Amma Darko's contribution in beyond the horizon to contemporary gender portrayals.

Author:Zanou, Laure Clemence Cakpo-Chichi
Position:Critical essay
 
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Introduction

Knowledgeable observers rightly and rightfully believe that early African fiction relegates female characters to a position of secondary importance. Indeed, African male authors purposely do not write accurately from female perspective or do not (re) present feminist ideals because they have a different view about female experience. As Achebe justifies the writing of Things Fall Apart, arguing that African pre-colonial history must be written by African people to avoid distortions (Booker, 1988: 65). The same reality can well be applied to women. Most of the time, life from the female point of view should be portrayed in literature by women authors, but male authors have also taken on the female perspective. While writing about women, it is possible that male writers describe female characters differently depending on gender, nationality, mood and culture. To set things right, African female intellectuals took to their pens to say what the different components of the traditional or contemporary African society look like from a female perspective, pinpointing the real role of African women in their community. Indeed, African women writers are "critical of the exploitation of women. African women explore what is useful and what is dangerous to them as women in traditional cultures" (Davies & Fido: 311) (1). It will be very difficult to contend that women have achieved full equality as their male counterparts in society. However, female writers like Amma Darko know feminist writers like themselves pursue a clear ambition: to close on female pioneers' heels by disclosing the actual side of the masculine nature, and giving women's perspective. The struggle for women liberation and the control of power requires the control of the mind from a female perspective.

In her first novel Beyond the Horizon, Amma Darko chooses her male characters' names and roles purposely. Indeed, in the novel under scrutiny, male characters are seen, most of the time, as liars, mentally unstable, materialistic, pimps, tricky, cynical, sadistic, violent, villains, to name only a few traits specific to male characters. Darko portrays her male characters (black or white) with disgust and hatred. This paper aims to show how Amma Darko's male characters are viewed in Beyond the Horizon. Half a century after 'black feminism', it is important to know how, somehow, Darko's first novel fits into this literary movement to free the weaker sex from male domination. This paper is built around four pillars: definition of some key concepts, a brief survey of female characterisation in some African male fiction, a brief review of female characterisation in pioneering African female creative writing, and eventually male characters as seen through Amma Darko's Beyond the Horizon. This said, how do we define the key concepts?

Definition of Some Concepts

The definition of the concepts may allow the reader of this paper to have a relatively broad view of what 'push' African women writers on literary stage to have their voice heard by the whole world in the 1960. But since then, what happens to them? Do they cease the fight? Are they working underground? Or are they still writing to maintain the flame burning as President Kwame Nkrumah asked his fellow pan-Africanists?

Patriarchy

According to Harrap's Chambers Compact Dictionary (2000), patriarchy is defined as a "social system in which a male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line." (2) In a patriarchal society, women are faced with all sorts of dehumanisation ranging from deprivation, negligence, maltreatment, marginalisation, oppression, subjugation, exploitation, humiliation and even isolation, all of which emanate from aspects of the people's culture. In such a society, for instance, women are seen not heard. They live in the shadow of men from their maiden homes to their matrimonial homes; hence they are regarded as second class citizens.

Black Feminism

Writers and gender theorists agree that the experiences of African women are different from those of their Western counterparts. Moreover, even among African female writers, opinions diverge about how to tackle women's gender issues in traditional and urban settings by an African woman writer born in Africa but living abroad, or born abroad and living in Africa, or born in Africa and has never been abroad or finally a white writer born and living in Africa. Among African scholars, there are different positions.

The common definition we have is that feminism is the woman's freedom to decide her own destiny, freedom from sex determined role, freedom from society's oppression and restrictions, freedom to express her thoughts fully and to convert them freely into action It is important to separate African women's struggle from their western counterparts. This feminism stands for African women south of the Sahara ideology, also called "Negro-feminism" or "African feminism" (hooks: 24) (3)

This form of criticism of African literature is belated firstly because the late arrival of African female writer on literary scene 19664. To respond to the European literary critics who raised their voice to castigate the inappropriateness of this authentic ideology to the African context, the Marxist and feminist critic 'Molara Ogundipe-Leslie opines that:

For those who say that feminism is not relevant to Africa, can they truthfully say that the African woman is all right in these areas of her being and therefore does not need an ideology that addresses her reality, hopefully and preferably, to ameliorate that reality? When they argue that feminism is foreign, are these opponents able to support the idea that African women or cultures did not have ideologies which propounded or theorized woman's being and provided avenues and channels for women's oppositions and resistance to injustice within their societies? (Ogundipe-Leslie Molara: 6)

Essentially, Molara establishes female writers as primarily concerned with issues related to women. Molara goes as far as applauding female writers such as Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta for their attempt to educate us about the woman's realm of experience. To back up Eisenmen in her "Difference Theory" there are social differences between men and women. According to her, even though men and women live in the same social group, live in different in different or separate cultural worlds and, as a result, they promote different ways of speaking, tackling and solving their problems (Uchida: 1992).

From childhood males and females are different in many ways, both physiologically and psychologically. This is supported by Eisenmen (1997) who claims "that women, in comparison to men, have better memory. Men are quite accurate in maintain a sense of direction but women are not. This is consistent with the claim that men tend to do better than women on visual-spatial tests and in mathematics." (5)

Pertinently, in another article featured in Women in African Literature Today, entitled "Women Without Men: The Feminist Novel in Africa" and cited in "The generational link between Ama Ata Aidoo and Amma Darko: A case study of their prose works by Emmanual Tasun Tidorchibe, Katherine Frank "lambasts female authored works such as Buchi Emecheta's Double Yoke (1983) and Flora Nwapa's One is Enough (1981) for focusing on women issues to the extreme, where they foster the notion that the solution to the woes of women is "a world without men: man is the enemy, the exploiter and oppressor." (6)

Gender Issues

According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1978), gender is "the state of being male or female" and in many languages it is the "system of dividing nouns and pronouns into different classes, often related to the sex of the persons and things denoted." (7)

The female gender often experiences inhumane acts such as girl-child discrimination, forced marriage, retention of a girl in her paternal family for procreation, widowhood practices, genital mutilation, rape and sexual abuse, wife battering, lack of right to inheritance, leadership discrimination, physical abuse, purdah, marginalization in education and employment opportunities etc (Bamgbose, 2010:108). Even in matriarchal culture, women are not excluded from these lashes of oppression. Opara (1987:10) observes that though the Ghanaian Akan woman is exempted from the patrilineal rules associated with descent and inheritance, unlike her Nigerian Igbo and Senegalese Wolof counterparts, she is nevertheless "weighed down by the Akan law of inheritance under the matrilineal system. Although, descent is traced through the mother, the woman lives patrilocally (8)."

Resistance

It derives from the verb 'to resist' that is according to Chambers Harrap's Dictionary "to refuse to comply with something, to stand firm". To the same dictionary, resistance means "an act or the process of resisting, the ability or power to resist especially to which damage." One understands here that female writers' resistance is against the system (male-dominated society, or writing) that maintains them or rank them second-class, inferior, deft, dumb, but mere witness. For example, feminist critics rank Flora Nwapa's novels as literature of resistance.

Talking of phallo-cracy, in her theorising about feminine subjectivity and representation in The Laugh of the Medusa, the French Woman Helene Cixous critiques the phallocentric bias of history stating that the "entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason (...) a privileged alibi (...) one with the phallo-centric tradition" (p. 249). She also posits that, men in their writings have shaped Medusa to an image of hideous, 'dangerous', that readers must not explore or else be turned to stone by its impact (Cixous, 'Sorties' 68) (9), though according to the female writer Medusa seems to be exactly the opposite.

Brief History of Female Characterization in African Male Fiction

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall...

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