Writing marginality : history, authorship and gender in the fiction of Zoe Wicomb and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ngwira, Emmanuel Mzomera (2013-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis puts the fiction of Zoë Wicomb and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie into conversation with particular reference to three issues: authorship, history and gender. Apart from anything else, what Wicomb and Adichie have in common is an interest in the representation of marginalised or minority ethnic groups within the nation - the coloured people in the case of Wicomb, and the Igbo in the case of Adichie. Yet what both writers also have in common is that neither seems to advocate the reification of these ethnic groups in reformulations of nationalist discourse. The thesis argues that through their focus on various forms of marginality, both Wicomb and Adichie destabilise traditional notions of nation, authorship, history, gender identity, the boundary between domestic and public life, and the idea of “home”. The thesis focuses on four main topics, each of which is covered in a chapter: the question of authorial voice in relation to history; perspectives offered by women characters in relation to oppressive or traumatic historical moments; oppressive or traumatic histories intruding into the intimate domestic space; and the issue of transnational migration and its (un)homely effects. Employing concepts of metafiction and mise-en-abyme self-reflexivity, the study begins by considering the ways in which Wicomb’s David’s Story and Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun both reflect on the idea of authorship. Focusing on the ways in which each text draws the reader into witnessing authorship, the thesis argues that the two novels can be put into conversation as they both stage dilemmas about authorship in relation to those marginalised by national histories. Following on from this idea of marginalisation by nationalist histories, the thesis then proceeds to examine both writers’ foregrounding of women’s stories that are set in oppressive and/or violent historical times – under apartheid in the case of Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, and during the Biafran war in the case of Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Utilising ideas about gender, history and literary history by Tiyambe Zeleza, Florence Stratton and Elleke Boehmer, the study analyses how, beginning with father-daughter relationships, Wicomb and Adichie wean their female characters from their fathers’ control so that they may begin telling their own stories that complicate and subvert the stories that their fathers represent. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s theory of “the uncanny” and Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial reading of that theory, the study then turns to discuss the ways in which oppressive national histories become manifest in domestic spaces (that are usually marginalised in national histories), turning those spaces into unhomely homes, in Wicomb’s Playing in the Light and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. In both novels, purity (whether racial or religious) is cultivated in the family home, but this cultivation of purity, which is reflected symbolically in the kinds of gardens each family grows, evidently has “unhomely” effects that signal the return of the repressed, of that which is disavowed in discourses of purity. Since both Wicomb and Adichie are African-born women authors living abroad, and since the “unhomely” aspects of transnational existence are reflected upon in their fiction, the study finally considers the forms of marginality to the national posed by the migrant. Transnational migration is examined in Wicomb’s The One That Got Away and in Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck, placing stories from these two recently published sets of short stories into dialogue.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis plaas die fiksie van Zoë Wicomb en Chimamandi Ngozi Adichie in gesprek met mekaar, met verwysing na veral drie sake: outeurskap, geskiedenis en geslag (gender). Afgesien van ander kwessies het die fiksie van Wicomb en Adichie ‘n belangstelling in die fiktiewe voorstelling van gemarginaliseerde of minderheidsgroepe in die nasie in gemeen – die kleurlinggroep in die geval van Wicomb en die Igbo in die geval van Adichie. Nogtans beveel geeneen van hierdie twee skrywers ‘n reïfikasie van nasionalistiese diskoers aan nie. Die tesis voer aan dat, deur hulle fokus op verskeie vorme van marginaliteit, beide Wicomb en Adichie tradisionele konsepte van nasionalisme, skrywer-skap, geskiedenis, geslagsidentiteit, die grens tussen private en publieke lewe en die idee van ‘n eie tuiste destabiliseer. Die vier hoof-onderwerpe van die tesis is word elk in ‘n eie hoofstuk behandel: die kwessie van ‘n skrywerstem in verhouding tot die geskiedenis; perspektiewe wat belig word deur vrouekarakters in kontekste van onderdrukkende of traumatiese historiese momente; hoedat onderdrukkings- of traumatiese geskiedenisse die private sfeer binnedring; asook die kwessie van ‘n migrasie oor landsgrense en die ontheimingseffek hiervan. Deur die gebruik van metafisiese en mise-en-abyme selfrefleksie begin die studie deur te reflekteer op hoe Wicomb se David’s Story en Adichie se Half of a Yellow Sun [aangaande] die idee van outeurskap reflekteer. Deur te fokus op die wyses waarop beide tekste die leser betrek om skrywerskap waar te neem, voer die tesis aan dat die twee romans met mekaar in gesprek geplaas kan word, terwyl albei dilemmas van outeurskap met betrekking tot diegene wat in nasionale geskiedskrywing gemarginaliseer word, sentraal plaas. Volgende op hierdie kwessie gaan die tesis dan voort om albei skrywers se vooropstelling van vroue se verhale gesitueer in onderdrukkende of gewelddadige tye – onder apartheid in die geval van Wicomb se You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town en gedurende die Biafraanse oorlog in Adichie se Half of a Yellow Sun – te ondersoek. Met behulp van idees aangaande gender, geskiedenis en literêre geskiedenis van Tiyambe Zeleza, Florence Stratton en Elleke Boehmer, analiseer die tesis hoedat, beginnende met vader-dogter verhoudings, Wicomb en Adichie hul vroulike karakters loswikkel van hul vaders se kontrole sodat hulle kan begin om hul eie verhale te vertel – stories wat die verhale van hul vaders kompliseer en ondermyn. Met behulp van Sigmund Freud se teorie van die onheimlike en Homi Bhabha se postkolonialistiese interpretasie van daardie idee, gaan die tesis dan voort deur maniere waarop onderdrukkende nasionale geskiedenisse in die tuis-ruimtes (wat gewoonlik deur nasionale geskiedskrywing gemarginaliseer word) manifesteer, met die onheimlike effek hiervan op die tuisruimte – beide in Wicomb se Playing in the Light en in Adichie se Purple Hibiscus – te ondersoek. In albei romans word reinheid ( van ras of geloof) in die familie-tuiste gekultiveer, maar hierdie nadruk op reinheid – simbolies gereflekteer in die tuine wat deur albei gesinne aangelê word – het wel onmiskenbare onheimlike gevolge wat die terugkeer van wat onderdruk is (in die naam van reinheid) aandui. Omdat beide Wicomb en Adichie vroue-skrywers is wat in Afrika gebore is maar oorsee lewe, en omdat die onheimlike aspekte van ‘n transnasionale lewensstyl in hul fiksie oorweeg word, beskryf die tesis die vorms van marginaliteit met betrekking tot die nasionale wat deur die migrant tot stand kom. Transnasionale migrasie word in Wicomb se The One that Got Away en Adichie se The Thing around your Neck oorweeg, wat die verhale uit hierdie twee versamelings in gesprek met mekaar plaas.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/80229
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