Wole Soyinka's Aké: The Years of Childhood, Buchi Emecheta's Slave Girl, and Graham Swift's Waterland all take up the topic of childhood, but they locate it in quite different temporal contexts. I do not intend here to make just the obvious point that these three texts are set in different times. Rather, I mean that the locations of childhood in these three narratives varies to significant effect. And furthermore, that Soyinka, Emecheta, and Swift use these different placements of childhood to take on important political and cultural issues.
To repeat: I argue that in Aké, Slave Girl, and Waterland, accounts of childhood reflect and determine the structure and style of the novels as a whole, and particularly (because of the assumed tie between personal and cultural development) have this relationship to their accounts of change and modernization. Childhood is of enormous importance for all of these novels, a "formative stage" in the deepest sense, whether it prefigures adulthood, determines it, or ripples outwards in all directions. But of course even this most-formative stage is hardly natural or essential; it too gets constructed, both by cultural traditions, and by the projects of the texts themselves. I do not wish to treat childhood as all-defining, but rather to suggest it as a useful lens through which to read Soyinka's, Emecheta's, and Swift's accounts of the larger cultural condition.