Aidoo's Anowa: Gender Dynamics

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

The gender dynamic here seems to represent the social structures of traditional matrilineal societies in which lineage is traced through women and thus, women are responsible for ensuring the continuation of the community both literally and symbolically, in terms of the values and the customs of the community. There is a similar opposition between Badua and Osam, as well as between Anowa and Kofi Ako. However, in the latter, while Anowa upholds certain values and morals of the traditional community she is also depicted as in opposition to the social order upheld by the other female characters in that she rejects the traditional roles assigned to women in that society. In this sense, the gendering of these binary couples serves to put Anowa in stark contrast with the other women who represent the constraining roles for women within the social structures of traditional matrilineal society. In each of these couples opposing viewpoints are expressed in a way that provides a framework for the issues and debates which Aidoo raises and the audience must decide on its own with which side to agree. These parallel constructs of binary oppositions between characters thus serve to give different arguments or view points on the "dilemma" of Anowa, and thus reinforce the traditional "dilemma tale" structure of the play.

Aidoo also uses the traditional structure of oral tales which consist of an introduction, the plot, and a conclusion. Her use of a prologue to begin the play is a conscious imitation of the traditional oral literary structure in which a narrator or a chorus begins by setting the scene and the time in which the story occurs, introducing the main characters and foreshadowing the main themes of the tale. "The-mouth-that-eats-salt-and-pepper" forms the chorus of the play -- it introduces the play, comments on the end of every episode or "phase" and concludes the play in the traditional structure of the dilemma tale by elucidating the themes of the dilemma but leaving the final decision to be made by the audience. The "old man" seems to fulfill the role of narrator. He begins and ends the play which gives it a cyclical movement, characteristic of much oral literature. In the prologue, the old man opens the play with a long monologue which follows traditional oral conventions in style and content, in that it introduces us to the society of Abura, sets the time in the 1870's and introduces the characters of Anowa and Kofi while also elucidating some of the themes of the play. In the prologue, the old man foreshadows some of the major themes of the play, for instance, referring to the notion of slavery through his allusion to "those forts standing at the door of the great ocean." (p.6) and explaining the contact of Ghanaians with Westerners, in particular the "bond of 1844" (p.8), thus raising the issue of colonialism. In contrast to the old woman, the old man speaks predominantly in verse which reinforces his role as the narrator or storyteller. The old woman aside from being important for expressing an opposite viewpoint as mentioned earlier, also in a sense fills the traditional role of the "replyer" or as Galli terms it in 'storytelling among the Anyi Bona" the "epicenter". Contrary to the normal role of the epicenter, she disagrees and interrupts the old man rather than "receive" the story; the use of these two characters as narrator or chorus to some extent mirrors the roles of narrator and epicenter.

[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Ghana OV Aidoo OV discourseov