umuisiagba women rather ambiguous. Their practice can be described by what Showalter calls "a double-voiced discourse" situated both within and outside patriarchal discourse, embodying both the muted and the

Ambiguity sustained in a "double-voiced discourse" is a feature of this novel and of The Bride Price, which are in dialogue with both masculine and feminine traditions and with Western and African literary traditions. However, double-voiced discourse is expected to shift focus under the influence of one of the binary poles that constitute it. The prologue similarly shifts the focus to the female goddess of the river. Weare also informed that the women ofUmusuiagba do not subscribe to the fact that The Bride Price should tie a woman to her husband to the point of alienating her, as traditional culture allows the man to be the master once The Bride Price has been paid.

16 Katherine Frank, "The Death of The Slave Girl: Womanhood in the Novels of
Buchi Emecheta," World Literature Written in English 2 (1982): 479.
17 Showalter, "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness," 263.
18 Showalter, "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness," 263. See also Showalter, "Feminism and Literature," in Literary Criticism Today, ed. Peter Collier & Helga Geyer-Ryan (Cambridge: Polity. 1990): 179-202.


Apart from this, the prologue ushers the reader into a world not yet tampered with by the colonial order. Contact with this order occurs in Chapter One in the aftermath of the massacre at Benin. The indigenous population is mostly unaware of the subsequent appropriation of the land, since they cannot distinguish between the Portuguese and the English. That in itself points to the fact that the native population, confronted with the imperialist system, lacks a a frame of reference to decipher it. "Felenza," the title of the chapter, suggests the alien nature of the phenomenon, located in the corruption of "influenza," as the German nerve-gas effect was deceitfully explained
to the Africans.

The imperialist war in Europe disturbs the agrarian community, wreaking death more rapidly than the familiar cyclical droughts of nature. The helplessness of the Ibuza community in the face of this new language of power and technology indicates the opposition between their culture and mode of life and the technological power emerging from the West. The effect of the "felenza" plays a part in the subjugation of the female hero: Ogbanje Ojebeta.

Her name and its cultural connotations root her in a muted mythic world, that of the spirits in the traditional signification system. This world functions as a "wild zone" for earthly beings. The contiguity of this sub-text, represented by the concept of Ogbanje and its meaning in the world of Ibuza, with the supra-text developing around the subjection of Ojebeta since her birth will be exploited to good effect by Emecheta. She uses it to inscribe the narrative in a gender-oriented rhetoric that exposes the dark side of a world that shackles women, silences them, and reduces them to inarticulate members of society.

In the narrative process there appears another aspect of Showalter's double-voiced discourse, which can be detected in the inversion of the notion of the strong Igbo women as related by anthropology. 19 This idea, invoked in the prologue, is displaced if not abrogated by the life story of Ojebeta, who is becomes more and more firmly entrapped in structures of muteness as a consequence of the loss of both her parents, victims of "felenza." This event places her in the hands of her brother Okolie, designated by the patriarchal order as responsible for her. That she falls under the sway of a brother, next in the male power hierarchy in the absence of her father and elder brother, thrusts her into the "symbolic order" of the Lacanian world.

19 Ifi Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in African Society. London: Zed, 1987): passim.


Lacan's reading and interpretation of' Freud's analysis of the child's relation to its parents and the world is useful in approaching some aspects of The Slave Girl and Emecheta's structuring of Ojebeta's experience. As Judith Kegan Gardiner observes,
Feminist psychoanalytic critics usually accept Freud's morphology of mental functioning. They may either re.ject his ideas about women or accept them provisionally as accurate portraits of the way in which patriarchal social relations damage women psychologically.20
Lacan's poststructuralist reading of Freud and Julia Kristeva's reworking of Lacan's theory, together with Toril Moi's reading of both, promise to be illuminating for the following enquiry into the The Slave Girl.

Lacan's theory is grounded on two concepts: the imaginary order and the symbolic order. The imaginary order corresponds to the earliest stage of the child's total union with the mother, prior to the oedipal crisis. It is a period when there is no "difference, no absence, only identity and presence." The oedipal crisis marks the entry into the symbolic order, represented by the father's interference, which splits the dyadic relation between mother and child by preventing the child's access to the mother's body. Thus the phallus, symbolic of the Law of the Father, the threat of castration in Freudian theory, signifies separation and loss for the child. As a result, the desire for the mother, imaginary unity with her, is repressed. This is a primary repression in Lacanian theory. The transitional phase from the imaginary to the symbolic order seems to be the "mirror stage" when the baby can identify itself with its own reflected image, or with another child it sees. The "body ego" or separate self is alienated in the Other. The mirror stage is a dual relationship transformed by the father into a triangular structure of relationship which ushers the child into the symbolic order.
The entry into the symbolic order corresponds to language acquisition. The child's use of the newly acquired language evidences the function of primary repression; it is tantamount to aclmowledging acceptance of entry into the symbolic order and abandoning the imaginary identity. The speaking
subject uttering "I am" expresses the loss of imaginary identity with the mother. To speak as a subject is to express lack; for Lacan, when the child

20 Judith Kegan Gardiner, "Mind Mother: Psychoanalysis and Feminism:' in Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism, ed. Gayle Greene & Coppelia Kahn (London: Methuen. 1985): 117


says "I am" it says "I am that which I am not." Thus, Lacan posits, "the unconscious is structured like a language."

Toril Moi expands on this in a way that opens possibilities for applying Lacanian theory to domination as exercised by patriarchy and imperialism:

To enter into the symbolic order means to accept the phallus as the representation of the Law of the Father. All human culture and alllif'e is dominated by the Symbolic Order, and thus by the phallus as a sign of lack. The subject mayor may not like the order of things, but it has no choice: to remain in the Imaginary is equivalent to becoming psychotic and incapable of living in human society. In some ways it may be useful to see the Imaginary as linked to Freud's pleasure principle and the symbolic to his reality principle.21

The Other, in Moi's fonnulation, is the locus of the constitution of the subject or the structure that produces the subject. Furthermore, the Other is the differential structure of language and of social relations that constitutes the subject and in which it must assume its place.

The unconscious resultant from the repression of desire for "symbiotic" unity with the mother can appear in one sense as desire. In this, every desire behaves the same way as language, moving ceaselessly from object to object or from signifier to signifier. As there is no final signifier, in the words of Moi, there is no final satisfaction of desire (the lost harmony with the mother); the end of desire would only be possible with death, which Freud regards as Nirvana.

Julia Kristeva offers a further articulation of Lacan' s linguistically embedded theory, which Toril Moi summarizes. Kristeva considers the signifying process as being constituted by the interaction between the imaginary and the symbolic order, for which she substitutes the terms the "Semiotic' and the "Symbolic." The semiotic is linked to the chora (enclosed space, womb). The chora is described by Plato as "an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible" (161). Signifiance takes place when the semiotic continuum is split. This "splitting of semiotic chora enables the subject to attribute differences and thus meaning to what was the ceaseless heterogeneity of the chora" (162). The mirror stage, in Kristeva's view, "opens the way for the constitution of all objects which from now on will be

21 Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (London: Methuen, 1985): 100 FLirther page retcrcnces to this hook arc uivcn in the main text.


detached from the semiotic chora." Separation is fully achieved in the oedipal phase, Consequently, once the subject enters the symbolic order, "the chora will be more or less repressed and can be perceived only as pulsional pressure on symbolic language: as contradictions, meaninglessness, disruption, silences and absences in the symbolic language" (162).

Obejeta's early life can be read through Kristeva's semiotic. Indeed, the trope based on the traditional concept of the Ogbanje and the spirit world looks very much like the continuum Kristeva describes in the semiotic, the rupture of which allows entry into the symbolic. Ojebeta' s father, in accordance with their community's belief, takes action in order to sever Ojebeta's ties with the world of the spirits. In the metaphysics of the land, in order to ensure the Ogbanje a stable and continued life on earth, the link should be broken. This stage of bondage to the metaphysical world, which I shall call the first act of Ojebeta' s drama of subjection, ends with her entry into both the corporeal world and the symbolic order.

The cutting of her charms under Ma Palagada's injunction marks the second stage of her bondage, a material one effected by way of commodification. Ojebeta is literally sold to Ma Palagada, who is trading at Otu Onitsha market, an outpost of British colonial monopoly, early in the twentieth century. The sale is doubly significant: it heralds, for Ojebeta, entry into an order governed by the market economy and exploitation of domestic slaves. This order corresponds to the nascent stage of capitalism in colonial Nigeria in the fictional world Emecheta creates.

The cutting of the charms somehow prolongs the metaphor of subject constitution. It is synonymous with severing the ties with the metaphoric imaginary order of relative security in the motherland, Ibuza. The removal of the charms is also consonant with the splitting of Kristeva's semiotic chora; the thetic phase will enable Ojebeta to attribute signification to the world she finds herself in, that of the market economy and subjugation. She tries to articulate the dialectic of the symbolic order (patriarchy and imperialism) that rule this world. The narrative renders the event as loss of identity through a character's perspective:

Chiago looked helplessly at the little girl who was doing her utmost to cling on to her individuality. She did not yet know that no slave retained any identity whatever identity she had was forfeited the day money was paid for them [...] Ojebeta found that it felt strange to walk without the charms that from birth


had been tied on both her anus and back [...] It was going to take her a long time to learn to be someone else. (87)

The cognitive process indicates the structuring of a fragmented "selt'." The writing subject clearly points to this in the proleptic ending of the paragraph. This quotation rei ties the underlying parallelism between slavery and gender subjugation. "Whatever identity they had was forfeited the day money was paid for them" extends to cover Ojebeta's marriage years later. The novel revolves around this idea, imparted by an undisguised feminist narrative voice averse to the kind of marriage that defaces women.

It is fitting to consider another aspect of Ojebeta's subjectivity: the significance of the mother. The concept matters because of the emphasis on the relationship of Ojebeta to her mother, which is suggested in their closeness as terminated by the mother's death while her nipple is still in the six-year-old Ojebeta's mouth:

Where mother lay, there was security, and Ojebeta called out to her in the gentle tone she had found herself using recently, since her father's death. Something of her she did not know seemed to be buried with him. (33)

The relationship with the mother, physical and affective, is paired with the father's caring memory. The rapport with the father is buried in this novel; it remains deep and mysterious. The motif recurs in The Bride Price and The Joys of Motherhood. In The Slave Girl, the relation functions as a "sub-text, [...] indicated through ellipsis and metaphor."22 The textual construct of The Slave Girl forces the father in the sub-layers of the narrative and foregrounds the mother, the absent figure to whom Ojebeta turns in times of despair. The absence of the mother constitutes a lack, one that the character registers as negation of security and nurture. In The Bride Price, as has been seen, the mother-daughter relationship is depicted negatively to the benefit of the father. The father is where security lies in Second-Class Citizen andThe Joys of Motherhood, the absent mother being compensated for by the father figure.

Ojebeta does not substitute the distant relative and slave owner Ma Palagada for her lost mother, but the slave common-room instead. Security lies there, and in her charms. The intimacy of the room, the closeness of her mates -this is the space in which the repressed discourse of the muted finds its outlet. The Slave Girls confide in each other. It is in this room that Ojebeta

22 Sherry Dranch, quoted by Ann Rosalind Jones. "Inscribing Femininity: French Thcories of the Feminine." in Making a Difference, ed. Greene & Kuhn, 100.


overhears Chi ago relating her sexual harassment by Clifford and Pa Palagada. It is there that she attempts to articulate a language to comprehend the imperial environment of Pa Palagada. It is a space where female bonding is effective in the slaves' attention to one another. The significance of the room for Ojebeta looms large when she is transferred to the main building as a nanny to the children of Ma's daughter Victoria. Coming to this new place of work signifies isolation and increases her muteness, in that she is wholly out of touch with the goings-on in the house (152). Life outside the commonroom spells out absence of sisterhood, mutual assistance and sympathy, and an encounter with class prejudice and violence at the hands ofMa's daughter.

In other respects, the symbolic order is synonymous with the colonial order both for Ojebeta and for the country at large. This order is dominated by capital and its language, which the indigenous people have to learn and master. Emecheta's novel denounces both the transatlantic slave trade and the domestic slaveholding system, and fashions a further metonymic construct to condemn the oppression of female subjects by The Bride Price.

Ojebeta's commodification is given gender connotation at the very start when Okolie defines the commodity exchange value in terms of The Bride Price to be paid by a husband when she grows up. The violence done to The Slave Girls, starting with their sale into forced labour in the household and at the market stall and going on to sexual molestation and physical violence, echoes the violence Fanon sees in colonialism.23

The vile character of the feudal practice of slaveholding and the collusion with the colonial order is mediated through Ojebeta, as is the predicament of women generally. Sometimes the voice of the narrator comes unmediated. These moments correspond to an emotive involvement that bridges the seeming distance the third-person narrator mostly observes, as in the following examples when the narrating voice comments directly on events. The narrator spells out Ma Palagada's calculated move by rectifying Chiago's mistaken interpretation, which bears out her collusion with the Church in
order to increase her capital and the value of her human chattel:

On the latter point Chiago was quite wrong, for the amount of money the girls made for Ma trom sewing alone was enough to keep the household going, In allowing the girls to go to Mrs Simpson's classes, she had allowed them to become elite slaves. (127-28)


23 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, tr. Constance Farrington, intro. Jean-Paul Sartrc (Les damnées de la terre. 1961: Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967; repr. 1990: ch. 1)


This dialogue with the characters continues elsewhere, as in the following passage where the narrator is reacting to Ammana's question:
"Have you ever seen a woman who never got a husband?' It did not need a reply. Every woman, whether slave or tree. must marry. All her lite a woman always belonged to some male. At birth you were owned by your people, and when you were sold you belonged to a new master. when you grew up your new master who had paid something tor you would control you. It was a known tact that although Ma Palagada was the one who had bought them, they ultimately belonged to Pa Palagada and whatever he said or ordered would hold. (137)

The Palagada and the market women function as representations of the outlets of capitalism. The women traders, too, have to articulate their own experience in the new language of metropolitan power by redesigning their relation to capital in the manner of Ma Palagada. She converts to the imported faith, Christianity, a signifier of colonial ideology. The two systems are conflated in another signifier of the imperial economy: The United Africa Company (UAC), depicted in the novel as the first European trading company, the head of which is the husband of a Mrs Simpson who runs the Christian Missionary Society (CMS). Mrs Simpson is depicted as the archetypal cultural imperialist invested with the white man's burden.

Christianity signifies money and power; conversion to it bestows on the merchants privileges such as the monopoly and preferential trade terms that Ma Palagada enjoys. The ideology of the colonial order penetrates the semiagrarian Otu Onitsha and its pre-industrial economy in the guise of "evening tea." Evening tea and a walk, sartorial variety -these become the identifiers of those who, like the Palagadas, subscribe to the new ideology and constitute a new class in the process offormation.

It is significant that Mrs Simpson is shown in action, not her husband. In doing this, Emecheta rewrites the representation of the colonizing 'Other' as a male person, a patriarchal figure, as is customary in African fiction. The Slave Girl reminds us that the white man seldom brings his wife to the colony (124). The white woman is significant in many respects. First, she serves to highlight Ma's alienation from the market women. Secondly, she is emblematic of cultural dominance of the symbolic order into which Ma Palagada gains entry by means of calculated bartering. Thirdly, Mrs Simpson symbolizes the third stage of Ojebeta's bondage, a mental one that determines the fourth stage of her enslavement, Christian marriage in the rhetoric of the text. Mrs Simpson,


in toto, incarnates the introduction of values that are rendering women schizophrenic in their dealings with the new aesthetic and behavioural codes. The text achieves an insidious reversal of colonial misconceptions, hurling them back in the colonizer's teeth. The icon of imperial authority, Queen Victoria, is introduced into the story to convey a retort to stereotypical colonial assumptions; this is channelled through the girls' point of view, which inscribes another level of discourse consonant with the margins writing back to the centre. Similarly, the narrative voice elicits from Mrs Simpson the racist theories of Gobineau and Schweitzer: "Mrs Simpson, who in her heart of hearts regarded these women as having the brains of children, explained patiently the Queen's reasons for dressing the way she does" (126).24

Counter-discourse is operative here, opening up the rift between the two worlds and emphasizing the notions of class and race. This is an aspect of Emecheta's questioning of the metropolitan politics of representation. Cumulatively, the double-voiced discourse recounts the girls' fascination for the new religion they conceive of as the greatest thing to happen to them, and adopts the Fanonian view of religion under colonialism:

The Church in the colonies is the white people's Church, the foreigners' Church. She does not call the native to God's ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.25

Ma Palagada represents a type of African women who, in the eighteenth century, established commercial relationships with the Portuguese and the French merchants on the West African Coast. Most of them entered matrimony or simply entertained concubinal liaisons with European sailors. Emecheta's novel grants these women a rare appearance and significant treatment in African literature in the person of Ma Palagada.26 In the opinion of the historian George E. Brooks, Jr.,27 the socio-economic role of such women is

24 Ngugi wa Thiong'o satirizes Schweitzer in A Grain of Wheat through the figure of John Thompson. See Shatto Arthur Gakwandi, The Novel and Contemporary Experience in Africa (London: Heinemann, 1977): 114.

25 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 32.

26 See also Tita Mandeleau's novel Sign are Anna (Dakar: Les nouvelles editions atricaines, 1991).

27 George E. Brooks, Jr., "The Signares of Saint-Louis and Goree: Women Entrepreneurs in Eighteenth-Century Senegal," in Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change. ed. Nancy J Hatkin & Edna G. Ray (Stantord CA: Stanford UP. 1976): 20.


not sufficiently researched; his portrayal of these women matches that which Emecheta creates tor the fictional character of Ma Palagada:

What is certain is that Atrican and Eurafrican women who were wealthy traders or possessed property and influence were treated with marked respect by Atricans, Euratricans, and Europeans alike. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such women were customarily addressed by the title nhara (in Portuguese Guinea), senora (in the Gambia), or signare (in Senegal) -titles derived from the Portuguese Senhora. They often possessed numerous domestic slaves, trading craft, and houses, as well as quantities of gold and silver jewelry and splendid clothing. (20)

Ma Palagada was 'kept' by a Portuguese merchant and slave-dealer who left her a fortune. This enabled her to build her wealth and enjoy privileged treatment from the representatives of the colonial corporations like the UAC. Emecheta projects through her the function of a buffer class, which such women and their descendants served as in the colonial era.

Ma Palagada's collaboration with the colonial authorities reaches its peak in the representation of the women's war of 1929. They reacted to the census of women and their property as ordered by the colonial administration for purposes of taxation. Hitherto only men had been subject to direct taxation "in accordance with the British imperial philosophy that the colonized should pay the cost of co!onization."z8 In the fictional recollection of the movement, the attitudes of the Palagada couple and their son Clifford stand in stark contrast to the anger of the majority. The unrest in the market shows Ma Palagada in a light that is markedly different from the image of a strong influential woman with which she is otherwise represented. While the other women prepared to fight because this issue involves them directly, Ma Palagada intends not to "take part in such senseless fighting," and wants men to handle the situation themselves. "It is all silly and idiotic," in her view a negotiated solution with the white men is better (132). Later, Emecheta speaks of this "war" as an example of women's unity, not simply of rich market-women but of the grassroots.

Ma Palagada is nonetheless a significant figure, second only to Ojebeta herself. Ma Palagada' s position in the novel seems to be a way of hailing the power of women and their ability to adapt themselves to new relations of


28 Judith Van Allen, '" Aba Riots' or 'Igbo Women's War'?" in Women in Africa, ed. Halkin & Bay, 71.


production. It ties in with the generally held notion of traditional women's power. However, a feminist "images of women" critic would see the stature of Ma Palagada as problematical, for the narrative undermines her power through a series of inconsistencies in her actions, as we have seen. She is said to pretend to relinquish authority to Pa Palagada and to bequeath her wealth to the males in the house, to the detriment of her daughters. On the other hand, she participates in the girl's commodification, and perpetuates a feudal practice. This reversal partakes of the double-voiced discourse through which the narrative is mediated. Her will and economic position are made to conflict with the interests of the female persons she buys and from whom she derives surplus value by virtue of the labour they supply.

The practice of slavery is seen in a double vision. It is a "necessary evil," as stated in the title of one chapter; then this notion is mediated through Ma Mee and restated at the end of the chapter. This is a tactic which the textproducer uses to impress on the reader the fact that slavery allows Ojebeta to escape hunger and want. At one time we are told that at least the slaves were sold with their stomachs. The sense of relative comfort can be detected in Ojebeta's reaction when The Slave Girls are given a bale of soiled muslin to make dresses for themselves:

It was at time like these that she telt gratetul for having been bought by [Ma Palagada]. Of course, she still longed constantly to go home tor Ibuza was permanently in your bloodstream. [...] But at times like these, it was as if she hardly ever cared whether she went back or not. [...] The harsher aspects of being a Palagada slave receded temporarily. (130-31)

Ojebeta becomes an "elite slave" destined to be a wife to Clifford, Ma's son. She is a fairly literate seamstress by the time Ma Palagada dies. This death, as one of The Slave Girls says, "is the end of the story."

What we will see tomorrow will be the beginning of another story. We may be part of it or plucked out like the foot lice. Let us go to sleep, at least get our energy back for the new order. (171)


While the other slaves are plucked out of the story (with, to a certain extent, the exception of Chiago), Ojebeta enters the new order that is synonymous with a relative freedom which is soon reversed by the agent of that freedom,



, as the narrator suggests. The new religion frees Ojebeta, insofar as it permits her access to literacy and to a trade; this Emecheta calls a "mushroom freedom." In the semantics of the text, Ojebeta anticipates a kind of liberty without the food she used to eat at the Palagadas'; that freedom quickly blooms and dies, too. The termination of this period is suggested by Ojebeta's musings on the threshold of her imminent liberation from the Palagada yoke:

Even if she had been bought --or paid tor, or however they interpreted the transaction that had taken place between her brother and Ma Palagada in Olu market on that day long ago -she still had human teelings. No, she would rather go to her own people, whatever doubts she may once have had, She would promise this tamily that if she ever married or even belonged to somebody else, that person would refund to the Palagadas whatever Ma had given Okolie for her. (173-74)

Ojebeta defines her freedom in relation to being married or belonging to someone else, subordinating her identity to dependence, The parallelism between slavery and subordination to males is sustained throughout the narrative. This strategy aims to impress on readers the relationship between marriage and the commodification of women and girls. Both the traditional institutions of the bride price and of domestic slavery are shown as expressions of a violent and repressive ideology implemented by occult psychological threats such as the curse that would befall slaves failing to remit their purchase dues, or lost babies and other calamities for brides with unpaid dowries, as seen in The Bride Price. Ojebeta gives voice to her utter subjection to and dependence on the patriarchal dictates: "My bride price will be enough to do that, because my brother told Ma to free me as soon as my future husband repaid her with my bride price" (175).

Ma's death allows Ojebeta to venture into what Cixous refers as to the "dark continent" which she urges women to penetrate in order to discover themselves!9 She returns to her sources, as it were, to rediscover herself. The return to Ibuza could also be said to resemble entry into Showalter's "wild zone" of female experience, because the character has so far not been able to look into her herself or evolve within a community of women other than that

29 Helene Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," in New French Feminisms: An Anthology, ed. Elaine Marks & Isabelle de Courtivon (New York: Schockcn, 1981): 247 and note 1.


of the slave girls. The return to Ibuza also compares with a return to nature after the stay at the Palagadas.

Ibuza, "home sweet home," as the chapter is entitled, is depicted in two conflicting languages reflecting the double-think I pinpointed earlier. Elaine Savory Fido picks up the point that Emecheta has perpetuated and reinforced certain negative stereotypes about Igbo culture and Africans in her writing, and sees this as the symbolic equivalent of a "false self," which "is not only the result of patriarchy but the result of trauma between mother and daughter." This may result from an attempt to solve the loss of the mother and of the line of communication with other women by turning to men and trying to please them.3D The "false self," Fido contends, when discussing The Slave Girl, "is created for the false mother, to hide the real selfwhich can no longer grow in harmonious relation to the real mother." A significant point here is the fact that the writer, just like the woman solving the problem of the missing mother, might as well create a false self in order to win the sympathy of an audience he/she knows is alien to the world he/she builds in the fictional text. This endorses the problem of filiation and mimicry based on "programmatic negativity" which I referred at the beginning of this section.

The introduction to Ibuza is contrasted negatively with the warm and enthralling welcome accorded. There is a shift in the narrative voice from positive to negative, enthusiasm to dejection. The interplay of voices alternately discloses attitudes favourable to Ibuza and negatively disposed. The voice fuses with Ojebeta's perspective on entry to the native soil. People are repellent "in [their] faded outfits." Ojebeta's clothes were like velvet compared to what the market women wear (182). This picture is not an unfamiliar one; earlier in the narrative, at Otu, Ojebeta had registered the Ibuza women in cheap canoes, shouting instead of talking, and badly dressed (131). At the time she was being "polished," as an appreciative narrative voice reports, "gone was her abrasive Ibuza accent; she now spoke like a girl born in Onitsha, with rounded 'Rs' and a slowness in delivery, each word drawn out" (131). The 'refined' Ojebeta in the midst of women perceives other differences: women are ugly, with tobacco-stained teeth. The sought-after belonging produces a sense of "otherness." Ibuzapeople are the 'Others.'

30 Elaine Savory Fido, "Mother/lands: Self and Separation in the Works of Buchi Emecheta, Bessie Head and Jean Rhys," in Motherlands, ed. Nasta, 337, 341. See also note 8 above.


The othering process is mediated through Ojebeta, but, as already suggested, the narrating voice shares in it, as can be seen in unmediated enunciations such as "However, their open hearts compensated for their small defects" (182). Contradictory propositions alternate in this chapter, which shows Ojebeta learning Ibuza ways, such as the operation of collective consciousness. The tacit acknowledgement of the cause of her long absence as being a sojourn in Olu Oyibo rather than enslavement works like a plot of concealment to avoid shame, and the narrative voice marvels at this.

Ibuza connotes a patriarchal estate. Ojebeta does not respond to the memory of her mother insistently evoked by the wife of Ukabegwu; she tries, rather, to find out where her father's compound used to be. The mother/land seems displaced by the patrilineal structure of Ibuza. In the same way, the fact that women are referred to as non-subjects identifiable -and defined only -by their husbands' names evidences gendering in Ibuza. Ojebeta recognizes filiation to the male gender, in that after her subconscious search for the father's estate she expressly enquires about her brother Okolie, despite his vile deed. This reminds the reader of a proverb recurrent in The Bride Price, "the day of blood relatives, friends would go." Okolie is the blood relative. Ibuza permits a look into the community of women and how it functions; Ukabegwu's wife and Auntie Uteh are the agents representing traditional Ibuza women. The former defends patriarchal ethos, the second is ambivalent. Ukabegwu's wife asserts the patriarchal values while the narrator explains to its implied foreign audience that "in Ibuza women were usually more conservative than men" (185).
Ibuza seems to compel the narrator to supply the alien reader with anthropological notes giving details about how the argument over the rightful beneficiary of Ojebeta's bride price is peacefully settled. On similar occasions, the tone of voice is conciliatory, as when it is deployed in such phrasings as "the trouble was that" when speaking about foodstuff-processing and crop preservation. Ibuza, more importantly, exposes the extent of Ojebeta's acculturation. The return to the source involves the effort of learning the Ibuza code of life. Besides, she identifies with the elite; her age group is a relatively well-off one, in that they can avoid the trade in "soul-killing" Akpu (soaked tuber yam) and deal instead in palm-oil (187-88). Emecheta gives us a glimpse of an 'esusu,' an autonomous self-help saving scheme run by women. It is conducive to women's independence and bonding and functions as a launching pad for female entrepreneurs. Emecheta uses this in The Joys


of Motherhood (though there it is Naife who takes part, not Nnu Ego) and in Gwendolen. Versions of it can be found in many other African novels, where it involves all the members of a village community living in a town, for example. Ojebeta's group operates as a 'class' apart or, more precisely, an underclass in the emerging monetary economy, and within the restricted economic circle of Ibuza.

The sojourn in Ibuza falls within the cyclical structure of the African trilogy, which is based on journeying from one environment to another. In The Slave Girl, the pattern is Ibuza to Otu Onitsha (semi-urban) and back to Ibuza, then on to Lagos. In The Bride Price we have a reversed pattern of Lagos to Ibuza, then on to Ughelli (urban). Depending on the novel, the journey is synonymous with a return to the motherland. It is generally a quest on the part of the alienated or nostalgic displaced person for the "self," for a secure place in which to rebuild a fragmented subjectivity. It is sometimes psychologically motivated, whether on a small inland national scale or on a transcontinental one.

The quest is a staple of fiction dating back to the early days of literature. However, it is useful to examine its signification and interpretation within the framework of women's studies. A point of reference may be Susan Willis's study of the journey, in which she concentrates on the novels of Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall and Zola Neale Hurston and addresses the notion of the community, the journey and sexuality. The journey, our focus here, is treated as a means to self-knowledge through re-entry into collective historical experience, itself defined by the journey from Africa into slavery, and from the (North American) rural south to the urban north. Willis observes:


Journey in the novels by black women is not just a structuring device upon which the author might conveniently string the incidents of the plot. Rather, the notion of travelling through space is integral to the unfolding of history and the development of the individual's consciousness with regard to the past.

The voyage over geographic space is an expanded metaphor for the process of one person's coming to know who she is --not an individual but a subject who gathers up the collective experience of black Americans; who in writing about that experience gives shape and substance to the self in history.31

3l Susan Willis, "Black Women Writers: Taking a Critical Perspective," in Making a
Ditferencc Feminist Literary Criticism
. ed. Greene & Kuhn. 22


In The Slave Girl, the journey seems to be both a structuring device and an expanded metaphor for the process in which Ojebeta gradually comes to know who she is. She gathers up the collective experience of The Slave Girl, figurative and actual. By using the trope of the dead slave girl, the Ogbanje myth and the voyage between different spheres of experience, Emecheta contrives a metonymic treatment of the African woman's experience. The journey assumes another dimension in Second-Class Citizen, as already seen.

In The Slave Girl, the journey to Ibuza illustrates Ojebeta's subjectivity, the articulation of a self realized in community and moving towards consolidation and independence. Yet, and quite purposefully, we are made aware of the precariousness of her newly found personality by her uncritical espousal of the colonial culture. Her attachment to the Church gives her the illusion of elite status in Ibuza, and makes her dream come true: Jacob appears as a God-sent saviour from the lock-cutting threat. The narrative moment when this happens is almost a celebration in which both the narrator and the character participate. Jacob's aura and smartness disarm both the narrator and Ojebeta.

The narrator undercuts the condemnation of colonialism that functions as a sub-theme in the novel in the way she reports how the heroine perceives her future husband on their first meeting:
She could see from his European style that this untamiliar person was from olu oyibo [white man's work, the city] [...] Ojebeta was impressed, tor her long stay with the Palagadas had taught her to appreciate such foreign clothes [...]. She kept wondering: Have our people become so civilised? So is that how life is in the white man's job at those far away places? (160)
The same term is reiterated at the end of Chapter 14, "Me marrying this civilised person, who even bothered to ask me if I liked him." In these moments of elation, a negative profile of Ojebeta's culture emerges through her point of view, a posture informed by a scarcely disguised contempt that highlights her alienation from it. This sharply contrasts with the behaviour of the younger Ojebeta, who desperately seeks to preserve her childhood charms (copper pieces and cowries) as symbols of her identity.

Paradoxically, and in tune with the double consciousness in the narrative, the forthcoming union is described in a critical perspective summarizing the gendering principle:


She thought nostalgically of her stay at Otu Onitsha sometimes, especially of Amanna and the others, though she was in no doubt of the fact that she would rather stay in lbuza where she was wanted by her people and where she was still not tree now, tor no woman or girl in Ibuza was tree, except those who committed the abominable sin of prostitution or those who had been completely cast off or rejected by their people tor offending one custom or another. A girl was owned, in particular, by her tather or someone in place of the tather or her older brother, and then, in general, by her group or homestead. But at least she belonged to these people by right of birth, and nobody would dare call her a slave because she was not one. (193)

This reminder has the effect of making Ojebeta subscribe to it, "being philosophical about the situation." "No woman is ever free. To be owned by a man is a great honour," reifies Uteh. Emecheta's heroine sees marriage as an end by agreeing to being a slave to a master of her choice (208). The total surrender of Ojebeta is carried right through to the end of the novel, where she is objectified anew, as a living commodity to exchange for cash in an all-male transaction. A feminist narrative perspective dominates the final stage of the story, where tradition, slavery, colonialism and marriage are yoked together as oppressive factors for women. "So as Britain was emerging from war once more victorious, and claiming to have stopped the slavery she has helped to spread in all its colonies, Ojebeta, now a woman of thirty five, was changing masters" (222).

In concluding this section, I would suggest that in both of the novels examined here Emecheta sets out to counter the dominant discourse of phallocentrism. She takes a subversive perspective that is antagonistic to the initially imparted image of women in African literature. The paradox underlying the discursive construct of the novels derives from the double-voiced discourse employed in both works. It is expressive of anger at the patriarchal order at home, doubling with a desire to be accepted by the centre, and of profound disagreement with metropolitan colonial assumptions. What Richard Terdiman notes about counter-discourse applies to Emecheta's conscious or unconscious strategy in these texts:

We cannot repeat it enough; the dominant remains dominant; its antagonists are ceaselessly obliged to internalize this tact which defines all social reality up to the horizon of the revolutionary. Femini~t criticism has itself reflected upon this paradox: that in teminists' deconstruction of the ideological blindness at the


heart of patriarchal practice and theory, their own discourse, however uncomfortably, inevitably locates itselfwithin the margins of the dominant.32

The works of Emecheta that I am concerned with locate themselves, as pointed out in the general introduction to this study, in the margin of two discursive formations: that of literature dominated by men, and that of a society under the domination of patriarchy and foreign power. This is what is implied by Elaine Showalter's notion of "double-voiced discourse," a discourse that speaks within the dominant patriarchal formation and against it. Thus the fiction of Emecheta holds, at its heart, the paradoxes, ambivalences and contradictions accounted here as double-voiced discourse resulting from the pressures exerted on the writing subject that are transmuted in the texts. Anger and revolt of a feminist thinking writer against gendered societal norms harmful to the female subject, yet a feeling of belonging to the society under attack; vigorous disapproval of colonial facts, yet an attraction to some aspects of Western ways -all conglomerate to produce a complex view.
Ambivalence filters the semantics of the text, as has been seen; it is also marked by syntactic pointers and other devices that articulate the narrative perspective. This is reflected in the binary oppositions that structure the novel, which are consonant with the past/present, traditional/modern, male/ female, slave/free binaries and are revealed in enunciations like "then and now" (10), "the Africans of those days" (15), child delivery "requiring none of the modern paraphernalia" (20). The Slave Girl covers issues dealt with in the other novels and which have inchoate reference here: the ideological concern with women's position in traditional society, subservience to normative patriarchal codes, commodified female subjects, mothering and motherhood. In my next chapter, I shall focus in detail on the issues raised here in my reading of The Joys of Motherhood, and shall expand on them in the course of my further discussion of Destination Biafra.

32 Richard Terdiman, Discourse/Counter-Discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca NY & London: Cornell UP, 1985).