Gendered geographies and the politics of place : a comparative reading of the novels of Mariama Bâ and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This thesis is concerned with inscriptions of gender and space in the novels of two African women writers, Mariama Bâ and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, particularly Bâ’s So Long a Letter (1981) and Scarlet Song (1986) and Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2004) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006). The exploration of representations of gendered identity is thus integrated with an awareness of space/place. By exploring the demarcation and enunciation of space within my chosen texts, I hope to provide new perspectives on the question of gendered identities and relations. The theorizing of gender identities and relations thus gains a new orientation from its application in relation to the theorizing of space and spatiality. As many theorists have argued, space is an important aspect to consider because it is not a neutral site: it becomes invested with meanings and encodes particular values and relations of power which can be contested and negotiated. This is particularly evident when looking at questions of gender identity, roles and relations. ‘Geographies of gender’ are established not only in the coding of spaces as ‘masculine’ and feminine’ but also in the kinds of sociality which they encourage and the power-relations they encode. If space is central to masculinist power, it is also important in the development of feminine resistance. Drawing on a range of theorists, I endeavour to pursue a gendered analysis of space/place through a reading of particular locations (the home, the street, the village) as expressive of power relations, gender identities and roles. I also consider how space/place is differently experienced and inhabited by men and women as well as how dominant constructions of space/place, which are also invested with meaning and power relations, come to be negotiated or contested. In all four novels explored in this thesis, the home is revealed as a dominant site of inscription, a space which tends to reflect and reinforce dominant social identities and roles. In this sense, the home is often figured as a site of patriarchal and gendered oppression, a central domain in which normative definitions of gender are established and reinforced. What is also clear, however, is that way in which the home also becomes a site for the contestation and renegotiation of gender identities and roles, a place where conventional identities can be challenged and new identities explored. In this sense, the home is revealed as a major site of contestation in which the tensions between different experiences and interpretations of space based on contrasting cultural definitions of power relations, gender identities and roles are played out. If the ordering of space is an important means of securing dominant gender relations, it also provides the means for negotiation and resistance. This is reflected not only the alternative ii examples of home explored in these novels but also in liberating spaces such as the school, the beach and the university. In the destabilisation and destruction of the home, the links between self and place becomes apparent as new identities are formed and conventional roles are redefined.