Reading Questions for Emecheta's The Slave Girl

Provided by members of English 27, Brown University, 1997

1. Does the narrator believe herself when she writes of selling children into slavery,"It might be evil but it is a neccesary evil" (64), or is it the narrator's view at all? Brandon Brown

2. How does Emecheta illustrate the correlations (and differences) among slavery and marriage for women? Considering the passage on page 168 for example, ("Now she had lost it all. . .) can Ojebeta ever be free? What does freedom mean for the female subject in the text, or does freedom for women even exist? Kate Cook

3. After Ojebeta's charms are cut off of her body in the Onitsa market she thinks that "[s]he might have lost her identity, but at least she could still hold on to the dream of it."(72) How much of Ojebeta's development in the house of the Palagadas is this dream identity, and what relationship does this idea have to colonialism and, more specifically, the roles of women in Nigeria during the time? Is Emecheta suggesting that all the Nigerian women possess not real identities, but dream identities? Erica Dillon

4. The novel takes place in two Nigerian towns that, though not far in distance, seem worlds apart in terms of European economic, political, and religious influence. What statements does Emecheta make through a comparison of Ibutza and Onitsha of the differences between pre-colonial and post-colonial Nigeria and the incorporation of foreign elements into traditional Nigerian customs? Lucia Duncan

5. Why does the Narrator choose to omit specific descriptions of village culture such as the extent and design of Ojebeta's tattoos or Okolie's peculiar hands until they come into contrast with the urban culture of Onitsha? Jeremy Finer

6. What does the removal of Ojebeta's charms represent? (72) Katie Finin

7. Discuss the relationship between narrator and narration in The Slave Girl, considering how it differs from the autobiographical tension underlying Wole Soyinka's Aké. Why does the third person, omniscient narrator occasionally intercede with commentary in the text instead of just allowing it to speak for itself? (e.g. Chapter 15, pages 176-177, "It never occurred to her....speculation?" and Chapter 13, page 155, "The irony was that the process...future.") Elissa Popoff

8. As a young child, Ojebeta has an inquisitive nature. She continually asks questions of her older family members and expects their responses to have a measure of "correctness" (32). How does Wole's imaginative nature compare with Ojebeta's nature? Laura Gelfman

9. Is there any evidence of human selflessness in Emecheta's novel? After reading the novel, is the reader left with a pessimistic or optimistic view of the human spirit? Phoebe Koch

10. In this book filled with harsh indictments of the ownership of women, what are the author's intentions in making Ojebeta and Chiago, two strong and hardened women, women who, with seemingly little struggle, accept their fate as slaves to their men? Jennifer Lee

11. In The Slave Girl, gender is a crucial instrument in character development. Gender identity in the Nigerian town of Ibuza establishes the societal expectations for a given character, and also plays a major role in that character's personal outlook on many situations. How else does gender dictate the characters? What are some examples of how this occurs in the novel? Laura Otis

12. How does the narrative technique in The Slave Girl differ from that of Aké? What effect does each have in bringing the reader closer to the characters? Neel Parekh

13. The characters in Aké know about their English conquerors. For example, Wole's schoolmaster remarks that he is glad that he visited England so he could better understand the English he dealt with in Nigeria. However, characters in The Slave Girl do not know anything about their English colonizers or their ways. The narrator remarks that the people of Ibuza did not know that the Portuguese were ceding control of Nigeria to the British, and that "they did not know that there were other ways of robbing people of their birthright than through war" (15) Does this difference in knowledge account for the different relation to power that the characters in the two books seem to hold? In what ways are the Western conquerors portrayed and related to differently in The Slave Girl and in Aké? Elora Raymond

14. I was surprised to read about aspects of Nigerian culture, like the customs of traditional families and the slave trade, in The Slave Girl, which were completely left out of Aké. Does Soyinka establish credibility and attempt to present a seemingly complete vision of Nigeria culture to the reader, while leaving important parts out? Or was I wrong to fall under the illusion that I was receiving a complete picture? Elora Raymond

15. Historians say that the European and Euro-American practitioners of the transatlantic slave trade were able to engage Atlantic Coast Africans in the buying and selling of other Africans because slavery was already a common cultural practice. However, the peculiar type of slavery and slave trade engaged in by the Europeans was quite different, the historians say, from indigenous African slavery practices, and thus the European cooptation and corruption of slavery irreparably changed the face of African slavery and African economies. How does Emecheta demonstrate the European influence on traditional African slavery, and how does this colonial context make Ojebeta's experience a product of colonialism as well as of indigenous tradition? Jason Sperber

16. Of what significance is the statement that "most of the people living in the interior of Nigeria did not know that the whole country belonged to the people called the British..." especially given the clear anti-colonial sentiment of the novel. (Follow for more of this passage) Uzoma Ukomadu

17. Both Emchete's The Slave Girl and Soyinka's Aké begin with descriptions of quite prominent, relatively wealthy, and certainly well-educated families. Does the absence of real poverty in these works unjustly mitigate the hardships that colonialism brought upon less well-off, less well-educated, non-English-speaking Nigerian? Or is it rather a successful strategy for making prejudiced Westerners realize that not all Africans are in constant struggles for survival, and that Africa has more stories to tell than famine? Sage Wilson

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