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Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

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1.1 Background to the Study

In many countries in Africa, women are faced with the greatest barrier of becoming self-fulfilled. This is experienced in the socio-cultural sphere were women are the quiet members of the community and their homes. They are financially dependent on their husbands and at the same time bear children and care for their families. Women traditionally had been regarded as being inferior to men, physically and intellectually. Nowadays, women have started showing resentment on the limitations meted on them by society.

As a result of this, they have become consciously aware and have started asking questions. The background of some female characterization seen in the novels of Elechi Amadi, The Concubine (1966), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1957) and Arrow of God (1964) have awakened the zeal and interest of some writers like Flora Nwapa, Alkali Zaynab and Emecheta Buchi and other female writers to vividly portray the status of women in society and project the positive image of womanhood in society.

Their works are a form of reaction, resistance to meanings of womanhood provided by men. Through their personal experiences on womanhood, women’s sensibilities, reactions and reviewers in a heterosexual relationship, politics and sex, some of these female writers portray assertive female characters. These female characters in the process of searching for their true identity caused as a result of the neglect by society, try to prove their confidence and individuality by asserting themselves in their different communities.

With the introduction and spread of western education and Christianity in Nigeria, power relationships between men and women have changed considerably. Traditional norms and values have not been spared either by the change which began during the colonial period and gained more ground after colonialism and the Nigerian Civil War.

Adeline Apena states that the Nigerian Civil War also known as the Biafra War (1967 – 1970) transformed social values and almost revolutionized gender relations and attitudes towards sexuality (284)1 . Among the social effects which Apena identifies is the emergence of a new breed of women who are very different from those often depicted in African male writings. In fact, in their literary production, African male writers very often marginalize women, urging Kumah (2000 : 6) to contend that :

As a consequence of the male-dominated literary tradition, many of the depictions of African women are reductive – perpetuating popular myths of female subordination. Female characters in male-authored works are rarely granted primary status – their roles often trivialized to varying degrees – and they are depicted as silent and submissive in nature.( 2)

Not only are female characters silent and submissive but wife beating, without retaliation in most cases, is also common in African male-authored novels. Ekwefi and Ojiugo in Things Fall Apart (1958), Agom and Nwadi in Highlife for Lizards (1965), Wangari in A Grain of Wheat (1967), Ahurole in The Concubine (1966), Nyokabi in Weep Not Child (1964), Maram in Buur Tilleen (1972), Wanja‟s cousin in Petals of Blood (1977), etc. have all undergone this phenomenon.

Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

Self-assertion has been an outstanding issue in feminist philosophy. It seeks autonomy and self-definition for women as opposed by the dependency and inferiority status conferred on women by the patriarchal society. When the concept is applied to literature it stands for the female assertion, an effort by women to claim proper treatment in society and at home, not out of pity and by consideration, but by right.

It is a fight for recognition of their rights in society. It involves a positive inquiry to the female personality and her condition, a phenomenon which has come to be known as women’s liberation or feminism. The female characters assert themselves in different ways. Some may decide to leave their husbands or fight back; whichever decision they take, the result is that they try to discover themselves.

Another thematic commonality of African male writings which characterizes female subordination is the paramount importance which is granted to marriage for a woman. In Caught in the Storm (1963), for example, Mama Téné tells her daughter: “A girl’s noblest goal is her own home. Yes, her home, a husband and children. This is the greatest happiness.” (52).

Also, in Onuora Nzekwu‟s Highlife for Lizards, Udezue is so keen on his daughter and her fellow women teachers getting married that Nwakego asks him : “Do you ever think, Father, that girls are good for anything else but marriage?” (190). Again, in Elechi Amadi‟s The Concubine, Okachi is distressed by the fact that: “she – an old woman – should still be enjoying the protection and joys of a husband while her daughter, a mere child, was playing the widow.” (51).

This great importance accorded to marriage for woman can also be found in Maïmouna (1952), The Old Man and the Medal (1956), Things Fall Apart (1958), Three Suitors, One Husband (1960), Agatha Moudio‟s Son (1965), Chirundu (1979), etc. This misogynic portrayal of women frustrated some African women intellectuals who set out to write so as to depict a fair image of women. In order to deconstruct these two patterns of the literary production of African men writers, African women writers, in their novels, would give the woman the “freedom to express her thoughts fully and to convert them freely into action.”(3)

 These female writers also show women that marriage is not the only way, they “make their female protagonists burst the marriage institution when it becomes too subjugating.”4 This is illustrated in Efuru (1966), Second Class Citizen (1974), Woman at Point Zero (1975), The Joys of Motherhood (1979), So Long a Letter (1979), Kehinde (1994). This can also be seen in One is Enough (1981) where Nwapa depicts female characters who are remarkable by their freedom of expression and who retaliate when their husbands beat them.

Nwapa also presents Amaka, the heroine, who not only leaves her husband but refuses to remarry as well. One may then wonder what inspiration women should draw from Amaka‟s uncommon choices. From an African feminist perspective, the article sets out to analytically cast light on female self-affirmation and selffulfilment in Nwapa‟s One Is Enough (1981), which figuratively features the changes in social values, gender relations and attitudes towards sexuality in Nigeria after colonialism and the Biafra war.

Defining African feminism, Cakpo-Chichi, Gbaguidi and Djossou state that : “… feminism is the woman’s freedom to decide her own destiny, freedom from sex determined role, freedom from society’s oppression and restrictions, freedom to express her thoughts fully and to convert them freely into action.” 5 In other words, feminism advocates the woman’s right to lead the life which she has chosen without any societal restriction based on her gender. It also advocates the woman’s right to express her opinions and put them into practice freely

According to Meriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “assertion” “as an act of affirming one’s self or one’s own rights or claims, the quality of being self-asserting”. The compact Oxford English Dictionary also defines it “as the confident and forceful expression of one’s own desires, opinions or personality. Asserting oneself or one’s own right or claim; hence putting oneself forward in a confident or assuming manner.”(5767)

Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

However, Emecheta negotiates between African and western ideologies. In Second Class Citizen her ideological focus is on female assertion; the projection of a powerful compelling voice. Her interest revolves around women’s unique confrontation with male superiority; female subjectivity and socially endorsed norms that restrict her progress. Emecheta’s heroine struggled to conquer the predicament of poverty, unhappiness and molestation (brutality).

She highlights more on the ruthlessness of the traditional system in which women exist only to give pleasure to the man, bear children, keep the house and eventually receive punches. Emecheta’s protagonists include the deprived, discontented and social misfits, the slaves, and the pathetic mothers who give all to their families but reap no rewards. However, the thematic message of Buchi Emecheta is that the females, even in the face of an oppressive system of deep-rooted norms, practices and beliefs in female subordination must always strive and assert herself. It is against this back drop that this research work seeks to examine female self-assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One is Enough

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Over the years, patrichal, domination, sexual abuses, oppression, subjugation, and abusive words by their male counterparts and some obnoxious cultural practices have push women to the level of second-class citizen even in their home land. In the same vein, female writers’ works also portrayed problems like, oppression, discrimination affliction by mother-in-laws, sisters-in-laws and co-wives.

African cultural practices underrate women and humiliate them to the lowest minimum. However, by speaking for other African women, these  Nigerian writers uses their literary works as a gate way of portraying what their fellow women are passing through…and to find ways of eradicating the above mentioned issues  under investigation and for the betterment of both sexes in the society.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The main objective of the study was to examine female self-assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One is Enough and the specific objectives of the study are:

(i)   to investigate female assertion in the novels under study as portrays by the authors.

(ii)   to examine the important of female assertion in African societies

(iii)  to investigate the impact of female assertion in the novels under investigation.

1.4   Significance of the study

The study will be significance to African women with regards to cultural domination. The study will also be of significance to students of English and literature and other researchers who will find this work important. It will also help women voices to be heard in the society

1.5 Scope and Limitation of the study

The scope of this study will be limited to the work of Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One is Enough, while literature novels, articles, journals, internet and library works will be added as its secondary sources for more information.

Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

1.6 Research Methodology 

This study will adopt a qualitative research as it methodology. It is conducted using selected works of Buchi Emecheta and Flora Nwapa’s: Second Class Citizen and One is Enough as sources for primary data. These texts are used to examine the projections of female self-assertion in Nigerian literature. Materials for critical analysis and reviews of related literature are library and internet based. Other secondary sources include articles, newspapers, journals and textbooks about feminism in Nigeria literature

1.7 Theoretical Framework (African Feminism)

This research adopts African feminism as its theoretical framework. In the work, African feminism is distinguished from its precursors that dominated the scene before 1960, after which varieties of modern feminism continue to flourish. This discourse does not countenance the complexities and the intricacies of conceptualizing or taxonomizing Africa. Africa, in this context, will refer to the geographical space rather than the metaphorical or historiographical polemics. Feminism in the African context, according to Ogundipe-Leslie, “is not calling for a reversal of gender roles, and it is not a call for a particular sexual orientation; neither is it in opposition to men and African culture.”(7 )

African feminism recognizes the existence of other forms of feminism such as liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, cultural feminism and Islamic feminism. African feminism, according to Ogundipe-Leslie, is “a kind of red flag to the bull of African men.”(8) African feminism, therefore, calls for the overhauling and amelioration of the conditions of women in which women will be economically, politically and socially empowered to enable them to be involved in the societal transformation without compromising their motherhood and recognizing their biological and reproductive rights. 9 Although this view is also shared by other forms of feminism, African feminism lays more emphasis on the complementary roles of both genders in enhancing societal growth and development in addition to the welfare of women. Mekgwe defines African feminism, while acknowledging the complexities that surround the linguistic and socio-cultural realities of African women, as:

A discourse that takes care to delineate those concerns peculiar to the African situation. It also questions features of traditional African values without denigrating them, understanding that these might be viewed differently to the different classes of women.(10)

That is the concern of Olomojobi when he says that African feminism is concerned with African nuances without disparaging them in view of the various socio-economic classes and socio-cultural backgrounds that define the identities of the African women. He says that:

African feminism rests on the notion that women in Africa are socially constructed by different cultural components. . . . The theory attempts to shift away from misleading notions of equating western values with non-western societies. The point to bear in mind is that African women have different identities and primordial attachment to region and cultural determinants than women from western societies. (11)

One of the main objectives of African feminism, according to Arndt, is to dismantle the current atmosphere of domination and then transform the concept of gender roles in African societies in order to improve the conditions of African women. In his conceptualization of African feminism, Badeji shows that womanness is the center of African feminism. In addition, he describes the relationship between power and femininity as mutual. He also captures other features of African feminism thus:

African feminism embraces femininity, beauty, power, serenity, inner harmony, and a complex matrix of power. It is always poised and centered in womanness. It demonstrates that power and femininity are intertwined rather than antithetical. African femininity complements African masculinity, and defends both with the ferocity of the lioness while simultaneously seeking male defense of both as critical, demonstrable, and mutually obligatory.(13)

Female Self-Assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One Is Enough

African feminism critically interrogates gender discrimination from the African perspective with a view to elevating the roles of African women who are seen traditionally as the carriers of societal encumbrances and whose roles must be made complementary to the roles of the men. It is only in this context that African women can be liberated from the socio-cultural, patriarchal and phallocentric shackles that have tied them down for long, without which the entire African continent will remain in bondage.

This theory is apposite for this paper because it condemns and opposes all forms of gender discrimination and prejudices experienced by African women. It also recognizes the biological and motherly roles of women which do not inhibit them from participating in societal transformation as men do. The above theory will help and guide the researcher to carefully examine female self-assertion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and Flora Nwapa’s One is Enough

1.8 Bio-Data of the Authors

1.8.1 Bio-Data of Buchi Emecheta

Buchi Emecheta, the author of The Joys of Motherhood, was born in 1944 of Ibuza parentage but brought up in Lagos. In 1982 she became a graduate of sociology from the London University before coming to University of Calabar, where she was appointed a senior research fellow in the department of English and literary studies. Buchi won the 1978 Rock Campbell award. Her novels have so much impact that she was described by Sunday times journalist as  ’a natural born water’ when she published Second-class Citizen.

1.8.2 Bio-Data of Flora Nwapa

Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa (13 January 1931 – 16 October 1993), was a Nigerian author who has been called the mother of modern African Literature. She was the forerunner to a generation of African women writers, and the first African woman novelist to be published in the English language in Britain. She achieved international recognition with her first novel Efuru, published in 1966 by Heinemann Educational Books. While never considering herself a feminist, she was best known for recreating life and traditions from an Igbo woman’s viewpoint.

She published African literature and promoted women in African society. She was one of the first African women publishers when she founded Tana Press in Nigeria in 1970. Nwapa engaged in governmental work in reconstruction after the Biafran War; in particular, she worked with orphans and refugees who were displaced during the war.

After returning to Nigeria, Nwapa joined the Ministry of Education in Calabar as an Education Officer until 1959. She then took employment as a teacher at Queen’s School in Enugu, where she taught English and Geography from 1959 to 1962. She continued to work in both education and the civil service in several positions, including as Assistant Registrar, University of Lagos (1962–67). After the Nigerian civil war of 1967–70, she accepted cabinet office as Minister of Health and Social Welfare in East Central State (1970–71), and subsequently as Minister of Lands, Survey and Urban Development (1971–74). She was a visiting lecturer at Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education in Owerri, Nigeria. In 1989, she was appointed a visiting professor of creative writing at University of Maiduguri.


  1. Efuru, Heinemann Educational Books, 1966; Waveland Press, 2013, ISBN 9781478613275
  2. Idu, Heinemann African Writers Series, No. 56, ISBN 0-435-90056-0; 1970
  3. Never Again, Enugu: Tana Press, 1975; Nwamife, 1976; Africa World Press, 1992, ISBN 9780865433182
  4. One Is Enough, Enugu: Flora Nwapa Co., 1981; Tana Press, 1984; Africa World Press, 1992, ISBN 9780865433229
  5. Women are Different, Enugu: Tana Press, 1986; Africa World Press, 1992, ISBN 9780865433267
  6. The Lake Goddess, Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press, 1995

Short stories/poems

  1. This Is Lagos and Other Stories, Enugu: Nwamife, 1971; Africa World Press, 1992, ISBN 9780865433212
  2. Wives at War and Other Stories, Enugu: Nwamife, 1980; Flora Nwapa Co./Tana Press, 1984; Africa World Press, 1992, ISBN 9780865433281
  3. Cassava Song and Rice Song, Enugu: Tana Press, 1986

Children’s books

  1. Emeka, Driver’s Guard, London: University of London Press, 1972; Enugu: Flora Nwapa Company, 1987
  2. Mammywater, 1979; Enugu: Flora Nwapa Company, 1984
  3. The Adventures of Deke, Enugu: Flora Nwapa Co., 1980
  4. The Miracle Kittens, Enugu: Flora Nwapa Company, 1980
  5. Journey to Space, Enugu: Flora Nwapa Company, 1980

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