"Womanhood under the Magnifying Glass: A Look at Insanity among Women in African Literature and Society

By Akujobi, Remi | Gender & Behaviour, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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"Womanhood under the Magnifying Glass: A Look at Insanity among Women in African Literature and Society

Akujobi, Remi, Gender & Behaviour


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.



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.

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"Womanhood under the Magnifying Glass: A Look at Insanity among Women in African Literature and Society


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