African Literature and Culture

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African Literature and Culture:
African writers’ representation of male-female relationships

Analyzing male-female relationships in African literature enables a better understanding of how African writers view the gender roles including the application of religious aspects, marriage and identity, midwives and slave women, nationalism, and migration. In earlier works, the female gender was often perceived as “the Queen Mother.” Many African writers portray women in traditional roles whereas articles written in the past few decades analyze male-female relationships with a more feminist approach. This paper will analyze articles by leading African writers concerning the representation of the male-female relationship.

In 1997, Jamaica Kincaid’s book entitled The Autobiography of My Mother opened the eyes of readers to the life of the protagonist and narrator, Xuela Claudette Potter Richardson. This character is a woman whose willful hardness of heart wields a difficult, unsympathetic character through a disturbing tale of unequal male-female relationships.Gender roles are predominant in the author’s correlations of sexuality and power and a legacy of colonialism and racism. The female role in Kincaid’s book is one that is hardened by life and by the negligence of the male counterpart (Xuela’s father). Nevertheless, Xuela’s mother is portrayed as a giver of unselfish love (she gave her life for her child –hence, she died during childbirth) while the father is a persona of indifference and casual cruelty of which the narrator later comes to associate with the ways of the British colonizers who taught her father about money and greed, power and domination.

In many African texts (Sofola 1998; Cooper 1995), the female gender is stereotyped as the fertile and nurturing Earth Mother to the lazy, debauched young beauty. This was the African woman’s identity -the mother, the caretaker; not the provider or independent woman known in today’s society. Subsequently, the difference in the gender roles is a division of labor that exists between African men and women, whereby men were generally responsible for war and long-distance trade, helped clear land, hunted, and ran political affairs, while women took care of agriculture, household tasks such as supplying water and firewood, nearby gardening, and small-scale subsistence and neighborhood trading. Although women did harbor the responsibility of physical labor in the home, their primary function was the work connected with reproduction.

Legal and government-assigned rights historically held that the inheritance of goods and power was unequal between men and women. Another common setting is that the female’s role as producer and reproducer. While the male-female relationship depicted by African writers indicates bias on the part of the male toward the female, the African female gender is more respected than in other culture. African men -like other cultures- prefer to have sons over daughters, but the role of the female is needed. Women are most often portrayed as the caretakers of the home (cooking, cleaning, and washing) and as providers of heirs. Unlike the power of the male gender, African women were categorized in terms of power by their production of children.

As each author’s work is reviewed, the predominant factor is the role of the male gender as the leader, as somewhat better than the female gender. It is not until the review of “Healing the Hurt” (2004) that a clear distinction between the male-female gender is recognized. In fact, the author explains the male gender as the preferred while adding that the white male is preferred overall all other races. Concerning this very stigma, the author writes:

…looking out at a diverse body of students who are more often than not eager to tell me that racism and sexism are no longer a problem, that differences do not really matter, that no one notices because “we are all just people.” …the next time we meet I...
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