Education and The Slave Girl

Cotey Binns '00, English 27, Brown University, Autumn 1997

Emecheta's The Slave Girl demonstrates that western education alone does not alwqys bring power or prosperity, as it does in works by Sarowiwa and Soyinka. Ojebeta's power is defined not by her education but by her traditional gender role. Ma Palagada sends Ojebeta the slave girl to Sunday school by while keeping her blood daughters at home, away from the "foreign places of learning." Education is not valued by Ma, yet she sends her slave girls to school in order to please the Church and continue her beneficial relationship with whites.

It was acceptable to send domestic slaves so long as their going did not tamper with their daily tasks...In allowing her girls to go to Mrs Simpson's classes, she had allowed them to become Úlite slaves. . . . So it was Ma's stalls that people brought their material to be made into the type of gown that the white woman wore, because there you were properly measured and the girls who sewed could read from books. (102-5).

By sending the slaves to Sunday school, Ma's business increases as does her societal status, but the individual slaves gain little. Postcolonial critiques of colonial education seem ineffective because they do not take into account issues and effects specific to each individual. For example, the effects of education differ among the characters in the three novels. Just as in "A Share of Profit" and Aké, The Slave Girl also defends education as a tool for economic prosperity, yet in this novel, those who are formally educated do not reap the benefits themselves. Instead, their pre-colonial slave master and mistress bathe in the glory of education's benefits. Imperialism used education to tame the so-called barbaric traditions of the colonized people and "the natives and their 'many' immoral and disgusting habit.'" (Guri Viswanathan, "English Literary Study in British India", 432). As a young woman, Ojebeta benefits from her education by using it to start a trading business; using her education, she successfully increases her income and betters her well-being. However, at the conclusion of her owned life Ojebeta marries, her husband twice paying her bride price, and she submits herself to her husband. The novel concludes with a contradiction -- an enslaved educated woman. Upon return to traditional life, Ojebeta no longer benefits from her education, therefore contradicting the theory that every educated individual gains benefits. Because Ojebeta is a woman and because her culture's traditions do not allow for powerful women, she gains nothing. Traditionalism and pre-colonial society override the expected modernizing ideas of the colonizers.

Postcolonial OV discourseov Slave Girl Overview