"Shelling" women for pleasure in "Sunset at Dawn". An analysis of the abused woman in African literature

Essay, 2017

8 Pages


Table of Contests

Introduction: African Literature and the abused woman

Freud’s concept of Eros and Thanatos

Eros and Thanatos in Sunset at Dawn

The environment as regards Eros/Thanatos


Works Cited


The African continent is synonymous with war and women are caught up in it in the perpetual role of the victim. African literature in the pre colonial and colonial period has tended to be very intransigent in its portrayal of females in times of conflict. The African writer has created a fragmented female. This character is often bartered, manipulated or presented as lovesick in conflict situations creating a flawed and destructive image of the African woman. I argue that writers of African literature exposing the violent conflict of colonialism and liberation have a pessimistic outlook on the role of women in war which has hindered the empowerment of women. I will use Psychoanalysis and its concept on the life and death instincts to account for why sex and identity dominates the portrayal of women in pre-colonial and colonial literature. African writers have created a situation where conflict necessitates a sexual definition of the female character. Women thus possess a paradoxical identity of being sensual and consuming of the male phallus which ultimately breaks and consumes them. The conflict resolution is such that sex seems to logically place and displace ideas of sexuality and its impact on the female character.

Key words: war sexuality, death and life instincts, colonial African literature, psychoanalysis

Introduction: African Literature and the abused woman

The relationship between war and the need to forge an African identity continues to be a process that is tumultuous. This process is more significant for the African female who is generally treated as a sexual incentive rather than one of the protagonists of liberation. The moral framework (or lack thereof) of going to war puts into focus how women are caught up in conflict situations. Kant asserts that, “Act so you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” (Rachels, 1). It seems that violence against women in African war literature has always been a feature towards defining the African image. To treat man as an ‘end’ is to acknowledge that they are rational individuals who are empowered to follow a course of action, one that we can hold them to account. However, African literature seems to project male characters in a negative light. In other words, the portrayal of war by some African writers is one where women are at some level defined in terms of their sexual availability. Though this view denigrates women there are scholars who do not see this as indicative of abuse.

Women writers have also been sidelined in terms of having a platform to tell the war. Abioseh M. Porter in They were there, too: Women and the Civil War(s) in Destination Biafra states that, “some of the most celebrated attempts to discuss works dealing with the Nigeria-Biafra civil war – one of the predominant themes of modern African literature – have either ignored or underestimated the literary efforts of female writers.” (313). If female writers have been kept in the shadows of African literature, the representation of female characters by male writers has been less than complimentary. Though issues or portrayal and authenticity are nothing new in literary discourse, some scholars believe that the subjugation of characters in African literature is an offshoot of colonialism and the continent has not had infringement on a person’s dignity and self worth prior to this period.

Sophie Ogwunde states that “Human rights abuse came with colonial administration. It is non-existent in our indigenous judicial system which recognises that even a slave is the child of another person.” (74) This is a bold statement to make given that the African continent has been bedevilled with internal conflict that has led to the loss of countless lives. The slave trade, cattle rustling and other such encounters have resulted inevitably in women being caught up in the middle. Achebe’s groundbreaking ethnographic text, Things Fall Apart (1958) depicts human trafficking where women and children represent the spoils of war. Also, women are beaten during the Week of Peace, shot at with malfunctioning rifles and generally insulted. This behaviour is indicative of a society that has a fragmented reflection of women despite the term Mother is Supreme, which is used by Okonkwo’s uncle both to counsel and admonish Okonkwo. Whether by design or circumstance there is a general relationship between the quest for an African identity and violence against women, especially in the colonial literature of Africa. So, despite Ogunde’s assertions even in pre-colonial times human rights abuse was evident and this cannot be conveniently placed at the doorstep of the foreigner. However, it is in the war narrative that women are truly sidelined as human beings and are exalted as sexual fodder for insatiable men. This representation of women is one that presents women as an unfortunate sexual casualty of war and this is the concern of this essay. For one to understand just why women are so treated, a brief look at the Freudian concept of Eros and Thanatos is required.


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"Shelling" women for pleasure in "Sunset at Dawn". An analysis of the abused woman in African literature
University of Botswana
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war, sexuality, psychoanalysis, death and life instincts, colonial African literature
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Wazha Lopang (Author), 2017, "Shelling" women for pleasure in "Sunset at Dawn". An analysis of the abused woman in African literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/374773


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