A Woman's Role in Colonial African Literature

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Over the years, women have fought for equal positioning in male-dominated societies. Oftentimes throughout this struggle they are overlooked in every facet of life: political agenda, idea formulation, and even literature. Despite this overall lack of representation, in some bright, shining moments, women have also found themselves as pivotal characters in these arenas. Such is the dichotomy of women's roles in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Bessie Head's When Rain Clouds Gather. Though both stories center around impoverished, African villages, the role of women in each greatly vary. In one, strong women play title roles, though they are heavily backed up by lesser women of the village. In the other, the women are feeble and timid, allowing their men to daily tread upon them. In addition, each text has its own view of opposing gender roles – one where women are a forceful and irreplaceable asset to society, and the other where women are thought of as little more than wives.

In the African villages represented, women play an interesting supporting role to their male counterparts. In Head's Things Fall Apart, the village has six main characters, three of whom are women: Dinorego, Gilbert, Makhaya, Paulina, Maria, and Mma-Millipede. These three women hold dominant positions in society, although are frowned upon and spoken about by the other women, though they are secretly jealous of these women's domineering attitudes and saddened by their own misshapen lives: "All [the women of the town] had permanent lovers while Paulina Sebeso had none, and even a tradition was forming about her. A few men said she was too bossy. They all said it, overlooking the fact that they were wilting, effeminate shadows of men who really feared women. Things went smoothly as long as all women pretended to be inferior to this spineless species." (89) Paulina serves as one of the few characters with the ability to subvert the dominant pattern of female action. The...
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