Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature

By Janice Lee Liddell; Yakini Belinda Kemp | Go to book overview

4
Coming Home to Herself
Autonomy and Self-Conversion in Flora Nwapa's One Is Enough

AUSTRALIA TARVER

As Nigeria's first woman novelist, the late Flora Nwapa1 will be remembered for themes of female transformation that create a feminine space in an arena dominated by African male writers. Indeed, the impact of Nwapa's presentation of emerging women characters is comparable to the Igbo female's relatively recent encroachment into mask cult ceremonies, a tradition among the Izzi clan of Igbos historically reserved for men.2 As the symbolic female mask wearer, Nwapa assumes control of the identity construction of African women characters, creating in the whole of her fiction lives that change and grow both within and outside of the social, economic, and moral/spiritual traditions of Igbo society.

Although the focus of this paper is Nwapa's third novel, One Is Enough (Tana, 1981; Africa World, 1992), it is important to view this work in the evolving context of her other novels and short stories in order to see the progression of her theme of autonomy.3 As Brenda Berrian observes, the themes of "self-autonomy and choice" (62) were treated in earlier novels, Efuru ( 1966) and Idu ( 1970). In both novels the women protagonists initially view their community as a "collective other," which serves as a predetermined guide for women's roles. These women transform their dependence on traditional roles into a manipulation of these roles to achieve their respective needs. In short, Efuru and Idu ultimately feminize the traditions within their communities. Efuru undergoes female circumcision according to community standards, but when she is abandoned by her first husband, she defiantly leaves his house, and after yet another unsuccessful marriage, turns to the power of the Igbo lake goddess, Uhamiri. Marie Umeh maintains that Idu challenges "the cultural

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