Academic journal article Making Connections

Naming, Agency, and Identity in Emecheta's the Family

Academic journal article Making Connections

Naming, Agency, and Identity in Emecheta's the Family

Article excerpt

Introduction

In her introduction to Sisterhood is Global, Morgan writes, "To fight back in solidarity... as a real political force requires that women transcend the patriarchal barriers of a class and race" (10). The paradigm of transcendence suggests a problematic de-contexualization of patriarchal realities, as if they could be understood as analytical, distinct from the historical and sociological contexts in which they function. Some scholars though, have long argued that the multiple identities often engender conflict as one tries to negotiate between the social and the familial; and/or between communities with multiple layers of oppressions (Alcoff1). Linda Alcoffattempts to unpack this discussion of intersectionality, so invoked in feminist discourses of multiplicity, in her informational book, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, showing how in reality, there are multiple ways identities can intersect with correspondingly different effects and political implications. But more importantly, the colonial and postcolonial experiences force colonized women to learn how to situate themselves in this new geopolitical landscape and how to believe in their collective and individual identities, as Homi Bhabha has claimed for marginal groups emerging from unexplained places. Thus, women's diverse identities, experiences and plurality of values must be emphasized as imperative to understand fully the gendered contexts of agency. In the case of The Family, Buchi Emecheta, in attempting to interpret the Caribbean identity through the act of mime, portrays the protagonist's transnational migration patterns and the imperial relations in England that render invisible Jamaican and other people of color. She also offers a view of how familial identities in Jamaica operate, where there is the appearance of gestures of the dominant patriarchal values, but at the same time excessive female-to-female subordination and complex layering of sexual politics. The novel facilitates an argument of agency and negotiations while calling into question the wider system in which identity is located. It thus destabilizes patriarchal culture and norms of essentialist and dualistic social theory. It describes how Gwendolen, the adolescent protagonist, survives in spite of the unpleasantness of the experiences she undergoes. To Carole Boyce Davies, "Emecheta is clearly speaking against an essentialized, romanticized Caribbean identity" (20). In so doing, Emecheta releases her character from the fixity of patriarchal conventions, giving Gwendolen agency to shape and control her future. Subsequently, the young woman accomplishes this feat through a naming ritual that links her to her African roots.1

Through Gwendolen's story, Emecheta provides a space to rethink cultural vocabularies, as a way of shifting perceptions of connectedness from a national to a global terrain. She also suggests provocative, subtle, and complex nuances of ongoing debates on female subjugation, postcoloniality, and globalization. Precisely because her novels reveal much about ways in which everyday life articulates larger realities such as subjugation, war, terror, sexual violence, and so forth, the primary trope revolves around fatherless children in societies that embody patriarchal principles. But at the same time she provides a relentless voice for defiant women characters in self-actualization to protest victimization. Gwendolen is a complex signifier of the productive fantasies of freedom and of an ambivalent engagement on the sexual oppression she encounters at a very early age. Dreams of being free and self-actualization discourse surround the many stories of migration and globalization of the many Gwendolens.

Naming and Agency

Intersubjectivity, social interaction, and communication are the processes and conditions through which an individual can gain access to negotiation. We live in a time shaped by social forces that signify both belonging and individuality. …

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