Every society has its own challenges and aspirations, but how these are handled makes a lot of difference. The approach to issues, the nature of the issues and the outcome of such issues are very crucial to the development and peace of the society.
Africa as a Third World continent so to say has come a full circle with the good, the bad and the ugly just like any other continent of the world. The difference with Africa's case may be the nature and approach to problems plaguing the continent. Africa is blessed with both natural and human resources-especially with crude oil and other mineral resources and a huge population. The continent is vast in land mass; she is blessed with good climatic condition, vibrant soil suitable for agriculture and a lot more. Yet the continent is under developed.
This paper attempts an appraisal of issues that may have accounted for this underdevelopment over the years by looking at the position of mad women in this society and what would have been their contributions, economically, socially and politically to the development of the continent. Using the theory of "otherness" signifying exclusion as propounded by Simone de Beauvior, the paper brings out the plight of these "unwanted" in society and evaluates what they are worth in literary texts and in the society.
Key Words: WOMANHOOD, INSANITY
At the end of the middle Ages, leprosy disappeared from the Western world. In the margins of the community, at the gates of cities, there stretched wastelands which sickness had ceased to haunt but had left sterile and long uninhabitable. For centuries, these reaches would belong to the non-human..., they would wait, soliciting with strange incantations a new incarnation of disease, another grimace of terror, renewed rites of purification and exclusion. (Michel Foucault, 1961, 1989:1).
Foucault here contends that the West has always wanted an "other" hence when leprosy disappeared from the streets of Europe; the West immediately invented another "other" in madness. He contends that insanity may be a gate-way to knowledge because it is an element of reason, perhaps the reason why some people, particularly women withdraw into this enclave to escape society's problems. Fanon, in the same light says that the racist always needs an "other" to prove his superiority.
What one can deduce from this is that the society always has need for an "other" since no "subject" will readily submits itself as the "other" hence the constant need for "otherness" in society and the question that readily comes to mind is, what is responsible for this urge to dominate, oppress, subjugate and victimize. The answer is not far-fetched as subjugation; exclusionary practices are as primordial as consciousness itself.
It is therefore the intention of this study to interrogate the idea of "otherness" as given in the society particularly as it relates to insanity in women both in texts and in society by tabling the issue of women and madness in literature which actually goes beyond the boundaries of literary or English studies because of its gender and social outlook. Questions will therefore be asked, questions such as, why does a woman find herself insane? Why are there so many mad women in society as in texts? Is the mad woman any saner than the society that produces her? And what is insanity any way? Is insanity really as perceived by the west or as perceived by Africans who attribute madness to witchcraft, wickedness on the part of the woman, rivalry, aborted loyalty, prescribed lifestyle, oppressive tradition and culture, loneliness or is it a generational thing?
There is a moral as well as intellectual responsibility to understand how and why women loose their minds, that is, loose touch with reality. There is also the moral and intellectual obligation to try to investigate possible ways of preventing such occurrence in society, so this study tries to define and analyze madness from a literary angle by making madness a recurring theme among African women, particularly in texts written by women. The study identifies the idea of "otherness" of women fondly perpetuated by patriarchy as being responsible for women's sudden migration to the "outer world"madness in search of solace.
Madwomen are stigmatized and made outsiders - the "Other." Madness as a condition is seen as a female sickness, a manifestation of excess feminine sexuality. Various medical authorities during the Enlightenment believed that women confused reality with products of their imaginations: they were "enflamed by the hot vapors of the womb" ("hysteria" literally means "of the womb"). Usher, quoted by Nichole Maiman (2004:4) and in Africa, madness in women is often linked to witchcraft, wickedness or heredity and to some; women are more vulnerable to insanity than men for the sole reason that the instability of their reproductive systems often interferes with their sexual, emotional, and rational control.
In a globalize world, with much emphasis on ICT, with much talk about highly developed and knowledgeable societies, the leading edge of everything good and desirable, it is ironic that not much is heard of the mad people, particularly the mad woman. It is possible that the society deliberately ignores the plight of this set of people or that the society is so busy that no one really remembers these people either in real life or in literary texts. So the purpose of this study is to re-ignite the society to the plight of mad people in society, particularly to the plight of mad women. The study in this light concerns itself with insanity among women both in life and in texts.
"Otherness" defines the mad women as the other half of humanity; this means the other half that is not needed in the economic, political and social spheres. The other half that must stay out, that must not be visible because she is a disgrace to the society. "Otherness" in this case means that these same people are never to assume a subjective role in society (de Beauvior 1997:16-21, Ruth 1980:85, Butler 1986:42-44, Dunker 1992:211) The concept of "otherness" is suggestive of the fact that women identify with their "otherness" as they have decided to remain beings in themselves and not for themselves (Okley 1986:59, Evans 1985:61, Moi 1994:164)
"Otherness sees the woman as the other being, defined in relation to men but what about being a woman and also mad, where does that condition placed the woman?
Post-modernism may have a radical analysis of "otherness" but writers such as Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva still recognize the "otherness" nature of women in society (Tong 1998:195, Hill-Collins 1990, Anthias and Yuval-Davies 1992)
Otherness to Lisa Onbelet is defined by difference, typical difference marked by outward signs like race and gender. As such, otherness has also been associated predominantly with marginalized people, those who by virtue of their difference from the dominant group, have been disempowered, robbed of a voice in the social, religious, and political spheres. Difference, particularly in literature is often articulated as either some kind of weakness or superior strength or intellectual dependence on the sympathies of the dominant cultural voice. For example, the secondary standing of women in society, the place of the black man in world affairs and so many "nesses" in the world today.
The self-image of the "other" is probably succinctly described by Fanon in his Black Skin, White Masks (1986:231) saying "What else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black bloodT' "Otherness", in this case as in many other cases exposes the inaudibility of women's voice.
"Otherness" may have been described as the fundamental category of human thought, but socially, "otherness" is demeaning, economically, it is self-effacing and politically, it is self-excluding. AH these put together reduces the "other" to a non-being. Educationally, the "other" in society, in this case the mad woman is no where as she is not even given the chance in the first place to be "somebody", the "other" is like a battered goose in society. Bhabha, (1994:63) In recent times, according to Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Robert J. C. Young (2000:1)
the figure of the other, hitherto silent and effaced, has made claims to speak, indeed to speak back, disrupting the realm of politics in radical ways: thus women, 'natives', minorities, deviants (mad women), subalterns, now claim to speak as others.
With this trend, it is all too evident, too glaring that the society is satisfied with the role the so-called "other" is made to play today and the "other" in turn has resigned to fate consoling herself with "blessed be the Lord who created me according to His will" (Ruth 1980:145). The "other", that is the marginalized cannot tell his/her own story, cannot define himself or herself, but rather, must submit to the descriptions assigned to him/her by the dominant group. So not only is the other robbed of voice, he/she is also robbed of identity, sense of self, and sense of value hence the insane in society can not even begin to dream of representing himself or herself.
The African woman, in this case is an object "out of place," a "stray" human being recognizable only as subordinate and dependent on African man, and otherwise not having "social agency" of her own particularly following the journeys of several women deemed "matter out of place or "the other's other," (Jackson, 2005: 100)
The African woman to Jackson (2005:103-104), remained in the rural reserves where she is treated as "voiceless bodies, aimlessly walking from place to place until suspected of madness and taken to the mental hospital" African women to her are even at that too backward to lose their reason'" (p. 108). By coining the notion of collaborative patriarchies, Jackson says that the African woman was sandwiched between European and African male authority (p. Ill) and was cyborg or boundary objects, [p. 5]; the issue of female madness is what one may want to view as many things: the "other", the madwoman, the doomed fantastic heroine. These elements of her character are best explained with concepts from literary analysis: Post-colonial and feminist theory, victimization and all that it carries, as one can see, creates a negative sense of the world, where little seems meaningful and where the woman herself feels weak, needy, frightened and out of control. The woman's image of the world, and of herself, can become imbued with negative overtones such as madness.
Exclusionary practice is an ancient phenomenon, policy of exclusion possibly stems from the same source as classism, racism, sexism, ageism and all other "isms". Exclusionary practice points the way to insanity, defined by Bushfield (1996:260) as an "evaluative concept" conceived in society. Madness to her reveals some aspects of mental functioning- thought action or behaviour that is abnormal, defective or disordered.
Foucault preoccupies himself with madness as perceived by the west in his Madness and Civilization which to him is the manifestation of western civilization "will". To Felman (1997:13), madness entails exclusion in all its ramifications which could be a bizarre thought and conduct, a state where the unconscious dominates the conscious. Madness and women as therefore turn out to be the two outcasts of the establishment of readability (Felman 1997: 6)
Looking at the texts under discussion, it is observed that insanity or madness seen in literature is not in any way different from madness in real life, so there is a link between fictional madness found in literature and real madness found in society after all, literature is the criticism of life, a mirror on society (Matthew Arnold)
This study in this stead is an awareness-raising to the society; it is a wake-up call to the plight of mad people particularly the women in society. It opens the society's eyes to the evil of neglect of vital aspects of social concerns in the sense that if these people are not well cared for, they will constitute a nuisance to the generality of the people as manifested in the texts under consideration. The study benefits both governmental and non-governmental bodies. It is supposed to redirect the minds of people who still see mad people as "outcasts", it is also supposed to re-examine the secondary role of women in society, the society that says "man shall dominate the woman". It points up ways at reaching gender harmony in society without anyone loosing head over anything.
The subject of loneliness which to some is one reason why women loose their heads both in life and in literature is one that from earliest times has been addressed in literature. It appears in the Biblical account of creation: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him" (Genesis, 2:18). To this, the poet John Milton commented: "Loneliness is the first thing which God's eye nam'd not good" (Tetrahedron, 1645) and this keeps coming up in the analysis of women's condition in most of the literary texts where the issue of madness is mentioned. The very condition, loneliness, has the potential of inducing disquiet. It implies a sense of having been abandoned, forsaken, and exposed to need or danger.
Insanity as Viewed by African Women Writers
Bessie Head's A Question of Power (1974), is often thought to be her most personal and least political novel. As a writer, she presents the individual's struggle for identity within a community, a community that is so colour-biased as South Africa. The novel is a detailed analysis of Elizabeth's life, trying desperately to make a meaning out of the world around her, a world that is presented as rational in the midst of apartheid and masculine oppression.
A Question of Power is often referred to as an autobiographical statement in that the main character, Elizabeth, like Head is a coloured South African and like Head also, the protagonist leaves her native country with her young son to a neighboring land- Botswana, like the writer too, Elizabeth is confronted with constricting social system. Her elaborate illusions about herself and the world around her eventually lead to her complete withdrawal from reality and ultimate retreat into a fantasy world. Her complexion presents a different challenge to her as she is viewed by the local people as one of the "Bushmen" despised by the people. Overcome by loneliness, inhumanity, alienation and oppression, she looses her mind and very much like Blanche DuBois, in Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire , her internal and external battle between the world of illusion and that of reality becomes uncontrollable and so she becomes a lifeless product of her illusions. Her life is seen as a living division of two warring principles, desire and decorum, and she is a victim of the two.
The true circumstances of her birth and her existence spell the beginning of Elizabeth's long, tortuous journey into the world of fantasy- a journey that takes Elizabeth through a relationship with Sello and Dan. The union with Sello in which he takes on different personalities happens mainly in Elizabeth's imagination, but from instances in the novel, it is glaring that her union with Sello is far more humane than that with Dan in which the latter makes her watch his sexual acts with other women and this brings about psychological torture. Dan torments Elizabeth with sexual pervasions so much so that she begins to see her habitation in the midst of "stench and shit" which of course is the habit of the so-called "subject"- making the "object" look very inferior. Elizabeth suffers social alienation as well as intellectual deprivation in that there is basically no one to relate with except for the American peace corp. Tom who tells her that there is a limit to what a man can discuss with a woman. Her mental journey is harrowing enough to make her slip in and out of dream sequence, hallucinations; as she moves from reality-fantasy and back to reality.
With Elizabeth's story of mental torture and eventual recovery, Head is able to demonstrate that social, political and whatever evil is melted out on the individual always fall on that individual heavily and this can, if not halted lead to insanity as clearly portrayed in this novel
Bessie Head's A Question of Power 'interrogates' the issue of madness not only by going straight through it inside out, but also puts it into dialogue with other issues in society. As a writer who wants to tell her reader what it means to be a human being at a time when people face violence and loneliness, Head employs private experiences in her interrogation of the subject. A Question of Power, in this sense recounts one episode of Head's life, the breakdown and cure of its central woman protagonist, Elizabeth, in the village of Motabeng- all come from her consciousness, it is written effectively from inside her mind. Head writes a semi fictional account of what she describes as a breakdown, in which there is in fact too much communication -voice inside the mind..: madness, sexuality, guilt and all of these make up the totality of the individual in the scheme of things
Manama Ba, also treats the issue of insanity in her two novels-So Long A Letter and Scarlet Song respectively. In So Long a Letter, Ba treats the female insanity as a product of abandonment. The major character in the novel, Ramatoulaye is abandoned by her husband of twenty-five years for her daughter's friend, Binatou. Ramatoulaye sees abandonment as a tool for the destruction of woman's sanity. Abandonment to her leads to loneliness and loneliness in turn leads to mental breakdown which eventually results to death. Ramatoulaye at a point ruminates "I counted the abandoned or divorced women of my generation whom I knew" (p40) and concludes that abandonment is a terrible pill for the woman to swallow, even with her idea of only realizing herself and blooming in a union, her husband leaves her for another.
Ba gives an insight into the world of the insane with her portrayal of Jacqueline who allows herself to be shattered by her husband's desertion. Loneliness takes over and as a result, she becomes a psychological wreck:
Jacqueline lay prostrate in her bed, her beautiful but neglected black hair through which no comb had been run ever since she began consulting doctor after doctor... we tried everything to draw this sister out of her private hell (p43)
Jacqueline's world is portrayed by Ba as shattered; a woman who once enjoyed life is reduced to nothing by her husband irresponsible behaviour. Consultation after consultation with different doctors reveal nothing in particular as ailment and the conclusion drawn from her experience is that she is just unable to confront her realities. Like Ramatoulaye , she is a victim of the male-dominated world, her marriage only renders her dead inside, like the slave girl in Emecheta's Slave Girl and The Joys of Motherhood, Jacqueline is reduced to a walking corpse, a victim of patriarchal design which sees the woman as lacking the psychological complexities that men are capable of invoking; but from events portrayed in this novel, it is pertinent to note that the woman through her years of silence makes a great journey to the horizon and returns refined.
In Scarlet Song Ba intertwines different themes to bring out the workings of the woman's mind, she explores the themes of roots, racism, sexism and morality to document the experience of a particular woman. The novel is about the failure of an inter-racial marriage between the Senegalese Ousmane and the French girl Mirelle, paying a particular attention to the difficulties (family opposition, weakness of the man to stand his ground and the problem of adapting to a particular culture) this couple must deal with in society.
Women are often seen to be their own worst enemies as documented in these novels .Tante Nabou breaks Assatou's home in So Long a Letter "What, a Toucouleur marrying a goldsmith's daughter?"(pl7) Ramatoulaye's mother-law comes in and out of her home giving her no breathing space, Yaya Khady practically sends Mirelle insane in Scarlet Song calling the marriage "a necessary evil" (p66)
Ba, like Head unravels the psychological basis for human actions in her portrayal of characters and why they do what they do, specifically why Jacqueline confronts her marital problems with a nervous break-down. Ba is aware of the psychological crisis the woman goes through in her attempt to gain attention and a voice, she is aware of the woman's tortuous, anguished and violent mental state. To Ba, the individual is spiritual and like Head, she reveals the mental, emotional and physical imbalances of the individual though her character portrayal.
NnuEgo suffers all her life for the children just for them to desert her when she most needs them. Emecheta uses the experience of NnuEgo to break the myth that motherhood is synonymous with female fulfillment. The woman is unable to locate the expected joy in motherhood, as signaled in Emecheta's novel, The Joy of Motherhood, having so many children as NnuEgo, does not mean that the woman is free from the oppressive norms of her society which decrees eternal subjugation for the woman. The heroine of the novel sees her destiny and happiness in her children, yet she finds no happiness in them as she leads a miserable and tormented life, unfulfilled, unmourned by the children she toiled for.
It can be said that the female character feels imprisoned and entrapped by the suffocating private realm that seems to deny her a communal life of sharing and caring. And it is only when the character reaches the public space that she liberates herself from the pressure of loneliness, though the cost is a confrontation with the marginal - suicide and madness.
The thematic network of most of the texts under consideration could also be linked to lack of communication, yes, lack of communication in that the so-called "other" is locked up in her world where she is not expected to company with the "subject" and without the separate parts of the individual being united, the "other" can never realize herself. It is only when the compartmentalized and fragmented state of mind of the "other" is united that the female protagonist feels liberated and not too many of them are liberated; this presents a gloomy picture of the plight of the "other", the deluded, the insane woman in society as well as in literature.
Suggestion and Conclusion
This, one was told is an era of development even though the world is divided into developed and developing with the developing constantly been asked to hasten to catch up with the developed. But in spite of all the pious ideas, plans and policies on how to move the society forward, what one sees is that the gap between developed and developing has continued to widen with each passing day.
*Development without humanism as noted is self-destructive. It should touch every facet of life including mad people.
*Thoughts and policies should be made to manifest in life and not in books alone.
*Society should aim at establishing a just order and so focus should be on human development.
The number of destitute is on the increase on the streets and this does not present any hope for the continent at large, whether economic, social or political. The governments must view this as a social problem and urgently look into it as these people need shelter, care, medicine, and food. Conscience must be awakened to their situation and plight in society.
There has to be a replacement of apathy that allows for injustice and exclusion, rejection and discrimination with the policy of inclusion, social justice, honest relationship and consideration. The society must discard the terms such as "outcast" "mad woman" "the damned" "Osu", "Ineme" with more positive and accommodating images for these people, we must build a classless society where everyone is equal and free, a society that respects its citizens irrespective of gender, class or medical condition.
Everyone must be viewed with dignity and value for the society to be lifted and have self-worth. "When you have not come out of the wood or forest, you can not possibly be removing the dirt from your head." Madness is a condition that can strike even the most unsuspecting person in the world. It has not been adequately explained to be hereditary; it is not restricted to any particular economic class or cadre.
Stigmatization should give way to understanding and consequently help for those inflicted with insanity whether as a result of "witchcraft" or heredity or whatever may have been responsible for this condition. It is by doing this that the society will attain the needed development and it by so doing that the society can begin to utilize the different potentials of this set of people for economic development, after all, "they too are the earth".
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