Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Haunting Past: The Mother Link to Inviting Roots in Chika Unigwe's Night Dancer

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Haunting Past: The Mother Link to Inviting Roots in Chika Unigwe's Night Dancer

Article excerpt

Introduction

Time and again, the Nigerian literary tradition since the publication of Things Fall Apart (Achebe 1958) throws up works that sustain interest. One such in the first quarter of the twenty-first century is Unigwe's (2013) Night Dancer. Unigwe is a contemporary bilingual Nigerian female writer, writing in Dutch and English. Her first work, De Feniks, appeared in 2005. She was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2013, which was later won by Tope Folarin in 2013. She was selected for Hay Festival's Africa39, a list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40, who possess the potential and talent for making an impact in African literature. Her second novel, Fata Morgana, was published in Dutch in 2008 and subsequently released in English. Titled On Black Sisters ' Street in its English translation and winning the 2012 Nigeria NLG Prize, Unigwe's novel is about African prostitutes living and working in Belgium. The above works, including her BlackMessiah (2014), a novel about the prodigious black slave narrative writer Olaudah Equiano, have helped Unigwe to firmly establish herself as a culturally committed writer in the contemporary Nigerian literary space. She is currently married with children. This last biographical fact, interestingly, sharply contrasts the characters she projects in Night Dancer, her fourth work.

Night Dancer is a work depicting a character's quest for her roots, her father, though the circumstances left behind by her dead mother, whom she earlier hated but later misses, leave much to be cherished. The plot of Night Dancer is by no means farfetched in this tradition. In Things Fall Apart (Achebe 1958), Okonkwo in exile never stops to dwell on when he would return to his homeland, Umuofia, the clan of his father. In Okoye's (1981) Chimere, Chimere, the eponymous character, brushes aside the urgent restraint from her mother to seek her father, Enuma. In Agary's (2006) Yellow-Yellow, Zilayefa, in missing her father, considers any white man her father's kin. She displaces her father's image on whoever seems to have related skin color. She even exceeds this filial bond and falls in love as she does with Papadoupolous. Worthy of note in the above works is that the major characters' mothers, except for Okonkwo, are instrumental in their upbringing at their fathers' desertion.

However, in Night Dancer, a major feature stands out-a daughter later misses the mother she scorned and hated after she finds her father. Mma hates her mother (although she later irremediably loves and pines for her at a time she could no longer have her around, the tragic part of it all) when alive by buying into the societal attitude that her mother was selfish. She comes to learn that her dead mother had made all the sacrifices for being unwilling to allow an illegitimate son by a maid possess equal place with her, a legitimate daughter. This sacrifice Mma was oblivious to. By the time she gets to know, her mother has died of stomach cramp. While on her death throes receiving medical attention in the hospital, her mother sends for Mma, but Mma rebuffs. Later, when the revelation of her mother's true nature, actions, and sacrifices wafts into her, the remorse becomes too great to contain, as she discovers that the opportunity for making amends would never come again. The plot of Night Dancer may on the surface be that of quest for a father, but beneath, it is the quest for her mother's real self. Remembering her mother and sticking to her injunction to read the scraps of papers in a shoe box, her mother presents herself as the link to the past, both in terms of biology, as the woman who bore her, and through the revelation documented. In the end, finding her father would mark the climax of this revelation and paradoxically open a vista of sorrow for sin too great to atone for, the setting of trauma experienced at another level.

Thus in the Night Dancer, we are faced with the question Unigwe is asking: Are the actions of Mma, which could be representative of present opinions and unfounded and unexamined attitudes toward single mothers in present-day Nigeria, warranted? …

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