Female Ways of Identity Shaping essay

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" Emecheta uses metaphors, similes and allusions with appropriate timing and tone in this book, and the image of a puppet certainly brings to mind a person being controlled, manipulated, made to comply instantly with any movement of the controlling hand. In this case Ego seems at the end of her rope -- the puppet has fallen nearly to the floor and is dangling helplessly.

The Emecheta images and metaphors are sometimes obvious, as this one is, but always effective. The reader is clearly aware of Ego's initial identity, and Ego's swift feet of lightness and intensity running in the misty darkness, presents a fluid sensation -- a hoped for escape. She is running towards a new identity and when she hits the gravel road the color is of blood and water and she runs like this will be her duty forever, like someone is following her. The image of anyone running in the dark conjures up the sense of desperation.

The year is 1934; the setting is Lagos that is still colonized by the British Empire, which had not yet fallen into disrepair. Ego's identity as she runs away is also that of a mother, and the reminder is the milk leaking out of her "unsupported breasts." Others witness ego -- the mother of a four-week-old baby -- in the wet darkness who perceive that all "is not well." The understatement is an effective tool in such an emotional scene. Clearly she is determined to eliminate her identity entirely; the words are carefully chosen but it becomes obvious to the reader that this jaunt is pointed to an ending of intentional personal destruction.

A woman who just had a baby and yet has a thin waist gives rise to the sense that she did not allow herself to become burdened down with a lot of extra weight during the pregnancy. Her hair is a fright, her outfit shabby and an "unearthly…wildness" in those eye add to the sense of panic. She seems to be on her way to take her own life. The image of her running into a blind man is ironic given her emotion of blind rage that drives her forward. It was a pitiful collision indeed. The blind beggar believes he is being attacked and he swings his stick wildly at whoever might be near enough to steal from him.

Both Ego and the blind beggar are helplessly lashing out in their own way. Identities are co-mingled at this moment. The image is poignant and terrible at the same time. But the beggar will still be on the road in a short time eking out a miserable existence, while Ego will be on a very different journey. Why does Ego believe her chi is female? The source of that belief is cultural; the emotion that pushes the belief to fruition is personal. The stage is set. The house lights so to speak are dimming and the curtain is parting. The audience is ready to explore the history of a life full of events leading up to a moment of such audacious passion that a woman is willing to leave a child behind as she disappears into the deep waters.

Nwokocha Agbadi is presented as having achieved power not through great and noble deeds but because of his physical size; but no indication is given that he bullied his way into his authority position, rather it was a cultural model he was on a path to properly. He showed the intelligence that was key to maintaining his power. Using charm, arrogance, and even tenderness, he thrived. His identity as a power broker, unchallenged lover and breeder of many women quickly gave way to the characteristics of a near-dead man after the elephant brought him down to earth with that thrust of a tusk.

The identity of the mighty elephant has been changed dramatically, and this is an important moment in the man-versus-nature theme albeit it is hard to visualize four "hefty" slaves pulling a full-grown bull elephant. The mind's eye searches for a picture with more than four men perspiring and making grunting sounds just to move the elephant a foot or two. That said, nonetheless there they are, in a bizarre procession right behind the seeming pallbearers carrying Agbadi. Wrapped in an otuogwu cloth and carried in a bamboo crate, if this wasn't the end it was something very close to that. Agbadi's favorite female companion, Ona, had based her identity and sense of self-worth, a reader presumes, on her relationship with Agbadi. As Ona is witnessing the procession -- and fearing for the worst -- she is also experiencing the radical shift of her individuality.

For a few moments Ona's community status is raised well beyond the fact that she is Agbadi's favorite and on a near par with the medicine man. She was not well liked by the community and yet by the fact of the shaman allowing her to touch the dying Agbadi she is possessor of great prestige. While the vigil over the village chief continued into several days readers learn about the cultural rituals of Lagos. Agbadi was ruthless and he had a sharp tongue when he wanted to lay down the law; it was as sharp as a "circumcision blade" (p. 15). Readers know that powerful pride is part of the culture in this village -- to wit, Agbadi's tongue may have been acerbic but Ona would rather someone jerk her tongue from her mouth than admit to Agbadi how much she loves him. The values of Lagos and in particular of this community emerge through the narrative -- and a reader digests those values, rituals and rites as historical facts, without questioning the author's intent vis-a-vis the New Historicism.

Sarcasm is used effectively as literary tool at this moment in the narrative (p. 16); the chief whose identity as a power broker is reduced to the image of a dying man is suddenly resurrected. Agbadi regains consciousness because of the unbearably horrific pain Agbadi experiences while the splints were being adjusted. The shock was enough to bring out the old pushiness and arrogance in this man whose broken, bleeding body hovered near death for days. By chuckling "wickedly" and showing a "sardonic smile" (p. 16) it is clear Agbadi is on the mend so the two lovers can dive back into their normal competitive tete-a-tete, which, in their case, is more thunder than lightning. Ona threatens to throw the medicine at him; readers know the extraordinary self-control Ona possesses because when eyes are burning with "hot tears" and yet no water is emitted from the eye socket that tells a story without need for embellishment.

Ona just can't leave him, but on the other hand she certainly doesn't want him to know she suffers and she can't abide the idea that he would be happy witnessing her tears. This is a strange kind of love -- but again, no judgment made as to the validity or the cultural accuracy or the author's intend. It is what it appears to be. "I need a heartless woman like you," Agbadi says, his freshly oozing blood having been mopped up by this woman with a heart of stone. The identity switch in this scene is very interesting, as the all-powerful chief lies helpless and bleeding and one of his many women feels her power has shifted and is far more potent than before. The tide has gone out on Agbadi's uncontested authority and the tide is coming in for Ona a this juncture of the book. The exchange between the two lovers would be out of character in nearly any other scene of similar tone; it brings the culture into focus that sharp, stinging verbal attacks would be considered appropriate given the crippling image of one party and the loyalty of the other.

The ridicule and insults between the two are standard for this culture in this novel, readers come to realize; Agbadi cannot "lower himself to thank you" (p. 17), says his close friend Idayi. In the subsequent scenes Agbadi is obviously back close to good health because he breaks down her resistance to his hurtful sexual aggression. This is a love-hate identity play in many ways, and irony is never far behind. As Agbadi orgasms into Ona with violent thrusts, Ona screams out but when Agbadi's friend hears the cries he wonders not about Ona but about Agbadi. It's a man's world in Lagos and the characters never let the reader forget that. Ona loves Agbadi's style of laughter but she loathes it too. Agbadi's satisfaction isn't through the fact of his climax; it is achieved because people in the courtyard now know that he hurt Ona "on purpose" (p. 21).

Character Constellation

The sarcastic language that Ona uses to try and stand up to Agbadi only seems to be effective when he is less healthy than normal. The…[continue]

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