Myth and counterfactuality in diasporic African women’s novels

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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation focuses on the way in which a selection of novels by diasporic African women writers has, in different ways, engaged with myth in order to challenge dominant masculinist and essentialist narratives about women’s roles in African society. These authors either draw on traditional myths, challenge the mythologising function of nationalist histories or generate new forms of myths for the future. Although these novels are not counterfactual in the conventional sense–they do not change the outcomes of history–I argue that counterfactual theory offers a valuable way of analysing them. Each of the authors takes facts, historical figures, known histories, and myths, and reworks them in different ways, creating new versions of events where women play key roles. I demonstrate that analysing these texts as counterfactuals allows us to tease out how these authors challenge the androcentric notions of gender in myth and history by focusing their imagination on the silenced, elided, and undermined stories of African women. My reading of Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu (2014) and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016) explores how using myth to unsettle history and history to unsettle myth uncovers complex stories of African women. Wartime novels such as Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King (2019) and Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchard of Lost Souls (2013) focus on the mythologising function of nationalist histories in which certain stories are elevated to a position of dominance and others are suppressed or ignored. Whether constructed by the author or simulated by female characters, counterfactuals in the two novels construct worlds where women’s roles and experiences during wars are revealed. My analysis of Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer (2020) and Nnedi Okorafor’s two novels, The Book of Phoenix (2015) and Who Fears Death (2010), explores the genre of speculative fiction as a flexible space for experimenting with the counterfactual framework in telling African women’s stories through new forms of myths. The analysis shows that while narratives such as myth and history seem fixed and controlling, counterfactuals are valuable tools for unsettling their dominance.
AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Geen opsomming beskikbaar
Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2022.
African diaspora in literature, Makumbi, Jennifer Nansubuga -- Criticism and interpretation, Women authors, African -- Criticism and interpretation, Gyasi, Yaa -- Criticism and interpretation, Mengiste, Maaza -- Criticism and interpretation, Mohamed, Nadifa, 1981- -- Criticism and interpretation, UCTD