Satirized Feminism in Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Author:David, Uwakwe Uchenna
Position:Critical essay


Globally, the urgency of instituting the poetics of humanism has found easy eloquence in the apparent disparity in the status of men and women in many spheres of life. Indeed, what is known as the patrilineal order within the African society is also a global phenomenon, applying in distinct measures from one culture to the other. Feminists suppose that every (wo)man ought to become part of the struggle for the liberation of womanity. They also suppose that even men who philosophize the equality of (hu)manity are bound under their moral obligation to reject the domination of one sex by the other. However, while the deeper scrutiny of the disproportions against women pertinently generates the rage which feminism has borne, it is the simplicity in gauging the often indicted inequalities that may have generated more strife than is rational for humanist thinkers. Therefore, a demand is placed on the possibilities of mediation considering that sex has become a major determinant of the polarization of writers on the feminist question.

Adichie's Purple Hibiscus came with a big bang on the patriarchal question. Nonetheless, the two succeeding novels, Half of A Yellow Sun and Americanah, have implicated a profuse characterization of women not exactly as being oppressed by man but indeed often browbeaten by their own self delusion. On their merit, these works are infused with purposive literary ingredients, justifying the ingenuity of a master (mistress) storyteller for which Achebe attests, on the front cover of Half of A Yellow Sun, that Adichie came as a writer that was fully made. It is perhaps in riding at this echelon that the consciousness of the key conflicts of African literary engagement is ostensibly implicated in the expediency which precipitates the discourse of her satiric intentions in works easily adjudged to be feminist. There are visible suggestions that the polarization of critics as well as creative writers on the basis of gender is arraigned with a purposed satire in the portrayal of the characters in both novels of Adichie under study here.

Abrams and Harpham recognize the adoption of formal and informal satires in works of literature, and they proceed in explicating variants of these two major classifications of satire whose brands are associated with their practitioners' identity--Juvenalian satire by Juvenel, Mennipean satire by Mennipus, Horatian satire by Horace and Varronian satire by Varro (352355). These are Roman and Greek philosophers who adopted the satiric mode in projecting their viewpoints, or in other contexts, by rejecting certain perceived aberrations which had assumed the status of conventional practices in their societies. In validating such goals of literary engagement among these classics, Cuddon draws his instances of satiric intentions from the works of Ben Johnson, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Cuddon emphasizes that "the satirist is a kind of self-appointed guardian of standards, and ideals; of moral and aesthetic values" (632). Therefore, in engaging satire in this discussion, it is imperative to appraise how Adichie's themes convey the deprecation of cultural ideals as well as the morality they emphasize.

The Juvenalian satire is seen in Adichie's portrayal of delusion, employed to full effect in the depiction of the female characters in Americanah. Also, soon after the story begins in Half of A Yellow Sun, the gathering of intellectuals at Odenigbo's residence projects how the Mennipean satire evokes the ridiculous attitudes of these characters. Both novels, Half of A Yellow Sun and Americanah are replete with the derisive hypocrisy which is known of the Horatian satire. Again, Abram and Harpham identify with satires as "an accidental element" (353) within other thematic preoccupations. Visibly, the adoption of satire is effectual in these two novels, providing the required comic relief within the exploration of the Nigeria-Biafra War in Half of A Yellow Sun and the engagement with class trepidations and racist battles in Americanah. But most intuitively, they both evoke the appraisal of modes of female writing that mediate the fumes of gender ardor within the corpus of African feminism(s).

Perspectives which easily submerge the efforts of African feminist writers in their quest for fulfillment lean on the reasoning that what is often associated with gender writing is as alien to Africa as other colonial intrusions. It is in this regard that attempts have been made to generate a platform for adopting an African understudy to feminism. Mogu relates to 'womanism' as such alternate feminism as is the "panacea to not only, literary, but socio-political problems in the society" (20). While the suggestions that womanism now sounds more attuned to the African culture become strong, Mogu argues that feminist criticisms gained ascendance as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker began to write in reaction to such Black male writers as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. Mogu regards this as "the apex of Black literary endeavour in the United States" (14). All the same, Mogu observes that the character Mrs. Thomas in Native Son is not altogether a "deflated specie" (104). He goes on to posit that feminism "is consequent upon the preponderance of criticisms by feminists in America which boil down to the issue of improper and negative depictions of Black women by male writers" (130). Similarly, this is applies to the conceptualization of African feminism, represented in Flora Nwapa's submission that, "there have been female portraits of sorts presented by men from their own point of view, leading one to conclude that there is a difference between the African male writer and his female counterpart" (528).

But, Ama Ata Aidoo cites critics beyond the shores of Africa who have paid less tribute to female African writing. These are Tilman Riemenschneider, Gerald Moore and Ian McEwan. It is in recollecting McEwan's view of these writers as "female-scribblers" (515) that Aidoo's appraisal is substantiated. Ultimately, Aidoo is visibly inclined to coercing finesse in female African writing by insisting that the experiences of the female African writers do not entirely detract from those of their male counterparts. Aidoo is perhaps ironical in eliciting the constraints which the woman as a creative writer might encounter. The instance given is that of Buchi Emecheta, "who bore five children and struggled to raise them single-handed in a decidedly hostile milieu, and in the years between 1972 and 1984 managed to publish nine novels?" (518) While insisting that quality cannot be reneged, Aidoo poignantly identifies how damaging, in different measures and cloaks, critical works could be on feminist writings. Feminist critics are often accosted with the measure of attention paid to the quality of a writer's artistry. Ann Dobbie's view is captured here:

Whereas feminist critics in general have sometimes been criticized for having too little to say about the quality of literary texts, those concerned with the issues of power and economics have been especially chided for their lack of attention to questions of artistic quality. (117) These arguments may account for Adichie's multi-dimensional derivations of satire in the novels under investigation. Nonetheless, it is imperative to ascertain how deliberate the employment of satire is in dousing this smoldering conflagration, or whether they are intended to sustain the virtue of humanism and realism in her craft. In recognizing how satire is employed in correcting social vices, Nwachukwu-Agbada highlights Achebe's adroit and poignant satire on Okonkwo's masculinity as some kind of gender irony:

Achebe does not endorse Okonkwo's morbid desire to be thoroughly masculine. This is probably why he often puts him in ironical situations. The battle he relentlessly mounts on the feminine portion of his psyche is a futile one because he soon commits the 'female ochu'. (79-96) The fact that Adichie patronizes Achebe's cultural inquisition gives warrant to the conjecture that the heat of the feminist nudge might as well become aberrant with her desire to build upon and sustain the acceptance of the uniqueness of traditional Igbo values. Simply, one locates how the several shades of irony that exude in the texts become analogous to the artistic density employed as romantic irony. Gary Handwerk views such craft as a model construction of literary history that comes "retrospectively and polemically" (206). There are logical suggestions that certain feminist ideals are upturned in such seeming modesty that the intention sounds quite covert.

Adorable Manhood Versus Despicable (Wo)manity

There are varying views of the goodness of the man in Adichie's portraiture. The inclination to the sensuous picture of man gives the indication that Adichie overthrows all shades of feminist impressionism. With the rage against manhood which Purple Hibiscus brewed, it may give warrant to the conjecture that the same feminist charge resonates in all her novels. This impinges stringently on the perspective of satire in these latter novels under study. Contrary to known feminist precepts, there is a prevalent portraiture of man as the desirable other. The men are made to reveal the kind of sex appeal for which women salivate and desire to possess. Perhaps, Adichie tends to invoke the spirit with which Achebe had moulded an Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, the seven-year unbeaten wrestling champion from Umuofia to Mbaino--"Every nerve and every muscle stood out, on their arms, on their backs and their thighs... When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs" (3). In Half of A Yellow Sun, Ugwu's psyche lets out an invoking depiction at the dawn of his encounter with Odenigbo, which notably, Adichie, somewhat inadvertently, bestows on him: "His walk was brisk, energetic, and he looked like Ezeagu...

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