The Role of the Nigerian Women in Anthills of the Savannah and "Home Sweet Home"

Barnali Tahbildar '97, English 27 (1997)

Whereas Emecheta constructs the position of Nigerian women as inescapably fixed within traditional patriarchal oppression, Chinua Achebe and Ken Saro-Wiwa seek to demonstrate that Nigerian women are capable of escaping the subordinate roles prescribed to them by traditional culture. Set in a later period of Nigerian history than Emecheta's The Slave Girl, Anthills of the Savannah and "Home Sweet Home" both consider the character of the unmarried, educated "Miss".. The opening lines of Saro-Wiwa's "Home Sweet Home" read as follows:

'Progres' spluttered lazily down the long, dirt road which stretched before us like the coated tongue of an ailing man. She bore a precious and varied cargo. (1)

Besides its normal load of "rice, salt and beans, cartons of soap and sugar, some yams and cassava" (1), Progres carries a young, educated, and unmarried schoolteacher back to her hometown of Dukana. By personifying 'Progres' as female and bringing with her the young educated "Miss", Saro-Wiwa creates an image which associates progress and the future of a traditional Nigerian town with the young Nigerian woman. Whereas Emecheta's novel suggests that the independence of the Nigerian woman is lost somewhere in the exchange between male master figures, Saro-Wiwa begins his collection of stories with the image of the clearly focused and independent Nigerian woman on the move, appropriately placed on a truck named "Progres".

The character of the educated "Miss" introduces the reader to the Nigerian woman who, in comparison to a woman like Ojebeta, is capable of social and economic independence. However, Ojebeta-like characters do exist in "Home Sweet Home". The character of Sira, the narrator's childhood friend who had "to have children, to procreate so that the family would not die off" (A Forest of Flowers 9), reminds the reader that while some women are transgress traditionally prescribed gender roles, others choose not to do so. The educated and unmarried "Miss" exists, yet in striking contrast to traditional practices of strictly confining women to the role of motherhood.

In Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe provides another version of the educated and unmarried "Miss" through the character of Beatrice Okoh:

Beatrice is a woman who has "an honors degree from Queen Mary College, University of London, projects Achebe's new vision of women's roles...Beatrice gives Ikem insight into a feminist concept of womanhood. She is articulate, independent, and self-realized...In Beatrice, Achebe now strives to affirm the moral strength and intellectual integrity of African women...(Rose U. Mezu, "Women in Achebe's World," Postcolonial Web)

Achebe creates Beatrice, Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, as a strong, independent-minded, and politically empowered Nigerian woman. Whereas Emecheta's novel asserts that "a girl needed men to guide her; her father, or any man who could represent a father to her" (The Slave Girl 78), Beatrice of Anthills emphatically claims "That every woman wants a man to complete her is a piece of male chauvinist bullshit I had completely rejected before I knew there was anything like Women's Lib" (80-81). By employing first person narration with the educated "Miss" character (as in Saro-Wiwa's "Home Sweet Home"), Achebe further empowers the voice of the Nigerian woman.

It is important to note that just as the reader of Saro-Wiwa's "Home Sweet Home" must consider both the position of the educated "Miss" in relation to her friend Sira, the position of Beatrice within this "new" breed of educated and independent Nigerian women must be viewed in juxtaposition to the position of her servant, Agatha. Agatha's silence in the Achebe's novel (she is given no formal narrative voice) is telling of those Nigerian women who, like Ojebeta, live a life of servitude. Although Saro-Wiwa's educated "Miss" character and Beatrice Okoh embody the deconstruction of traditional gender roles in Nigerian society, their respective female counterparts, Sira and Agatha, remind the reader that with every woman who is able to escape a position of enslavement, there is one who cannot escape.

Saro Wiwa

OV Anthills OV

Last Modified: 18 March, 2002