Progressive Women Voices from Africa. Nadine Gordimer, Mariama Ba and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

African Women Writer

Academic Paper, 2020

19 Pages, Grade: NA


Progressive Women Voices from Africa: Nadine Gordimer, Mariama Ba & Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dr. Shamenaz Bano,

Allahabad, India


Due to colonization, the African people faced exploitation and suffered under racist rulers for prolonged periods. But with the decline of imperialism and the gradual liberation of one country after another, native populations began to assert themselves and do well in a variety of fields such as academics, sports, media, and cinema. Even the women came out and began taking part in activities from which they had earlier stayed away. This began in 1950s and 1960s when most of the African countries were liberated; with this liberation their literature started flourishing with numerous works both in quality and quantity.

Keywords: Colonization, liberation struggle, African literature, progressive voices


Literature, which was also a field dominated mainly by White writers, saw the emergence of African Black writers, both men and women, who wrote about their lives, experiences, culture, history and various myths associated with them. Many gained international recognition.

Since Africa is a continent comprising of many countries, it is especially rich in its variety of customs-traditions and languages. This richness is reflected in the diversity of forms, styles, genres of literature and varied languages that the writers use. The themes which these African writers have used in their literary genre consists of: the clash between African’s past and present, between tradition and modernity, between indigenous and foreign, between individualism and community, between socialism and capitalism, between development and self-reliance and between Africanity and humanity. These seven conflicts were mentioned by Ali A. Mazrui and others (564). Many writers have written on some other themes like social problems such as corruption, the economic disparities in the countries that have newly liberated and also on the upliftment of women, their rights and role in the family and society. African writers have written in their indigenous languages as well as other languages of the world viz English, French, German, Russians, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. They have published extensively not only in the African continent but also in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.

African literature is basically literature wrote on or from African which in larger form includes oral literature as African continent is considered as lands of various ethnic groups and tribal who have their own culture and norms but due to colonization many things have changed. But still their folk tradition is preserved in various forms and one such form is literature. In his chapter on African literature in book, Understanding Contemporary Africa, George Joseph opines that:

“Literature” can be the part of the Asian also imply an artistic use of words for the sake of art alone. [...T]raditionally, Africans do not radically separate art from teaching. Rather than write or sing for beauty in itself, African writers, taking their cue from oral literature, use beauty to help communicate important truths and information to society. Indeed, an object is considered beautiful because of the truths it reveals and the communities it helps to builds. (313)

African writers both men and women have enriched English literature since post-colonial era. There are many names shining in the literary world who have excel themselves international by their works and have gain international attention. They have been gaining international name and fame like winning prestigious literary awards Nobel, Booker, Swedish PEN, Pulitzer and such others. The wave of African literature became more powerful when Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) became the first post-independence African writer to win Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. His works like, The Interpreters and Seasons of Anatomy are widely read around the world. After that from time to time, many African writers have won the prestigious award. In colonial era, it was Algerian born Albert Camus who received the award in 1957. There are many notable writers representing African literature like Chinua Achebe from Nigeria, author of Arrow of God, No Longer At Ease, Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People and Anthills of the Savanaah. A highly acclaimed writer who is winner of Nobel Prize and whose works are being read around the world. Some other remarkable male writers of African literature are J. M. Coetze from South Africa, author of Disgrace and Life & Times of Michael K. Nuruddin Farah from Somalia, author of From a Crooked Rib, Maps and Sweet and Sour Milk and Naquib Mahfouz, also a recipient of Nobel Prize and author of The Beginning and the End, Cairo Trilogy, Children of Gebelawi and Midaq Alley. Women have also excelled themselves in the field of writing in African literature. There are many famous women writers like Nadine Gordimer from South Africa, a recipient of Nobel Prize. Her famous works include; Burger’s Daughter, The Conservatist and July People. Some other famous women writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria, author of Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Sun. Mariamma Ba from Senegal, author of So Long a Letter and Scarlet Songs. These are few names as there is a long list of African writers both men and women who are internationally acclaimed writers.

Although there are many big names in the world of African women’s writing, three eminent writers- Nadine Gordimer from South Africa, Mariama Ba from Senegal and & Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria have been focused on in this module. They write about issues that are central to the; lives of women, locating their works in broader social, cultural and political contexts. Framed in the individual lives, questions of racism, autonomy and freedom resonate. The novels raise questions, interrogate and analyze. They are marked by fine craftsmanship and eloquent narrative expertise and are an indication of the richness of the corpus of writing done and being done by women from Africa today

Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer was born on 20th November 1923 in South Africa and lived till the ripe age of ninety one. She was a writer who was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. Alfred Nobel who greatly admired her, referred to her as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has been of very great benefit to humanity.” Intrepid in her choice of themes, she dealt with questions of ethics and morality and wrote consistently against racism and racial issues like apartheid which earlier existed in South Africa. As a testimony to her anti-establishment writings, her novels, Burger’s Daughter and July’s People were banned by the then apartheid regime of South Africa. She joined the African National Congress supporting Nelson Mandela in the days when the party was banned and frequently took part in the anti-apartheid movement against the Government in South Africa at that time. She is credited with giving Mandela advice on his famous defense speech of 1964 at his trial which was responsible for his conviction for life. She also led campaigns for other issues like HIV/AIDS.

Gordimer works are internationally acclaimed because of their unique focus on political issues, especially on the moral and psychological tension associated with apartheid. Thus, racism in South Africa is the pivotal point of her works, with the themes of love and politics forming part of the whole. Her stories are about ordinary people, who have to make difficult choices fraught with moral complexities. The portrayal of her characters is much nuanced, with intersections of ostensible social identities and contradictory choices made by them. Her novels include: The Lying Days (1953), A World of Strangers (1958), Occasion for Loving (1963), The Late Bourgeois World (1966), A Guest of Honour (1970), The Conservationist (1974), Burger’s Daughter (1979), July’s People (1981), A Sport of Nature (1987), My Son’s Story (1990), None to Accompany Me (1994), The House Gun (1998), The Pickup (2001), Get a Life (2005) and No Time Like the Present (2012).

Her debut novel, The Lying Days (1953) is a Bildungsroman located in the Transvaal, a mining town near Johannesburg, South Africa which also happens to be the home town of Springs of the novelist. It is a semi-autobiographical novel, depicting the story of a young politically conscious white woman, Helen, living in a small town of South Africa which is under apartheid regime. The novel explores the territory which Gordimer has done throughout her life: the mingling of the personal and the political, and the way in which individual lives are formed due to the impact of external forces. In her next novel, Occasion for Loving (1963), she intertwines racism and love. The protagonist of the novel, Ann Davis is married to an ethnomusicologist, Boaz Davis. However, she is dissatisfied with her marriage and has an affair with Gideon Shibalo a black artist, who has had several failed relationships in his life. Their relationship is fraught with danger as inter-racial relationships were criminalized by the South African government. She received the prestigious Booker prize for her fiction, The Conservationist (1974), a novel highly praised in the literary world.

She wrote Burger’s Daughter (1979) about strong womanhood, it is a story of a woman, Rosa Burger, who is the daughter of a martyr of the South African anti-apartheid movement. In the novel, she is seen to be analyzing her relationship with her dead father. Like her father, even her mother is also associated with anti-apartheid movement and Communist ideology. Being inspired by her Communist and anti-apartheid parents, she is also inclined towards political activism. The Soweto uprising which took place in South Africa has affected the novel as being published in the aftermath of the uprising; it was banned by the government. But for Gordimer, the novel was a “coded homage” as she speaks to Bram Fisher, the lawyer associated with defending Nelson Mandela in his mission to end apartheid in their country. Some critic ranked it as one of the “few truly great political novels ever written”, Gordimer herself describes it as a “coded homage” to the Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fisher, who had defended the most powerful leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists. The story is narrated by the daughter of central character, who is forced to suffer because her parents were martyred for their political ideas. The South African apartheid regime banned the novel and some other novels by Gordimer and she was prompt to issue a pamphlet protesting the censorship, ‘What Happened to Burger’s Daughter.’

Her novel, July’s People (1981), is a kind of imagination featuring a bloody South African revolution where everything is vice versa than the reality happening in South African society of that time. In the story, it is the white people who are being hunted and murdered by the black people aftermath of anti-apartheid revolt against the White South African government. The story deals with an educated white couple, Maureen and Bamford Smales, whose lives are in risk due to the bloody African revolution and for the sake of their lives they are hiding with their trustworthy, loyal and life-long servant, July who though is not working with them but trying his level best to save them. The novel features various African ethnic groups associated with July’ his family and his village and the family of Smales. The novel basically focuses on human nature to cope up with the savage situations which makes them beast and that is of violence, race, hatred and the state. The novel deals with a post-apartheid world as imagined by Gordimer which she has also reflected in one of her earlier novel, A Guest of Honour (1970). But the difference is that the earlier novel was set in a nameless African state, this novel was located in her native country, South Africa where we see a white liberal family of Johannesburg is suffering because of revolution and is on the mercy of their black servant, July. Due to uneven situation they have been forced to leave the city and live in a small village which too has many chaos and none too are happy providing them shelter. When it was published it was banned under apartheid rule and recently in 2001 it was removed from school’s curriculum by a provincial education department which described it as “deeply racist, superior and patronizing.”

Burger’s Daughter and July’s People are regarded as grandest and most complex works by Gordimer. She wrote both the novel at the age of 50s when she was engaged in anti-apartheid movement for long time. The novels were banned by the Apartheid government which she herself knew but she did not stop writing and protesting against apartheid regime.

The House Gun (1998) by Gordimer is a very significant novel which also deals with the issue of post-apartheid situation in South Africa; second of her novel on such issue. The story is about a couple, Claudia and Harald Lingard who are grieving over the death of their son, Duncan, who was murder by one of his housemates. The novel is the reflection of the contemporary South African society depicting the rise in crime rate in the society and the increase in gun-culture inspired by the American society which has become a part of every household in South Africa. The novel is also deals with the insecurity of the white people against black people in the post-apartheid era as the couple Lingard is suspicious about their son’s lawyer who is black. The novel was highly praised and became so popular that the Film Production Company, Granada Productions optioned it for film rights.

Gordimer’s novel, The Pickup (2002) is an award winning novel dealing with diasporic issues of displacement, dislocation, alienation. At the same time it talks about love and humanity and the astounding ability of some people to transcend the divisions of religions, economic differences and still retain their humanity. The novel is the love story of a financially comfortable white woman, Julie Summers, and an illegal Arab immigrant in South Africa, Abdu. They marry, but because of the denial of a visa they are forced to go back to the Arab world from where Abdu hails. The cultural shock and the subsequent alienation that Julie experiences constitute the rest of the novel.

Her novel, Get a Life (2005), which she wrote after the death of her husband, Reinhold Cassirer is quite subjective in nature as being inspired by her husband’s life, it is the story of a man who is undergoing treatment from a disease which is life-threatening. Being subjective and taking experiences from personal life, the novel also deals with political themes like Gordimer’s life. The protagonist is undergoing radiation therapy for his life- threatening disease, cancer which causes him severe pain and personal grief which also led him a nuclear hazard at his own home. Earlier being an ecologist, he has been battling in installation of a planned nuclear plant. In this novel, the novelist investigates the questions of how to assimilate an individual everyday life and political activism. The novel deals with long time sufferings of a man who is also associated with politics.

Gordimer has been honoured with many prestigious international awards and prizes, among them being the W. H. Smith Commonwealth Literary Award in 1961 (England), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1972 (Scotland), the Booker Prize for her novel, The Conservationist in 1974, the CNA Prize (Central News Agency Literary Award) in 1974, 1980 and in 1991, the Grand Aigle d’Or in 1975 by France, Shortlisted for Orange Prize; which she rejected, Scottish Arts Council Neil M. Gunn Fellowship in 1981, Modern Language Association in 1982 ( United States), Rome Prize in 1984, Premio Malaparte in 1985 (Italy), Nelly Sachs in 1986 (Germany), Bennett Award in 1987 (United States), Anisfield Wolf Book Award in 1988 (A Sport of Nature), Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, Laureate of the International Botev Prize in 1996, Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the Best Book from Africa for her novel, The Pickup in 2002, Long list for Booker Prize for her novel, The Pickup in 2001, Officer de la Legion d’honneur in 2007 (France), At least 15 Honorary Degrees from the various Universities worldwide (the first was from Doctor Honoris Causa at Leuven University in Belgium), Mexican Aztec Eagle Order (Mexico). She was also a member of many International Bodies, some of them being the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow, Royal Society of Literature (Britain), Patron, Congress of South African Writers and Commandeur de I’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)

She was the winner of many prestigious literary prizes like Nobel and Booker prize establishing her credential as a writer. Though being a writer of international fame, she is also equally famous as a human right activist who has fought against injustice like apartheid. She was against discrimination and segregation of all sorts. Throughout her life, she had laid stress on racial discrimination and freedom of expression which she has also handled politically. She was talented, dedicated ferocious and fearless lady whose incisive voice and bravely was witness by almost a century.

Mariama Ba

Mariama Ba was born on April 17, 1929 in a Senegalese Muslim family in Dakar, Senegal. She was an author and feminist whose maximum works is in French. Living in traditional African society she experienced immense discrimination based on gender since childhood which he highly disliked. At an early age, she started opposing inequalities based on gender in her society for which faced lots of criticism. Belonging to traditional family and being raised by her grandparents, she has to struggle hard to acquire education as in those days in African traditional culture; girl’s education was not liked. Ba married Member of Parliament of Senegal, Obeya Diop Tall but this relationship was not successful as they later divorced leaving nine children for Ba to look after. Life has been very hard for her and she died in August 17, 1981 due to illness.


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Progressive Women Voices from Africa. Nadine Gordimer, Mariama Ba and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
African Women Writer
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This paper is about three progressive women voices from Africa: Nadine Gordimer, Mariama Ba and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
African Women Writers
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PhD (English) Shamenaz Bano (Author), 2020, Progressive Women Voices from Africa. Nadine Gordimer, Mariama Ba and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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