CHILDLESSNESS IN FLORA NWAPA’S ONE IS
ENOUGH AND FEMI OSOFISAN’S WURAOLA,
The ugly and humiliating treatment meted out to childless women in African societies and the subsequent misrepresentation of these women characters in the literary works pose a great problem and raise a need for this research. The image created of these childless women in African fiction is so deplorable such that they are subjected to serious oppression, humiliation and even made to know that they have not much stake in the society. These women indeed suffer the pains of both cultural and societal injustices which stem from the patriarchal domineering nature of African societies, which all through history have been unfavourable to women. Using Flora Nwapa‘s novel, One is Enough and Osofisan‘s Wuraola, forever, the study examines the various traumatic experiences that childless women pass through in gender-biased societies like that of Amaka in One is Enough and Wura, in Wuraola, forever. It is the attempt to redeem the image of childless African women characters, whose status have been poorly debased in literary works that this research is set to achieve. The research therefore, calls for a review of attitude, thought, and approach towards childless women whose condition demand understanding and consolation.
1.1 Background to the Study
The undue victimization and societal humiliation experienced by childless women in traditional societies and in some African novels inspired this study. The image created of these characters is very deplorable even in African literature of the past and present. These unfortunate childless women are often vilified, victimized and even compelled to leave their matrimonial homes. Of course, women have often in every aspect of their lives, be it social, economic, educational, political or marital, not been well treated when compared with their male counterparts. This unfair treatment and prejudice stem from the patriarchal nature of African societies which blame every shortcoming in the families on the womenfolk. It is from this perspective that we are going to study Childlessness in the novels of Flora Nwapa and Femi Osofisan.
The clamour for posterity and the quest for increase in human capital have caused a lot of anxiety among married couples in Africa. The anxiety wanes with the appearance of the first pregnancy while signs of infertility after few years of marriage heighten the tension. The reason for this is that in African societies, the expectation of every family is procreation. Africans value children through marriages; for this reason, childlessness remains a lasting stigma in the lives of couples, especially the women.Childlessness, therefore, is one major problem that disintegrates marriages especially in Africa and puts some couples in perpetual agony. In the Western world, for instance, marriages break down mainly for reasons of infidelity, lack of trust, and lack of support from either partner,and so on. However, unlike in the Western world, the major factor that breaks marriages in African societies is childlessness.
This phenomenon is often blamed on the woman who is considered the object of procreation. Childlessness therefore appears to be the greatest plague that can befall any married couple in Africa.
Childless African women not only face family hatred but also societal scorn, mockery and isolation. This stigma shatters their joy and renders them hopeless in the family where they are meant to attain fulfilment as wives. Above all, childlessness threatens the bond that unites a wife with her husband thereby reducing her to the status of an outcast in her matrimonial home. It is, therefore, the root of most family crises and unrests in African societies till date.
This ugly situation of childless women in Africa has inspired Flora Nwapa and Femi Osofisan, who use their novels, One is Enough, and Wuraola, Forever respectively to x-ray the anomalies and injustices meted to childless wives. Through their novels, these feminists expose the emotional and psychological trauma faced by childless women.
CHILDLESSNESS IN FLORA NWAPA’S ONE IS
ENOUGH AND FEMI OSOFISAN’S WURAOLA,
Childlessness is a terrible situation in African matrimonial homes. It is such a topical issue that attracts the attention of every member of the society. This is because of the social, emotional, spiritual and psychological trauma it generates on both the couple and the extended family. It has raised a lot of dust that medical experts, churches, social workers, lawyers, literary artists and the entire society have joined in the campaign to address the problem and find solutions to it.
In her article, ―African Motherhood-Myth and Reality‖, Lauretta Ngcobo observes that ―Marriage amongst Africans is mainly an institution for the control of procreation. Every woman is encouraged to marry and get children in order to express her womanhood to the full‖ (533). This is because of the high premium placed on children as the symbol of family continuity and this accounts for the reason why procreation is considered the paramount and the primary purpose of any marriage contracted in Africa. For a man, it is a sacred duty towards his whole lineage to advance the family name. The failure to immortalize the ancestors, according to Ngcobo, is thus, a taboo and a shame that a man cannot bear.
In the past, childlessness was considered an irrevocable scourge that constitutes untold crises, havocs, instabilities and continuous unhappiness in several marriages. Today, many marriages collapse owing to childless. Separations and remarriages are occasioned by this particular problem of childlessness. Infidelities are rampant among childless couples as these couples often want to experiment their own fertility in another union or marriage. Low status or hidden contempt is accorded to childless couples and they have little or no say in the society.
As it is always the case in Africa societies, the woman always gets all the blame for childlessness in marriage, whether the cause is from her or not. According to Helen Chukwuma, in her article titled, ―Voices and Choices‖, ―The female character in African fiction hitherto is a facile lack-lustre human being, the quiet member of a house-hold, content only to bear children, unfulfilled if she does not and handicapped if she bears only daughters‖ (131). In view of this, a childless marriage is generally recognized as ill- luck in the traditional African society. Basden accounts for this in his book, Marriage Among the Ibos of Nigeria, when he asserts that ―A childless marriage is a source of serious disappointment and sooner or later leads to serious trouble between man and wife‖ (1). Often, a childless woman is considered a monster, a nuisance, a witch, and as someone who should be dispensed with in the family. She is subjected to societal mockery and isolation because of this singular problem.
A common effect of a couple‘s infertility usually leads to the expulsion of the woman from the husband‘s house with or
without a formal divorce. A woman automatically loses her respect, value, and regard even among her womenfolk who should be more understanding and sympathetic. These undue vilifications, victimizations and injustices meted out to childless women attract the attentions of writers like Flora Nwapa, Femi Osofisan, Buchi Emecheta and others who through their novels challenge and satirize these hostile forces that make the world a hell for childless women.
In Flora Nwapa‘s One is Enough, Amaka suffers untold humiliation, embarrassment, and oppression in the hands of her husband and mother-in-law because her marriage is bereft of children. Though she is not expelled like Wura, her life is made miserable in her marital home that she has to quit the marriage and vows never to remarry. In the same vein, Osofisan in Wuraola, forever, demonstrates that a childless woman is nothing but a monster and as such is treated with such disdain as a nuisance in her society.
This is manifested in the cruel humiliating treatment meted out to Wura, the heroine of this novel simply because she is unable to bear a child for her husband. Not minding her kindness and virtues, Wura is subjected to societal mockery and eventually she faces the embarrassment of sudden expulsion from her marital home, while another woman is arranged to take her position as a wife.Through the ugly experiences of these female characters on account of childlessness, Nwapa and Osofisan satirize the forces of oppression and injustice that enslave women in Africa and call for fair and humane treatment of the second gender especially in issues that demand societal understanding, sympathy and consolation for the woman. It is the attempt to analyze, interprete and give succour to childless African women, whose image has been poorly debased in literary works because of their misfortune that inspired this research.
1.3 Statement of the Problem
Female characters in African literature especially those in the novels under study are often victims of cultural and societal prejudices and hatred. Because they exist in a gender bias society and because their conditions are often interpreted from a purely patriarchal perspective, these female characters are often found to be struggling against the pains of both cultural and patriarchal injustice. This study, therefore, adds to the existing wealth of knowledge in African literature by exploring the traumatic effects of childlessness on African women characters. It equally addresses the obnoxious cultural and social norms that threaten the cohesion, love and happiness that should have cemented a happy relationship of husbands and wives.