_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
Département d'Anglais
Université de Kara - TOGO
In Africa and elsewhere, most societies are
them into two social categories. Gender attaches
patriarchal in essence and these societies are crippled
cultural roles to this classification of people into
by many impediments which contribute to their tragic
sexual categories. The difference between the male
underdevelopment. This situation has been a topical
and the female is first based on biological
issue for the entire world since the end ofthe second
characteristics and attributes of the two sexes. But
war. Whether at the first international conference
the centrality ofthe biological or physical factors is
on women in Mexico in 1975, the second one in
rejected by many scholars. For this group ofscholars
Copenhagen in 1980, the Nairobi forward-looking
"gender is constructed along psychological. cultural
Convention in 1985, the Beijin Conference in 1995
and social lines" (Ezeigbo, 1999: 25). Feminist
or the various efforts of the United Nations since
studies are especially characterized by the subversion
1970, the issue has been how to fashion out practical
of biological determinism and the privileging of
means for women to participate in and contribute
social factors. Thus, gender theories trace the varied
meaningfully to the scheme of events around them.
identities ofwomen to psychological, historical and
It is a fact that from the family circle to the public
cultural factors prevalent in the society. Gender has
sphere, women suffer many hardships, simply
therefore become the social identity ofthe individual
because they are considered inferior to men. In most
due to his or her sexual category and constitutes a
traditions and especially in Africa, women are
serious problem in a society dominated by patriarchy.
devalued and considered " second-class citizens" .
In her book The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (
Patriarchy is that form ofsocial organization in which
1952) states that women are constructed by men as
males exercise power and thus create for females an
passive and inconsequential objects. For Ezeigbo,
inferior status. In aIl societies, "men have
"this has resulted in the perpetuation offemale self-
traditionaHy been the subject ofhistory" as Adeola
effacement and self-erasure which have insidiously
James puts it (In Their Own Voices, 1990; 3). The
demeaned womanhood for a long time (1999 : 26)" .
distinct gender differentiation often creates women's
With male Writers in Nigeria "women are
marginalization. In Nigeria for example, the national
presented ..... as tragic heroines unable to speak
anthem caUs aU compatriots to "serve their
from their subaltern position " ( Kolawole, 1998 :
FATHERLAND ", consequently excluding aH the
valuable women from aH spheres ofnation building.
The aim ofthis paper is to show how Flora Nwapa's
With society being dominated by men who make
fiction has so far contributed to a redefinition of the
the rules, this leads to the production of macho
female gender and a counteridentification to men's
values which stifle women's images as positive
voices in literature, a fight to initiate change in the
contributors to the development of their society.
minds of her people in order to restore women's
Nigerian male writers in general have been the
images and dignity as mothers and wives and
mouthpiece oftheir society. The way they treat their
promote collaboration and complementarity among
female characters reflects the disdainful, indifferent
the sexes in Nigeria and more generally in Africa.
or at times cruel manners in which women are
regarded in Nigerian society. For Ebele Eko, these
Sex biologically defines individuals and classifies
writers ?? invariably cast all women in the strict s{(xist
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roles ofmothers and wives, submissive to the norms
great barns he always had and the courageous actions
and regulations that restrict them " (1986 : 211).
he has always taken. It is in demonstration of this
Prior to the publication ofNwapa's Efuru (1966),
courage that, Okonkwo beheaded the white man's
the female portraiture by men was restricted to a
messenger. This action is committed in the logic of
kind of idealization, rigid conventionality,
his philosophy, because, manliness in the eyes of
stereotyping and a superficiality that left to be
these people also includes demonstrating great force,
desired. In fact women were made peripheral. It is
the lack of which would be similar to womanhood.
what Charles Nnolim (1989) described as "The
Okonkwo can never allow himself to be mistaken
appealing image of the Nigerian woman" (59). For
for a woman ; and he is always clear about that.
him, in the works of Achebe, Ekwensi and Amadi,
women are largely stereotyped as "helpless,
"Let's not reason like cowards", said
dependent, brutalized, disparaged...prostitutes or
concubines or good time girls" (1989 : 59).
"If a man cornes into my hut and
Ekwensi's female character Jagua Nana (Jagua
defecates on the floor, what do 1do ?
Nana, 1961), Amadi's Ihuoma (The Concubine;
Do 1shut my eyes ?No! 1take a stick
1966) and Soyinka's Simi (The Interpreters : 1965)
and break his head. That is what a
all have very negative images.
man does. These people are pouring
filth over us and Okeke pretends not
ChinuaAchebe, one ofNigeria's well-known male
to see". Okonkwo made a sound full
writers also mirrored this reality ofpatriarchy in his
of disgust. " This was a womanly
works. The man is made the subject of the
clan", he thought. Such a thing could
narratives; he is significant and dominates. Because
never happen in his fatherland
he is invariably always a central character women
and children whose significance lies in their
dependence on him are much less fully realized. Mary
Okonkwo's society in this novel is patriarchal ; that
E. Modupe Kolawole (1998) contends that
is why men dominate. This character's radicalism is
"Generally, African women are presented as a
displayed at allievels, even towards his wives and
subaltem group in the margin ofsociety, docile, and
children. And we are informed that he "ruled his
accepting the multiple levels of subjugation
household with a heavy hand" (09) because, for him,
gracefully" (223).
no matter how prosperous a man
This state ofaffairs is identified in ChinuaAchebe's
was, if he was unable to rule his
fiction. In his Things FailApart, Okonkwo's image
women and his children (and
strikes the reader right from the beginning :
especially his women) he was not
really a man. He was like that man in
He was tail and huge, and his bushy
the song who had ten and one wives
eyebrows and wide nose gave him a
and not enough soup for his foo-foo.
very severe look. He breathed
heavily, and if was said that when
he siept, his wives and children in

As it appears from the foregoing, Achebe's male
their out-houses could hear him
characters are very important individuals. And only
breathe. When he walked, his heels
men have comfortable room in his narrative. The
hard/y touched the ground and he
following extract from Things FaU Apart shows how
seemed to walk on springs, as if he
distinct gender differentiation creates women's
was going to pounce on someboby
marginalisation. It is about the six title men who
have been imprisoned after the destruction of the
curch by the villagers and who have been liberated
This "wonderful" and awe-inspiring image of
after the villagers have paid a fine.
Okonkwo permeates all the book. That is why "his
wives, especially the youngest lived in perpetuaI
As they made their way to the
fear... andsodid the little children" (09). Okonkwo
village, the six men met women and
has been a great man ; and he has shown it from the
children going to the stream with
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Sciences sociales et humaines
their water pots. But the men wore
second-class status ofgirls at birth, early marriages,
such heavy and fearsome looks that
the plight of widows [as is shown by Nwapa in her
the women and the children did not
This is Lagos (1971)], single parenthood, brideprice
say" nno? or welcome to them, but
paying [as is shown by Buchi Emecheta in her The
edged out ofthe way to let them pass.
Bride Price (1976) ], religious prescriptions (for
In the village, little groups of men
example the Bible and the Koran categorize woman
joined them until they became a
as a helpmate to man), the lack of self-confidence
company (140;
and formaI education, illiteracy, polygamy,
discrimination in most facets of social and public
life, loweconomic status, etc.
Women in this extract are lumped together with
children because it is generally accepted that they
Flora Nwapa's novel Efuru is the story of a very
are unimportant creatures who have nothing
strong woman, resilient, beautiful and morally
significant to contribute to nation building.
upright. In the description ofthis remarkable woman,
Nwapa subverts the stereotypal portrayal of woman
Nwapa's creative sense must have been gingered by
by most male writers. With Efuru, Nwapa has
the realization that it is women's responsibility to
inscribed the feminine principle in Nigerian, nay
reconstruct woman and recreate her image. Her
African literature. She expresses the need to recast
fiction seems to be a cry against that degraded
the gender realities and eschew women's self-hatred
position ofNigerian literature. This courageous and
and male subjugation, in order to establish a gender
positive reaction by woman is an attempt to
balance. The gender concept, as it permeates
recontruct the female image in contemporary
Nigerian literature, is being reconstructed. Her other
Nigerian fiction and aims to re-present women and
novels are strong tools of self-realisation through
their realities. In her fiction, Nwapa creates a
literature. In aIl her novels, it is no more the male,
seemingly decent society for women. It is a society
but the female character who is the center ofconcem
respectfuI of its women. She openly confronts the
and she dominates the plot. This is a challenge to
issues of gender and the distribution of power by
the old order.
the patriarchal society. She moves her female
characters from the innocent and helpless position
Flora Nwapa's description of Efuru seems to be a
to a state of self-empowerment and authority
reaction against what can be seen as the relegation
throughout her texts.
of women to the background (Adozo, 1998 ; 162).
Nwapa tried to set the records right by creating
It is a fact that, her female characters accept
women who tower above others, and even above
themselves as women, but new women, different
their husbands. With her fiction she has re-created
from the stereotypes with negative images that the
and re-presented women to reflect the changing
reader is familiar with in male-authored texts. With
realities ofAfrican women. Whether in Efuru (1966),
her ground-breaking novel Efuru (1966), Flora
Idu (1970), Never Again (1975), One is Enough
Nwapa has been a pathfinder to the few modem-
(1981), and Women are Different (1986), the writer
educated women in Nigeria. She has identified the
projects women at the center of the narrative. In
need to be the voice, the consciousness and the
her first novel Efuru, Efuru's status is as high as
center of consciousness of her gender. What one
that of a man of achievements in Achebe's novels,
feels is that Nwapa adopted a self-repossession
for example. About her, we are told :
strategy, proceeding to an awareness-raising. She
tries to interrogate, and at times to subvert the
Efuru was her name. She was a
demeaning myths being spun by the patriarchal
remarkable woman. It was not only
society about women.
that she came from a distinguished
family. She was distinguished herself
For Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie (1994) "the woman
writer has two responsibilities : first to tell about
being a woman ; secondly, to describe reality from
In this novel, Efuru is presented as beautiful,
a woman's view, a woman's perspective". Nigerian
cornmanding, intelligent, sensitive, affecting subtly
female writers in general address issues such as the
men in spite ofthemselves. As a woman, she loves
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men; but she maintains a pride in herseIf as she
type to stay at home and do nothing.
strives to be financially independent by pursuing her
Although she had not had the
business career. For Efuru, life entails confronting
experience ofpregnancy before, and
the challenges ofexistence in a world where gender
she was not having a particularly easy
constraints one to a second-class citizenship. Efuru
has all good qualities and her strong individuality
surprised to see how weIl she looked.
permeates ail the novel. The woman was
She;was the subject of conversation
courageous, faced most ofher problems with succes,
of the town. She looked more and
and, was consequently always happy. "Many people
more beautiful, and wherever she
envied her husband and women were jealous ofher
went. men and women admired her
beauty"(29). Efuru was "a good woman who had
good words for everybody. A good woman who
greeted you twenty times ifshe saw you twenty times
Idu calls into question the issue ofwomen's role in
a day. A woman with a clean heart, and who respects
the community in terms of the emphasis on
her eIders" (94). Efuru is central to the story and
childbearing and childlessness. Sociologist Ada Mere
celebrates her female nature, her female charm and
(1984) states that in most African societies "when
female economic power. She is a successful woman
after marriage, procreation does not happen, that
in trade and is well-endowed as a woman physically
woman has failed an essential life goal". But,
and intellectually. A character informs us :
whether in the case of Efuru, or Idu, childlessness
does not constitute a serious drawback to these
1 heard so much about her... Her
female protagonists.
hands make money. Anything she
touches is money. Ifshe begins to sell
ln Nwapa's One is Enough, the main character
pepper in the market, she will make
Amaka is a strong and competent woman, very good
money out ofit. If in salt, money will
at business. Her childlessness does not prevent her
flow in (156).
from fulfilling her objectives. Her struggle for self-
image began when she was engaged in the fight that
Efuru is not an ordinary woman. She is good. Nwapa
brought her husband Obiora and his mother to
creates this character, surely to talk to Achebe's
hospital. After having been sent out of the home by
Okonkwo and Ezeulu, since Nwapa declared that
her husband's mother, Amaka the protagonist
she has been greatly influenced by Achebe through
wanted to restore self-esteem at all cost. She moved
his fiction (Ezeigbo, 1998 : 657). The female
to Lagos where she found an environment
protagonist subverts the existing moral codes or
appropriate to foster her desires. Her will to find
social values. That is how Nwapa reconceptualizes
self-realization as a single woman and her desire for
gender in her fiction.
dignity through economic success become the centre
ofher life's goal. In Lagos, her life details her rise to
Like the character Efuru in the novel Efuru, Idu in
power as she turns her skill to gain business
the novel [du is presented as the picture of a perfect
contracts. Nwapa is thus re-presenting woman as a
woman, an ideal wife, industrious, kind-hearted and
very active and formidable human being who
loving. She is also a friendly and hospitable woman
contributes to the making ofher life. Amaka happily
who is loved and respected by everyone in her
succeeds in both personal and professionallife as a
community. Idu is the prop on which everyone
powerful and independent woman.
depends and we see her as the one constantly making
decisions, carrying them out and attending to a large
Nwapa's stories come to us as a natural account of
proportion to the demands of the business enterprise
women's lives, with female images which seem not
jointly owned by her and her husband Adiewere.
to be conventional as in male-authored texts. That
Thus, she makes herselfan exceptional female figure.
is precisely why Nwapa does not see woman as a
The narrator makes this striking comment :
godfigure. For example, when Amaka (the
protagonist in One is Enough) came to Lagos, she
In spite of her illness, Idu carried on
decided to protest against the patriarchal society.
with her trade as usual. Her husband
The first man she met was the Alhaji, and they lived
begged her not, but she was not the
together. She gave him sex and he gave her contracts.
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Sciences sociales et humaines
At the same time she met a Reverend Father, Father
breadwinners of their families. In these novels
Mclaid (lzu) and bore him male twins. Butshe
Nwapa is very affirmative and very celebrative of
refused to marry mm despite the priest's appeal and
women's power. Efuru, Idu and Amaka reject all
readiness to quit priesthood. Amaka's decision was
subordinate positions of women and gain
independence from men. This shows an expression
of a need to break the long-prevaling traditions,
She was not going to be involved
beliefs and customs that keep women down.
again with men. She had had enough.
She had not come to Lagos to be a
Discourses of war often rank women and children
whore. She had come to look for
together as the vulnerable groups. We see this in
identity (45).
Achebe's Things FaU Apart (1958) and Arrow of
(1964). When war breaks in a male-dominated
Amaka has chosen to punish the wrong persons ;
context, the problems offemininity increase. But as
and we are informed that " Izu (The Reverend
we said earlier, Nwapa's female characters are
Father) was crying" (74). In an interview with Gay
individuals who count in aIl significant matters
Wilentz, Nwapa had this to say:
affecting community or national development. In her
Never Again, the female character Kate seems to be
Well, it is Amaka's story and is her story.
a vital source ofhope for the regeneration ofsociety.
There are many people who do this
Women in this novel devote their energy to
in our society. Ifthe evils are relevant
countering the forces of destruction such as hunger
to the stories 1 am telling, 1 will
and starvation. Kate informs us :
include them. It does not mean 1
1 was determined not to see my
approve of it.
children suifer. 1would sell all 1had
to feed them if 1 had to. They were
Nwapa does not believe a woman should be passive
not going to be hungry (25).
or voiceless. The female characters in her fiction do
not exist only for services they provide inside the
Here, women's roles transcend the domestic and
home for their husbands and children. They count
reproductive. On her part, Madam Agafa's reaction
in significant matters affecting community or national
at a meeting is reported thus :
life. By so doing, Nwapa proceeds to a redefinition
of the female gender. She creates thus new spaces
"1 am a woman. 1am nt afraid ofany
and a voice for women. At the same time she is
vanda!. 1am going to fight with my
initiating a new tradition in Nigerian literature. As
mortar pistol ". She turned in the
Efuru in the novel Efuru, Amaka in One is Enough
direction of the women : isn't that
is presented as a very distinguished and respectful
what you said 1should say? "
woman, right from the beginning of the nove!. The
"Yes, yes ", filled the air.
narrator reports :
" ...1am a woman. But 1am not going
to be evacuated. Have you heard ?
Amaka went on with her business in
We women are solidly behind our
Onitcha, supplying timber, sand and
men. Our children will be with us.
food. She was a contractor, one of
... My five children will be with me"
the numerous female contractors
who had sprung up during and at the
end of the war. Before the war, she
From this extract it is clear that Nwapa does not
had been a teacher. At the end ofthe
produce her story from a radical feminist stand. In
war, because she took part in the
fact feminism identifies with a man-hating ideology.
"attack trade ", she rediscovered
ln feminism, there is the idea of rebellion against
the male sex. It shows fearlessness, political
awareness and a drive for equa1ity, and has been
In Efuru, Idu and One is Enough, the female
presented by many scholars as offensive. For
protagonists do not depend on their husbands for
Ogunyemi (1996) " feminism appears more
their daily livelihood. Rather, they are the main
rhetorical, polemical, and individualistic in its
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_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
thrust" ; (119). For Ezeigbo (199) "feminism posits
issue is the role of women as mother in a society
that women should have equal rights and chances
devastated by war, a patriarchal preoccupations we
with men in every aspect of human experience :
said earlier. Nwapa chooses a war situation to
political, legal, econimic, social, etc. (30). It is an
demonstrate the mutual dependency of the sexes ;
analysis ofwomen's subordination for the purpose
because war is another situation in which survival
of figuring out how to change it. Feminism has
takes precedence over custom. Men and women
negative connotations and aIl black women writers
easily becorne partners when it aids their survival.
particularly, are preoccupied by this. To adapt their
In Never Again, women are not the main actors on
fight to the particularities oftheir race, black women
the war fronts, but their actions are determinant :
in their great majority collit themselves rather to
womanism which is a black outgrowth offeminism.
They make uniforms for the soldiers,
Unlike radical feminism, it wants meaningful union
they cooked for the soldiers and gave
between women, men and children and wants to see
expensive presents to the officers.
to it that men hegin to change from their sexist stand.
And they organized the women who
Womanism is communal in its orientation and goes
proyed every Wednesday for Biafra
beyond the husband and wife situation. It is an
ideology in which the destiny of distressed peoples
can be urgently discussed in a meaningful context
The writer's conviction is that with collaborative
to avert disaster, not just to talk abstractly. Like aIl
efforts from men and women, the war can be won.
black feminists who see white feminists as
It is said that" there are a group of men and women
separatists, popularly referred to as lesbians, Alice
who are dedicated to the cause of Biafra " (18).
Walker (1983) sees the womanist as one" committed
Nwapa considers the contribution ofevery individual
to the survilval and wholeness ofentire people, male
as determinant. Kate's aunt (an old woman) informs
and female" : XI). Like Alice Walker who considers
us : "We dare Nigerians to come. 1am old, but 1am
that womanism is a more relevant concept that
going to kill one with my pistol before they kill me"
upholds the respect for the family unit by Africans
(43). Even her very old husband declared : "1 am an
both on the continent and the diaspora, Clenora
old man.. .1 am not going to leave my fatherland "
Hudson-Weems (1993) rejects any man-hating
ideology considers it as un-African Womanism thinks
that men and women should make harmony their
Though Nwapa al ways empowers her female
mutual concem ; and this harmony should be in the
characters, giving them authority, her women always
home and in the society at large.
express a need for men's complementarity. Though
Efuru has been very strong and very successful, she
It is true that Nwapa's criticism of sexism as a
has always longed for a suitable husband. Idu was
deterrent to national progress appears to be a
more fortunate, and lived a very romantic life with
feminist stand; because as Maggie Humm (1986)
her husband. That is why she saw her life as useless
observed, "women become feminist by becoming
at the latter's death and died consequently. The
conscious and criticizing the power of symbols and
following complaint presents the kind ofrelationship
the ideologyofculture" (41). But Nwapa's ideololgy
that existed between Idu and her husband before
is identified to African feminism, another term for
the latter's death :
womanism. Her fiction shows the true nature of
woman, her role, and her contribution to the
Mother, 1 will not weep. That is not
development ofher society, which were played down
what we agreed. Adiewere and 1
or neglected in the works of the male writers.
planned things together. We did not
Nwapa's major concem for improving the quality
plan this. We did not plan that he
of her community, not just women's leves, marks
would leave me today and go to the
her politics. Genuinely democratic, her ideology is
land of the dead. Who will 1 live
integrative rather than solely woman-centered. One
with ? Who will he my husband ? The
can say that she does not see the problem of her
father ofmy only son? Who will ta1k
country Nigeria as solely gender-specific.
to me at night ? ... 1 am going with
my husband. Both ofus will go there,
ln Flora Nwapa's novel Never Again, the central
to the land of the dead. (210)
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Sciences sociales et humaines
And we are informed that Idu really died. (217-18).
1. Nwapa, Flora, 1966. Efuru, Ibadan, Heinemann
ln One is Enough, Women are Different (1986) and
Educational Book Ud.
others, women seem to be in search of appropriate
men in order to live a comfortable and complete life
, 1970. Idu, Ibadan, Heinemann
and grow fully. This ideology which does not exclude
Educational Books Ud.
one sex from the discourse is a fundamental aspect
ofNwapa's fiction. True, Nwapa's fiction focuses
, 1975. Never Again, Enugu, Tana
on women primarily. But every female character's
destiny is seemingly linked to that ofa man and vice
versa. This ideology is the basic principle that
, 1981. One is Enough, Enugu, Tana
sustains womanism in literature. For the womanist,
the vital unity of the people evolving a philosophy
oflife acceptable to both men and women is better
, 1986. Women are Different,
than a "debilitating and devastating political struggle
Enugu, Tana Press.
for women's liberation, independence, and equality
against men, to prove a feminist point" (Ogunyemi,
, 1971. This is Lagos and Other
1996: 121).
Stories Enugu, Nwanko-
Ifejika & Co. Publishers.
To conclude this analysis, 1 would say that
contrary to male writers, Nwapa projects female
characters in her fiction to show that women's
voices should not be mufled voices of a group of
1. Achebe, Chinua, 1958. Things FaU Apart,
subaltem, but ideological voices. She was
Ibandan, Heinemann Educational
reformist in her tendencies. Efuru, Idu, Amaka,
Books Ud.
Kate, Madam Agafa, Rose, Agnes, Dora and
others in Nwapa's major novels are very
, 1964. Arrow of God, Ibadan,
remarkable women, strong, competent, ambitious,
Heinemann Educational
courageous, hardworking and successful in their
Books Ud.
various activities. Because many are economically
, 1960. No Longer at Ease,
independent, they are alsoself-reliant, rejecting all
Ibadan, Heinemann Educational Books Ud.
subjugation and male oppression, and protesting
against the second position of their gender. The
4. Amadi Elechi, 1966. The Concubine, London,
writer uses this strategy in her fiction to show the
importance ofcollaboration and complementarity
among the sexes and to prove thus a womanist
5. Azodo, U. Ada, 1998. " Efuru and Idu : Rejecting
point. Gayle Greene (1991) remarked, "to write
Women's Subjugation" in Marie Umeh
about women's issues is not necessarily to address
ed. Emerging Perspectives on Flora
them from a feminist perspective". ( :02). Nwapa
NwapaAsmara, Africa World Press.
moves towards the creation neither of man's
world nor a woman's, but human world. In her
6. de Beauvoir, Simone, 1976. The Second Sex,
fiction we see a " new " woman
translated and edited by H. M. ParsWey
Harmondsworth, Penguin.
7. Eko Ebele, "Changes in the Image ofthe African
Woman : A Celebration". Phy/on XVII,
(3) 210-18.
8. Ekwensi, Cyprian, 1961. Jagua Nana, London,
Hutchinson and Co. Ud.
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_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
, 1986. Jagua Nana sDaughter, Ibadan,
23. Soyinka, Wole, 1970. The Interpreters, New
Spectrum Books Ltd.
York, Collier Books.
10. Emecheta, Buchi, 1976. The Bride Priee,
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Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (ter Semestre)