THE SOCIETY AND THE GIRL CHILD IN THE BLUEST EYE BY TONI MORRISON AND KAINE AGARY’S YELLOW YELLOW
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1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
According to Cambridge dictionary, society is defined as a particular community of people who share the same customs, law etc. It is also defined as the state of being with other people. (1129). A girl child is described as a female child between infancy and early adulthood. During this period of the development of the girl child, she is under the custody and supervision of adults who may be her parents or guardians and siblings who are older and more mature than she is. The girl child is easily influenced by her experiences as she develops. She models her behaviour during this development process though observations and imitations of those she depends on, and her physical, mental and emotional development start and reach their peak within this stage.
In attempting to establish the relationship between the society and the girl child, we ask certain pertinent questions relating to how she child is received and related with in her contemporary society. What are the struggles, challenges and oppression faced by the girl child? What are the factors that foist on the girl child such challenges and oppression?
From the family circle to the public sphere, the girl child has suffered much hardship and has been greatly dehumanized. This is due to the fact that she is regarded as inferior to her brother. She is devalued and as Buchi Emecheta portrays her, she is a second class citizen in a society ruled by male chauvinism. In especially most African societies, the girl child has been consigned to an inferior status for which she constantly wears a daunted image. This inferiority is as a result of the patriarchal ideology in the society which bestows undue self importance on the male child. The result of this is that, men do everything to undermine the women in order to arbitrarily institute value and ideologies in the society. The African society and the diaspora is a society with a tradition that bestows importance to the male folk, neglecting the female folks. This patriarchal ideology has influenced the way the girl characters are projected by male writers in their literary texts. In most literary works, female characters always wear one of these images: prostitute, girlfriend, courtesans, and workers and are evident in these novels: Clara is Obi‟s lover in Chinua Achebe‟s No long at Ease: Elsie in A Man of the People by Achebe is Odili‟s girlfriend and later becomes chief Nanga‟s girlfriend; and also in Chimamanda‟sHalf of a Yellow Sun, we see Olama as Odenigbo‟s lover. These images of female character credits Chukwumma‟s assertion.
The female character in African fiction… is a facile lack luster human being, the quiet member of a household only to bear children, unfulfilled if she does not, and handicapped if she bears only daughters… Docility and complete submission of will is demanded and enacted from her. (Chukwumma 1990; 131).
They construct the girl character as a passive and inconsequential object. The male writers communicated a picture of the girl child as one whose destiny is subject to the whims of her male folk. Our primary source will be used in carrying out this research. Attention will be paid to the womanist tenet that throws some light in the oppression of the girl child as portrayed in African literature. Womanism is referred to as the black‟s concept of feminism. Coined by Alice walker, it is meant to account for the survival of the black people. (Walker 1984;89) Womanism upholds respect for the family units by Africans both in the continent and in the diaspora. Womanism is communal in its orientation and goes beyond the husband and wife context. This ideology of womanism caused Africans and African-Americans to present the struggle of the black woman in her society. This is presented through the text of Toni Morrison and KaineAgary: The Bluest Eye and Yellow Yellow respectively.
Writers are mostly influenced by their environment and circumstance in history which helped to shape their society. We should agree that Toni Morrison and KaineAgary portray their society through their work. With reference to Morrison‟s The Bluest Eye and KaineAgary‟s Yellow Yellow, it will be just to state that the oppression and hardship faced by the girl child is as a result of the dreadful and traumatizing encounter between Africans and the white racists. It is believed that the encounter between the whites and Africans has left Africans in the continent and the diaspora with disconcerting problems. These issues are as a result of the dreadful means in which the encounter occurred: Slavery, colonialism. A short detailed review on the historical background of both authors will be the peg to tie the goat as Achebe would put it. Toni Morrison is the pre-eminent African-American female writer, while KaineAgary is one of Nigeria‟s leading contemporary writers.
Toni Morrison: Biography and Historical Background
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio in 1931. Her father, George Wofford, was a shipyard wielder and her mother, Ramah Willis Wofford, raised the family. Her family migration from the south & North is much like the migration of the Breedloves in The Bluest Eye. Morrison was the second of four children. She grew up listening to folktale in her family and community: tales of slave times, emancipation tales dealing with racism of the white majority and tales of supernatural elements. Morrison married a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison.
The setting of The Bluest Eye is Lorain, Ohio in 1941, and the rural south in the early 20th century. The novel begins after the great depression. Economic security was of importance for African-Americans, who have fewer opportunities than the majority of their white counterparts. (www.cliffnotes.com).
In the early 19th century, after the abolition of slavery, the blacks suffered great dehumanization. They were then the descendants of Africans captured and bundled into America as slaves. These captured slaves were forced to till the plantation of the white land owners. They farmed and produced crops such as sugar, cotton, indigo, and other tropical products. After the abolition of slavery, they were given the rural region of the society. Their environment lacked the basic amenities to survive and coupled with their slave background, life was unbearable and their region was marked by poverty. The blacks were racially discriminated upon; having no work to do in the white environment which was urban and had all the basic amenities. Competition for survival became extremely difficult and heightened, leaving their occupants with no alternative means of survival, forcing them to resort to diverse forms of crimes as over drinking prostitution, incest, wife beating, as a means for relief from the unremitting harsh condition.
KaineAgary: Biography and Historical Background
KaineAgary was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She lived most of her life in Port-Harcourt and then moved to the United States of America. She lives at present in Lagos, Nigeria, where she is the editor of Takai magazine. Agary holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in sociology and economics from Mount Holyoke College, U.S.A.
The setting of Yellow Yellow is the oil region of Nigeria, Port Harcourt to be precise. In the early 19th century, Nigeria was invaded by the British under the guise of religion. They took over the traditional governing system, discarded and eclipsed our tradition, and referred to Nigerians as barbaric. They exploited both human and natural resources –men and women were captured as slaves and transported to their home to cultivate and till their land, while the resources were used in developing their society. By 1937, oil exploration started in Nigeria and was pioneered by the shell development company of Nigeria limited which was based in Warri. In the course of exploration, the first well was drilled in 1951 at the North east of Warri where oil was discovered by shell in commercial quantities at Oloibiri, in the then Rivers State. Pipeline connection was constructed between Oloibiri and Port Harcourt which saw the first cargo of crude oil leave Niger Delta in 1958. Production was at 6,000 barrels per day and this implies that the oil industry was solely responsible for 95% of the nation‟s foreign exchange earnings and shell was the major contributor.
Based on the review of the biography and historical background of both authors, it will be appropriate to state that the struggles, and the experiences, of the girl child is as a result of the encounter with the whites which has degraded and under developed the African society. Slavery is regarded as the worst human experience, followed by colonialism, due to the high rate of maltreatment, oppression and human right violation which was prevalent. There was also high rate of exploitation –human beings were traded for western products such as guns, mirrors, pots etc and resources were transported to their home for development of the western world. These pernicious activities according to economic historians played a major role in the development of capitalism. Despite having gained freedom and independence, the presence of the western world is still very much felt in the contemporary African society. The whites continue segregation, racism, setting standards and imposing ideologies upon the blacks. They also monopolize economic activities, thus preventing and restricting development within the white urban settlement. They impose standard for measuring and qualifying beauty: whiteness, thereby displacing the black identity at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This makes blacks develop disdain for themselves. All these means by the white to remain imperial over blacks, was what has exiled the girl child into an endless struggle as she encounters oppression within her society. This is what Morrison tries to depict and fight using her book The Bluest Eye.
Also in the African continent, the western grip is still very much felt. Neo colonialism is the continuation of colonialism, but without the use of force or weapons as is the case in classic colonialism. Neocolonized states are politically independent, but economically dependent. The whites still continue to control the economic activities of Africa by placing African bourgeoisies in key positions to ensure their dominance over their colonies. By so doing, African continent remain dependent on the West. This is what Agary depicts and communicates in Yellow Yellow, with particular emphasis on the predicament of the girl-child.
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