Personal Identity in African Literature
In a world where categorizing everything from types of vehicles to shoe styles to genres of music is the dominant way of living, some things that do not fit neatly into a category are often ridiculed and unacceptable. These uncategorized things can be, and quite often are, people of mixed race or people who do not conform to society’s definition of normal. These uncategorized people are often ostracized by society and forced to live a life full of shame; however, uncategorized people approach their situation in unique ways that change their life forever.
In Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price the protagonist Aku-nna is often thought of as being different and, in the end, pays dearly for her distinctiveness. The reason for Aku-nna being unique may be because she grew up in the city and moving to a small village was a big change for her. She is much more educated than the other girls in her village and she enjoys going to school and reading. In addition, Aku-nna falls in love with Chike, the descendent of slaves, and this upsets everyone in their village. Their love for one another is so forbidden that they must move to another village where they can live their life at peace. Aku-nna’s high education and her marriage to Chike made her extremely unusual to the people in her village. In the end, she is hated by most, if not all, of the village because she had broken their traditional customs. Aku-nna is not considered normal in her village. She is considered a girl who is at the age where she is ready to marry but her high education makes Aku-nna different from other girls. Most people in her village who get an education as high as hers are boys. Furthermore, Aku-nna’s forbidden marriage to Chike leaves her in a position where she is not a slave but she is not considered a free person in her village anymore. She does not fit into either category because she married a descendent of slaves. Her village, especially her uncle, reacts in disgust by doing things to make her life miserable or her family’s life miserable. For example, Aku-nna’s uncle divorces her mother not long after Aku-nna leaves with Chike. Shortly thereafter Aku-nna dies while giving birth to her first child. Aku-nna’s plight is demonstrates how a person who has no category is often thought of as meeting an untimely end.
In addition, Ramatoulaye in Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter also shows qualities of a person with no group to associate with. Ramatoulaye led a happy life with her husband, Modou, despite the fact that her family did not like the marriage because Modou had not paid a proper bride price for her. When Modou leaves to take a second, younger wife Ramatoulaye remains married to him and is left to become the head of the household. Then, upon Modou’s death Ramatoulaye turns down many offers of marriage. Her explanation for her behavior is that she does not love them. Ramatoulaye’s resistance to culturally accepted practices, with the exception of her staying married to Modou after he left, and her desire for love to dominate a relationship makes Ramatoulaye very unique. Most other women in the story do as they are told and try their hardest not to do anything shameful. Ramatoulaye, on the other hand, married without a bride price, refused to marry respectable men, and wanted love above all else. For these reasons, she had no category in her society; however, Ramatoulaye lived a content life and found happiness in her children. Even though she was different, she did not let it drive her crazy but, in fact, she welcomed her distinction from society. She was happy to be able to move on with her life as an independent woman who was just trying to raise her children as best as she could. Although Ramatoulaye was unusual, she overcame it and proceeded to live a happy, fulfilling life with the knowledge that she would not conform to society’s ideals on marriage because she wanted love.
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Finally, “The Red Velvet Dress” by Farida Karodia’s main character Katrina was so different that it eventually drove her to kill the man she knew as her father. In regards to her awkwardness, Katrina explains, “I had always been an outsider: my course hair and dark skin, anomalies amongst the blonde hair and blue eyes of our community”. Even at a young age, Katrina was alienated at school and at church because she was much darker than everyone else. As she began to grow up, Katrina was molested by the man she knew to be her father. When her best friend, who is colored, commits suicide because Katrina’s so called father got her pregnant for a second time and kicked her out of the house, Katrina loses her mind and erupts with the pop of a gun. She kills her father with one shot of a shotgun. She spent 25 years in prison. Later, Katrina finds out that man was not her real father and that her real father had been murdered when she was young. Katrina’s distinct appearance made her different and, ultimately, forced her to kill the man she knew as her father.
Although these characters are fictitious, their struggle to come to terms with what makes them different helps them find their own identity. In the end, Aku-nna learns that even though she is educated and lives outside her village, she is still deeply held in her native religion because dies during childbirth due to her bride price not being paid; Ramatoulaye comes to understand that she must independently raise her children and that she will never marry if she does not love the man; and Katrina literally finds her identity by learning that the man she thought was
her father was not. These realizations can be learned from. Quite often it is not what society thinks of a person but what the person thinks of them self that really matters most. It does not matter if a person fits perfectly into one category, one idea, or one place. What matters is what one is able to do with their uniqueness. Does a person give into society’s pressures to be “normal”? Or does a person fight to maintain their individuality, their personal identity?
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