Womanhood as colonized, Manhood as Colonizer in Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood

In The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta indirectly suggests an identification of the concept of Womanhood-Manhood with the concept of Colonized-Colonizer (in the postcolonial phase) respectively. With careful observation and remarkable diligence she beautifully interweaves and presents a strong connection, establishing astounding relationship between the two powerful concepts occurring simultaneously in the Ibo society. She, at the same time, hoaxes at both the concepts and with severe sarcastic criticisms brings down the veil that so hypocritically envelops both the practices. She seems to be suggesting that both the practices are malicious deceptions where the more powerful entity dominates and benefits over the less powerful entity. Endurance and subsequent acceptance of the power by the subdued one is the key area of criticism here. Like the slaves, the woman of the Ibu society is compelled to accept and endure the unreasonable dominance.

            Emecheta draws two pictures, one complimenting the other with a kind of admiration and distaste or even rejection at the same time. On one hand the black servant gets subdued by the white master, on the other hand the Ibu woman is subdued by the Ibu man. Like servitude is looked down upon by the master, womanhood is looked down upon by manhood. A conversation between Nnu Ego and Cordelia exemplifies this when Cordelia, the wife of Ubani explains it to Nnu Ego in the following words, “Men here are too busy being white men’s servants to be men. […] Their manhood has been taken away from them. The shame of it is that they don’t know it. […] They are all slaves, including us. If their masters treat them badly, they take it out on us. The only difference is that they are given some pay for their work, instead of having been bought. But the pay is just enough for us to rent an old room like this.” (51). Hence, it is also revealed through Cordelia that the situation of the woman in the Ibu society is more serious and fateful than that of the Ibu servant in an arrangement of the white-man-master and black-man-servant. The difference here is that the Ibu woman is actually ‘bought’ by the Ibu man as his wife and many-a-times without the woman’s consent as in case of Nnu Ego. This is reflective of the practice of the Colonizer-colonized relationship during colonialism which should be something now belonging to the past. But even though the colonial phase is over, the impressions are still alive in the master-servant arrangement. This is clear when Cordelia says, “But the pay is just enough for us to rent an old room like this.” (51). It is clear that the black servant is still being exploited by the white master, only that the legal owning of the black man as a slave by the white master has received another name.

The effects and reminiscences of the past slavery is echoed in the present Ibu society. The man of the Ibu society still engages in the practice of buying a wife rather than winning one with the latter’s consent and permission. The identification of the colonizer-colonized arrangement of the colonial period is mirrored in the Ibu society here. This can also be seen in the protagonist, Nnu Ego’s contempt and rejection of her husband and his job. There are more than one reference to this made by the author. Nnu has contempt for the “horrible-looking men” and their sense and awareness “of their inadequacy”, and their “animal passion”, like her husband. The author further relates, “She felt humiliated, but what was she to do?” (44). Another time she tells the mind of Nnu, “She had at first rejected his way of earning a living and had asked him why he could not find a more respectable job.” (47). And yet in another instance, Nnu finally encounters her husband and retorts, “You behave like a slave!” (50). Through Nnu Ego, Emecheta reveals the ironic connection between the two heavily ridiculed concepts, one that exists in the Ibu society and  the other more powerful concept of slavery that exists even after colonial rule is over. The Ibu man’s dominance and sickening control over the Ibu woman’s fate and existence looks like the manifestation of the Ibu man’s desire and admiration of dominating like his white master. This reveals the complex yet conspicuous identification of womanhood with the colonized and manhood with the colonizer in Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood.

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