In contrast to Sarowiwa, Achebe seeks to link, rather than oppose, the question of African women's roles to the larger problems of the post-colonial nation. Ikem's "love letter"to Beatrice, in conjunction with the novel's hopeful, women-centered ending, most specifically attempts this. In the love letter Ikem writes his realization that the major flaw in his vision for his country is its failure to provide a clear role for women. He introduces the letter to Beatrice,
"One of the things you told me was that my attitude toward women was too respectful."
"You bloody well did. And you were damn right. You charged me with assigning women the role of a fire-brigade after the house has caught fire and been virtually consumed. Your charge has forced me to sit down and contemplate the nature of oppression-- how flexible it must learn to be, how many faces it must learn to wear to succeed again and again."
Before he starts to read the letter aloud, he has credited his new understanding of women's roles with sparking a new understanding of social change in his country. He goes on to outlines this in the letter. First he establishes that "women are, of course, the biggest single group of oppressed people in the world and, if we are to believe the book of Genesis, the very oldest. But they are not the only ones" (90). The problem with "the present orthodoxies of deliverance,"he continues, is that do not recognize that "There is no universal conglomerate of the oppressed. Free people may be alike everywhere in their freedom, but the oppressed inhabit each their own peculiar hell"(90). Given that the oppressed are unlikely to unite, it is foolish to expect any sweeping revolutions or sudden cures for society.
Experience and intelligence warn us that man's progress in freedom will be piecemeal, slow and undramatic. Revolution may be necessary for taking a society out of an intractable stretch of quagmire but it does not confer freedom, and may indeed hinder it (90)
With this letter, Ikem defines consideration of the of women as a world-wide oppressed group as both important for the future of the nation, and as a catalyst in his vision of his country's future.
The naming ceremony at the novel's end further ties the empowerment of women to the strengthening of the country, underlining the concepts Ikem introduced in his letter. Elewa's uncle arrives at Beatrice's house to find that Elewa's child has already been named a boy's name meaning "may-the-path-never-close"by the women. At first he is disturbed by this breach of tradition, but he comes around in this speech the younger people:
Do you know why I am laughing like this? I am laughing because in you young people our world has met its match. Yes! You have put the world where it should sit... My wife here was breaking her head looking for kolanuts, for alligator pepper, for honey and for bitterleaf. . . And while she is cracking her head you people gather in this whiteman house and give the girl a boy's name. . . That is how to handle this world. . . (210)
The women, who have simultaneously broken the rules of race and gender, "produce something wonderful like this to show your sufferhead. Something alive and kicking" (207). They embody hope for the future of the nation. This assertion that women are integral in the building of the new African society emphasizes the damaging effect of oppression outside the colonized-colonizer relationship. Thus the novel's answer to the post-colonial dilemma lies in broadening views of what is important to examine in a post-colonial society or in a work of post-colonial fiction.
Achebe and Saro-Wiwa's treatments of women's roles bring up the conflict of agendas present within post-colonial fiction. The issues the educated narrator from Dukana face in her position to help her village raise awareness of conflict between Western concepts of improvement of the lives of women and the preservation of cultural structures so crucial to the spiritual health of the village community. Achebe goes beyond the notion of conflict to propose that hope lies not in separating women's issues from society's issues, but in integrating them, and in looking to women continually in the process of social change. Both novels stress the necessity of post-colonial analysis which looks past the typical indigenous vs. colonial oppression structure. Both let the term post-colonial apply usefully, only in this more complex sense.
Matory, J. Lorand. Sex and the Empire That Is No More. Minneapolis, U. Of Minnesota P.: 1994.
The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Ed. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin. London, Routledge: 1995.
Last Modified: 13 March 2002