The Dilemma of the Woman as Writer and Protagonist in Contemporary African Fiction.
This study examines the dilemma of the woman as writer and protagonist in African fiction, south of the Sahara Major critical works, anthologies and writings on creative literature have not always paid adequate attention to women. Female writers have suffered from social and academic limitations that have unfortunately forced them to produce less than their male counterparts, in literary terms. The results of these limitations include the persistence of a male-dominated point of view which has made difficult the emergence of the female writers' self-perceptions which could offer unique insights into the inner and external realities of African Womanhood. Thus, the paucity of attention paid to women as writers and protagonists and the various ways in which writers - male and female - present their heroines have encouraged the need to examine further the female character in African fiction. The study is in two parts. The first part approaches the dilemma of the woman in fiction from the standpoint of male writers such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Sembene Ousmane and Abrahams. Although Onitsha pamphlet authors and Cyprian Ekwensi present heroines who appear to be flat traditional stereotypes, other writers like Sembene Ousmane correct any assumption that all female characters created by male novelist lack depth of character and potential revolutionary attributes. These varied and sometimes complex approaches also characterize the female writers' response which constitutes the second part of the study. As would be expected, writings by the women studied show a preponderance of female characters. Through the realistic and in-depth exploration of their heroines' fictive lives, female writers often depart from male fantasies to explode myths about women. For example, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta and Bessre Head expose, the turbulence that engulfs the lives of their heroines who are torn between obedience and self-assertion. Also, characters are realistically handled: hence the faithful portrayal of the heroines' strengths as well as their weaknesses. As writers of fictions, women have contributed qualitatively to the development of African literature. Of significance is Flora Nwapa's contribution in the area of family life and in the utilization of the dialogue structure to reflect the daily lives of her protagonists. Grace Ogot succeeds as a unique short story writer while Bessie Head particularizes the tensions of apartheid through the examination of the innermost recesses of a woman's mind. The female writers' respective visions thus combine with those of the male writers to assist towards the unfolding of the complex and diverse images of the woman in contemporary African fiction.