Determined Mothering and the Social Construction of Black Women in Novels from Britain, Canada and Nigeria
The objective of this research is to explore images of Black women as determined mothers in novels from Britain, Canada, and Nigeria- Efuru (1966) by Flora Nwapa; Second Class Citizen (1975) by Buchi Emecheta; Harriet's Daughter (1988) by Marlene Nourbese Philip; and La Dot de Sara (1995) by Marie-Célie Agnant-with a view to identifying the importance of determined mothering as a valuable strategy to articulate resistance. In this study I am focusing on determination as a strategy of resistance to patriarchal dominance and poverty by fictional mothers in the reshaping of their own identities and those of their children. By"determined mother" I mean a mother who does everything within her limits to protect her children, provide food, shelter, clothing, and a sound education for them and possibly for herself. This is not to say that the focus of determined mothering is only on the child or on self, because in some of the texts such as Second Class Citizen and La Dot de Sara, determined mothering is propelled by the desire to change the community and the societal construction of women, and the expectations placed on Black women in particular. For example in Second Class Citizen, the protagonist refuses to act like a second-class citizen in London and strives for white collar jobs in the 1970s, a period when being Black and a woman was synonymous with doing menial jobs (44). Adah is unlike the other Blacks in the novel who make do with whatever jobs come their way. In La Dot de Sara determined mothering is a strategy used by self-sufficient mothers who have being mistreated or abandoned by egotistical and chauvinistic men, who see women as their conquest. Due to the abject poverty on the Island, mothers work hard to live above the poverty line. The protagonists in the other two novels under study are not biological mothers; for instance in Harriet's Daughter, the protagonist is a fourteen-year-old adolescent, and in Efuru, the protagonist is childless after the death of her only child. I examine the roles played by the mother figures encountered by the adolescent protagonist in Harriet's Daughter such as the role played by Tina, the mother of the protagonist; the role played by a voiceless mother, Mrs. Clarke; that of the most assertive woman, Bertha; and that of the foremothers, that is"female ancestors" such as freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman and others, and their empowering stories. In Efuru the protagonist is an assertive wife who loses her only child early in the text, thereby remaining childless throughout the rest of the narrative. I examine the mothering roles played by this childless, but independent and assertive wife as a result of her desire to bridge the gap of childlessness by playing the role of"othermother." 1. The"othermother" is a woman who raises non-biological child/children. Drawing on feminist theories on Black women by bell hooks, Layli Philips, Cheryl Johnson-Odim, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and on theories of motherhood by Nancy Chodorow, Adrienne Rich, Julia Kristeva, Robert Staples, Evelyn Nakano Glenn and others, I read the expectations placed on Black mothers in the world of the text and their resistance to norms and stereotypes. In writing this thesis, I intend to contribute to the growing body of criticism on Black women's writing from the African diaspora, in this case; writing by and about Black women from Britain, Canada and Nigeria.