Post-colonial literature has been instrumental in bringing awareness and understanding of indigenous culture to outsiders. This could be said of post-colonial African Literature too. Gender issues are one important aspect of indigenous African culture. And African women writers of recent decades have investigated and evaluated these issues from both historical and sociological viewpoints. The two novels in discussion – So Long a Letter and Everything Good Will Come – delve deeply into women’s issues in their respective countries. The rest of this essay will highlight, compare and contrast the gender issues discussed in these novels. In particular it will argue that the two books in question bring key insight, understanding and a message of hope to women’s issues in their respective countries.
So Long a Letter (originally published in French as ‘Une si longue lettre’), gives voice to women of Senegal in particular and Western Africa in general. It is written by Mariama Ba and is semi-autobiographical in content. Ramatoulaye Fall is the protagonist and first-person narrator of this epistolary novel. Addressed to her close friend Aissatou Ba, the letter was prompted by the narrator’s recent and unexpected widowhood. Ramatoulaye recounts to Aissatou the circumstances and the shock accompanying her husband’s death due to heart-attack. But having adopted the novel form, the letter touches upon topics far and beyond that of her immediate grief. And through her forays into all aspects of women’s social rules and restrictions the feminist voice of the author comes alive. (Ba-Curry et.al, 2008, p.112) Especially astute are Ba’s grasp of interpersonal equations and balance of power between the two genders:
“A woman is like a ball; once a ball is thrown, no one can predict where it will bounce. You have no control over where it rolls, and even less over who gets it. Often it is grabbed by an unexpected hand…Whereas a woman draws from the passing years the force of her devotion, despite the ageing of her companion, a man, on the other hand, restricts his field of tenderness. His egoistic eye looks over his partner’s shoulder. He compares what he had with what he no long has, what he has with what he could have. (Ba, 1980, p.42)
The novel Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta has thematic similarities in that its protagonist also is a girl living in postcolonial Nigeria and England. But compared to Miriama Ba’s work, Atta’s novel is created in a much broader canvas, covering political developments, ethnic conflict, crime as well as interpersonal relationships. The chief character in the novel is that of Enitan, who is confronting in her life various issues that have engulfed postcolonial Nigeria. Some of the most realistic and poignant passages in the novel pertain to the ethnic strife between groups such as Youruba, Igbo (Biafrans) and Housas, which has stifled progress and development in sovereign Nigeria. (Olowonmi, 2008, p.55) Sefi Atta emphasizes ‘bonding’ as a mechanism for achieving communal bliss. Via bonding, key characters in the story are able to share their burden and fight bravely to resist their oppressors and seek freedom for their loved ones. Dismantling this cloak of disillusionment then becomes a text-type for the survival of democratic governance in her country. According to the United Nations’ Global Human Development Report (2002) governance in action includes institutions, rules and political processes. And these factors determine if economies grow, children go to school, and whether human development moves forward or backward. Thus, this perspective