- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
N'GUESSAN Kouadio Germain
University ofAbidjan/Cocody - COTE D'IVOIRE
Morris..QU live in new socio-historical environments
where the tmditional practice ofstorytelling is largely
StoryteUers, bards, messengers, eulogists,
influenced and altered by modemity, it is not the
genealogists, moralists, guarantors of
figure of the griot himself/herself in the traditional
tradition, singers and instrumentalists, griots
African sense of the term (an individual who used
are in Senegal, Guinea and mainly in Mali as
to go about with a cora, singing and praising people)
weIl, undeniable masters ofspeech and music.
which will be analyzed. It is rather the literary
Present in the works ofmany writers and film
character who is given in the novel, the role that
makers, from Pierre Loti and Camara Laye to
paraUels that of the griot. Many other realities
Sembène Ousmane, they helped the novelist
(literary production, the world of publication at
Alex Haley, author of the best seller Roofs,
large) also explain a shift away from traditional oral
relate his origins [... ]. Their knowledge and
structures towards a representation of these
talent arouse respect. (Leymarie, 1999, 3.
structures in the text. Literature then, as Morrison
translation mine)
advocates, should stand for an appropriate medium
to carry on the role of the griot: "We [Black
Nwapa's Efuru (1966) and Morrison's Beloved
Americans] don't live in places where we can hear
(1987) articulate sorne of the attributes of the griot
those stories anymore; parents don't sit around and
as defined in the above quotation by pianist and
tell their children those classical, mythological
musicologist Isabelle Leymarie. Both novels pay
archetypal stories that we heard years ago. But new
tribute to the griot as historian, upholder of the oral
information has got to get out, and there are several
tmdition ofhis/her community. Through Efuru's and
ways to do it. One is the novel" (Evans, 1983, 340).
Sethe's respective stories, the authors relate the
History ofpeople who share the same experience in
Clearly, the novel stands in Morrison's mind, for a
the tradition of the griot. In this paper, 1 intend to
"healing art". It functions as a means ofunifying the
analyze the role ofthe griot by tracing interconnected
black community and preserving the cultural identity
occurrences in both books and showing how
of the Black American people. As' il healing tool,
Nwapa's and Morrison's texts explore the common
literature helps them relive nostalgically those good
threads of Black women's experience from Africa
old days Morrison refers to. It heals "the pain of not
and the Black Diaspora. That the two writers chose
being able to sit around and tell or listen to those
female protagonists for their plots is not fortuitous.
archetypal stories" because modem environment has
Morrison uses this process to highlight the horrors
drastically changed those habits.
of the Peculiar Institution for Black Americans as a
whole, and particularly for the community ofBlack
women as productive force and means of
production.] As for Nwapa, the same process is
meant to show African women's enslavement
through tradition.
Two attributes of the griot will be discussed: first,
1 The capitalist ideology underlining the politics ofslavery helps understand
Black women's exploitation. Thus, in the same way as capitalism exploited the
the griot as chronicler of historical events and
productive force, Black women in slavery were considered as productive force
second, as storyteller. However, because Nwapa and
and means ofproduction: they contributed to the production bytheir work and
created producers through motherhood.
Revue du CAMES - )Jouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

Sciences sociales et humaines
1. The griot as chronicler of history.
Guthrie, 1994,257-258)
The figure of the griot as historian who chronicles
Morrison then re-writes the experience of slavery
the different fonns ofoppressions victimizing Black
not in the way the Institution was structured, but in
women, emerges from the texture of Efuru and
a process oflived experience. This re-writing passes,
Beloved. 1 The plots dramatize the story of people
as critic Claudine Raynaud mentions, for "prophetic
whose lives progress from a state of legal/cultural
literature" (1996, 23). For the critic, Beloved does
bondage to that offreedom and a substantial degree
not foIlowthe chronological sequence ofthe official
of self-realization. Yet, this dramatization diverges
history related to slavery. It recalls The Black Book
from one book to the other. In Efuru, women's
(1974), which neither is divided into chapters nor
enslavement is cultural whereas it is institutionalized
follows a specific order. The Black Book can be
and legalized in Beloved. The textual structure of
opened at any page. It contains newspapers articles,
Efuru is chronological, depicting Igbo culturallife
songs, pictures found in old trunks, recipes, slave
from pre-colonial to post-colonial period with
narratives collected during the Depression, registers
regards to its oppression ofwomen. On the contrary,
kept by Black pro-slavers, stories about non black
Beloved is a set of scattered fragments of Black
people who were beaten, killed or branded for
Americans' history. Though the novel is published
helping slaves (Raynaud, 23-24). AlI these elements
in 1987, it constantly refers to the period of slavery.
are also constitutive ofthe narrative plot in Beloved;
It is set during the Reconstruction and hints at the
they support the writer's assertion that her novel is
Middle Passage, aIl of which occurred many years
not about Slavery with capital S.
earlier. Thus, like historians, Nwapa and Morrison
place their readers at the core of their people's
While Beloved attacks the institution ofslavery itself,
history, drawing their attention onto the
Efuru portrays a situation of slavery as encoded in
"constructed" fate oftheir race and gender.2 Indeed,
the tradition of the tribe. Nevertheless, both books
historians lean on dialogues, letters, family stories
share the common enslavement ofBlack women. In
to construct the theories of human development in
Beloved, the effects of slavery on Black women are
time and space (Omolade, 1994, 11 0). But for
seen through the main protagonist. She wears on
Morrison, history must be interpreted not as a
her body the signs ofher greatest ordeal at the Sweet
sequential series of events but rather as a lived
Home Plantation. The story of Schoolteacher's
personal experience fraught with fear and
brutality that she endured is recorded in the scars
uncertainty. This is what she posits in Beloved, as
on her back. Paul D discovers this:
she explains during a conversation with critic Bonnie
He rubbed his cheek on her back and
1 was trying to make it a personal
learned that way her sorrow, the roots
experience. The book was not about
of it; its wide trunk and intricate
the institution - Slavery with capital
branches. Raising his fingers to the
S. It was about these anonymous
hooks of her dress, he knew without
people called slaves. What they do to
seeing them or hearing any sigh that
keep on, how they make a life, what
the tears were coming fast. And when
they're willing to risk, however long
the top of her dress was around her
it lasts in order to relate to one another
- that was incredible to me [... ] There
1 1focus on sorne of the oppressive forces that victimize Black women
was this ad hoc nature ofeveryday life.
because they cannot he ail exhaustively explored here.
2 ln her book Race, Sexe et pratique du pouvoir: idée de nature, sociologist
For black people, anybody might do
Colette Guillaumin argues that the idea of sexual difference is constructed
anything at any moment. Two miles in
around the sexual organ ofreproduction through a materialistic and symbolic
ideology intended to successively express, assert and separate sexes. This
any direction, you may run into
construction couples the materialistic relationship ofthe socio cultural division
Quakers who feed you or Klansmen
oflabor and the social distribution ofpower. Following this ideology, children
ofboth sexes are taught since childhood how to walk, how to sit, how to use
who killed you - you don't know.
playgrounds and which game they should play. Most ofthe time, girls receive
When you leave the plantation, you are
the exact reverse of the training given to the opposite sex. This goes to prove
that the sexual identity ofthe individual is constructed by ideological structures.
leaving not only what you know, you
(1992, Il 5-140)
are leaving yoUf family. (Taylor-
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
hips and he saw the sculpture her back
nephews and is "milked" like a cow (17). Their act
had become, like the decorative work
demonstrates Black women's objectification through
of an ironsmith too passionate for
constant sexual abuses. Baby Suggs, too, is a living
display, he could think but not say,
symbol of Black women's sexual exploitation during
"Aw, Lord, girl." And he would
slavery. She conceived eight children with six
tolerate no peace until he had touched
different men. Like Sethe. aIl her life is marked by
every ridge and leaf of it with his
suffering, sorrow, fear. and sadness. Most of the
mouth, none ofwhich Sethe could feel
people she knows were only the properties of slave
because her back skin had been dead
merchants. Thus, the reader is informed that there
for years. (17-18)
was nobody she "knew, let alone loved, who hadn't
run off or been hanged, got rented. won, stolen or
Here, Sethe's inability to feel anything in Paul D's
seized" (23). As for her children, they were aIl
affectionate gestures is undoubtedly shocking for
separated from her, a situation which provokes not
the reader. The many floggings she has received
only a terrible shock but also exposes the reality of
through her master's cruelty have made the skin of
the sexual exploitation of Black women as "means
her back insensitive to such an extent that she cannot
of production" (to use Marxist terminology). The
feel her friend's mouth going gently over il.
narrative reveals:
As a Black woman, Sethe feels profoundly insulted
Baby's eight children had six fathers.
by Schoolteacher's research on her own and her
What she called the nastiness of life
fellow slaves' racial characteristics. Beloved depicts
was the shock she received upon
the ill-treatment ofBlacks under slavery thoroughly.
learning that nobody stopped playing
Sethe's own mother was marked. She wore the
checkers just because the pieces
imprint under her breast and a bit in her mouth as
included her children. Halle she was
the heroine tells her daughter Denver (61). This
able to keep the longest. Twenty years.
reveals the slaves' reduction to animal status. AIl
A lifetime. Given to her, no doubt, to
the same, that this slave woman is made to wear a
make up for hearing that her two girls,
bit in her mouth is also a literaI privation ofher right
neither ofwhom had their adult teeth,
to speak. By doing so, her master isolates her and
were sold and gone and she had not
prevents her from communicatiJlg with her
been able to wave goodbye. To make
companions. This deprivation is coupled with the
up for coupling with a straw boss for
impossibility to love freely. Paul D notices this
four months in exchange for keeping
propensity with Sethe: "Risky, [he] thought, very
her third child, a boy, with her - only
risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything
to have him traded for lumber in the
that much was dangerous, especially if it was her
spring of the next year and to find
children she had settled on to love" (45).
herself pregnant by the man who
promised not to and did. That chiId she
Slavery also creates a psychological trauma for Black
could not love and the rest she would
women. It makes the heroine kill and try to commit
not. (23)
suicide. But she feels no remorse. On the contrary,
she justifies her acts: "1 took and put my babies where
Turning the role of the griot into that of a historian,
they'd be safe" (164). Later, she adds: "It's my job
Morison's narrator collects aIl the different aspects
to know what is and to keep them away from what
of Black Americans' lives bit by bit.
1 know is terrible. 1 did that" (165). A victim of the
institutionalized system, she knows what it means
Efuru explores female experience from early colonial
to be a slave or a slave's relative. Consequently, she
times to post-civil war period and contemporary
finds that it is her duty to protect her offsprings.
Nigeria. The novelist leans on elements of cultural,
This is why by killing them, she prevents them from
domestic as weIl as economic history as they touch
having to bear the burden that has been hers for
on women's lives from the past to contemporary
times. Consequently, many scenes are set in the
home, by the stream and at the marketplace, aIl of
Moreover. Sethe is raped by Schoolteacher and his
which are centers ofwomen's social and economic
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
activities. As a historian. Nwapa collects and depicts
is it if your husband Hcks your body,
the many facets of Igbo traditional as weIl as
worships you and buys everything in
contemporary society.
By so
the market for you and you are not
demonstrates. as critic Theodora Akachi Ezeigbo
productive? (171, italics mine)
asserts, her "remarkable understanding of history.
The above quotation brings out the metaphor of
historical process and individual and corporate
feeding through marriage. For Efuru's community,
psychology" (Umeh. 1998, 58). From a feminist
marriage should be fertile; it should produce children.
point of view, she then evokes what Alice Walker
The words "eat" and "fruitful", build up the
terms the dut y of Black women writers and
metaphor of nourishment. By yielding children,
intellectuals in her collection of essays In Search of
marriage therefore feeds the biological parents and
Our Mothers .Gardens ( 1983). Walker writes: "We
ensures their survival and beyond them, that of the
are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses
whole community. In addition, the fact that for the
away. If they are thrown away, it is our duty as
community marriage should be productive. throws
artists. scholars, and witnesses for the future to
light on the idea of the materialistic exploitation
collect them again for the sake ofour children, and,
carried by the words "market" and "buy". Thus,
ifnecessary, bone by bone" (92). This is what Nwapa
when marrying a woman, the husband is
skillfully achieves in Efilru.
metaphorically investing. And the income of his
investment derives from the children the latter is
Early in the novel, the heroine breaks the cultural
expected to conceive. It is therefore in light of this
structure ofher community by accepting to go with
economic mentality that childbearing is essential.
a suitor who has not yet fuI fi lIed the traditionallaw
of dowry (3). In the eyes ofher community, such an
Consequently. as Efuru still fails to conceive in her
attitude cannot go unpunished. Therefore, she
second marriage, the community becomes worried.
becomes an outcast. AlI her actions and life are
Omirima indirectly manifests this concem to the
considered as inadequate to the community's mores.
heroine's mother-in-law: "Look for a young girl for
Efuru's position in her society runs parallel to that
your son. He cannot remain childless. His fathers
of Sethe in Beloved. By killing, Sethe acts against
were not childless. So it is not in the family. Your
the social order and the communal mores of her
daughter-in-law is good, but she is childless. She is
society. Her act, like Efuru 's. is therefore
wealthy but riches cannot go on errands for us"
reprehensible because it does not fit the social
(205). Efuru's oppression is also physical. She is
organization ofBluestone Road. She is then viewed
made to go through female circumcision, a cultural
as an outlaw. This is why the community rejects her
and traditional sexual-oriented prescription
until ElIa's intervention for her reinstatement.
supposed to define woman's identity (1'0).
Furthermore, in her society, a woman is "nothing"
Throughout Efuru, marri age is a cultural and
but only the property of her husband. She must not
traditional element which contributes to make
challenge him and must behave with the greatest
women's burden heavier. It is intrinsically linked io
respect vis-à-vis him. For instance, at the end of the
procreation. Even in marriages based on pure and
marriage ceremony, when Adizua offers the glass of
true love which bring together husband and wife.
drink to Efuru, the people around order her as she
childbearing remains the main objective. Thus, when
holds it: "Kneel down, kneel down, you are a
Efuru fails to conceive in her marriages, the
woman" (23).
community finds it unacceptable. For instance, they
gossip at seeing her and Gilbert together seeming
Almost aIl the female protagonists of the novel
really happy. A woman says :
experience hardship. In no way, does the cultural
and traditional ideology to which the community is
Seeing them together is not the
important thing [...] The important
so attache d, offer them a possibility for self-
thing is that nothing has happened
realization. Like the heroine, all their existence is
since the happy marriage. We are not
characterized by suffering. Ajanupu accounts for this
going to eat happy marriage.
situation when she faIls sick.ln her agony, "her voice
Marriage should befruitful. Ofwhat
[sounding] as if she [is] far away" (197), she recalls
.use is it if is notfruitful. Of what use
all the misery she has been going through since she
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (le. Semestre)

Sciences sociales et humaines
gol married. She tells Ossai:
won't allow anybody to molest you. So confess and
live" (274-275).
My life has been one long suffering. The
bright part of it came when my son married
Instead of dwelling upon her sickness and acting
Efuru. But Adizua hated me. He hate9 me
for her recovery, Gilbert is inc1ined to c1aim and
just as his father hated me. He did not want
protect his male dignity. In sum, Efuru suffers
me to be happy, and so denied me that
because she loves and wants to be loved. Even in
happiness [ found in his marriage with
Efuru. My son left his wife and ran away
joke, she is reminded that she is not a man's equal.
with a worthless woman. My gods and
As Gilbert tells her, as a woman, she is not entitled
ancestors, 1have not wronged you. 1have
to break kola in his presence (104). Like historians,
been upright. [ have never stolen in my
~orrison and Nwapa respectively chronic1e Sethe's
life. In ail the long years 1waited for my
family story and Efuru's tragedy to construct, in cntic
husband, 1did not commit adultery. But 1
Omolade's words, their people's "development in
have suffered as nobody has suffered
time and space". They dramatize slavery in America
before. (197)
and pre-colonial to post-colonial era in Igbo society
(Africa) with their oppression of Black women.
Nwabata, Ogea's mother, also begins to suffer as
soon as she gets married. The narrator explains: "She
2. The griot as storyteller.
had her way and married Nwosu. That was the
beginning ofher suffering. She had to go to the fann
While accounting for historical events, the griot
with him and she had to leam the hard way. She was
fulfills at the same time the role of a storyteller. A
able to endure it because of the tremendous love
novelist can bear testimony to the role of the griot
she had for her husband and her children" (212).
as storyteller in two ways. Either he/she incorporates
Like Nwabata, Efuru's two marriages do not help
in his/her text scenes relating this practice or he/she
her find happiness. Even if her marriage ceremony
gives the narrative a structural framework that
with Gilbert is a success, the marriage ends up
resembles a tale. This double perspective c1early
sorrowfully and painfully. In one word, she is unable
penneates both Efuru and Beloved. Indeed, the act
to accommodate to modemity while keeping in
of storytelling stems from an old tradition dating
touch with her community's traditional way ofliving.
back for centuries within Black communities. It is a
way fortribes and populations to communicate their
Painstakingly, Nwapa explores women's plight by
legends, religious beliefs and their stories. This
analyzing their experience through their relationship
practice is at the core ofthe inter-textual relationship
with male characters. She thus bears witness to the
between Efuru and Beloved. lt infonns the reader
great importance literary tradition otfers male
that in Nwapa's and Morrison's communities,
characters to the detriment of female ones in Igbo
storytelling is transmitted not only as an heritage,
society. Thus, Efuru's first husband, Adizua, deserts
but also as a contribution to the process of education
her for another woman. When their child dies, he
and socialization of the individuals. As Toni Cade
refuses to come back, leaving her to endure the pain
Bambara puts it:
alone (93-94). Later, when her father dies, her
second husband, Gilbert, refrains from attending the
Stories keep us alive. In the ships, in the
burial ceremony (259). Furthennore, Gilbert brings
camps, in the quarters, fields, prisons, on
home the child he has from another woman without
the road, on the run, in the throes, on the
taking time to psychologically prepare Efuru and
verge - the storyteller snatches us back
her co-wife Nkoyeni (241), demonstrating that he
from the edge. Our lives preserved. How
is the sole master of the household and as such, only
it was, how it be. Passing it along in the
his decision counts. Above aIl, when the heroine falls
relay. That is what [ work to do: to produce
sick, she is accused of adultery by the whole
stories to save our lives. (Evans, 1984,
41; in Kenyon, 1991, 51)
community, inc1uding Gilbert. H~ asks h~r: "Efuru,
my wife, the gods are angry with you because you
The storyteller then appears as the upholder of oral
are guilty of adultery, and unless you confess, you
tradition. But in which way do Efuru and Beloved
will die. So you should confess to me and live. 1
respond to this principle?
won't ostracise you, you will still be my wife, and l'
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

Sciences sociales et "umaines
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
From Nwapa's text to Morrison's, the process of
namely eight years after the civil war (1861-1865).
storytelling is woven into the narrative differently.
This reference functioRs as a hyphen between the
This distinction cross-refers to folklorist and
plot and the Reconstruction period and the great
ethnologist Vladimir Propp's structuring of the tale
hope it aroused within the black communities. When
in his Morphologie du conte (1970):
translated to the narrative structure of Beloved,
Sethe's "misdeed" is the murder ofher daughter and
We can cali [... ] tale from a morphological
the reappearance of the ghost indicates that she is
stand point, any development starting from
pursued by evil. FinalIy, her salvation is fulfilled
a misdeed or from a lack [of misdeed],
through the communal prayer organized by the other
and going through intermediate functions
women of her community towards the end of the
to lead to marriage or to other functions
novel to exorcise the malevolent influence of the
used as outcome. The final function can
be the reward, the taking of the object of
ghost (261).
the researches, or generally, the repair of
the misdeed, the help and the salvation
One of the essential characteristics of storytelling is
du ring the pursuit, etc. We cali this
the technique of"call-and-response" known as one
development a sequence. (112, translation
of the most persistent aspects of Black expres~on.
It is a technique of interaction between a storyteller
and an audience or between a soloist and a chorus
In different episodes ofEfuru's and Sethe's tragedies,
in which each calI from the storyteller is punctuated
the idea ofpursuit and quest for help or salvation is
by a response from the audience. It helps synthesize
recurrent. In Efuru, the novelist lays more emphasis
the storyteller and the audience by creating a climate
on the very structure of the tale. This structure
of cohesion and a communion: "The audience not
revolves around an unspecified reference,
only aids the speaker's' perfOl:mance, but also
.. establishing the usual form of storytelling with
performs in its own right. Every member ofthe [... ]
expressions such as "a long time ago", "once upon
audience is required to participate actively in
a time", commonly used in African tales for lack of
communication. The audience, in fact, is a speaker,
precise references. The novel reveals this
and the speaker, thriving on the response of the
timelessness as Eneke introduces his tale about the
audience, is herself a listerrer" (Awkward, 1989,49).
young girl who disobeys her mother: "One day, in
the land ofIdu-na-oba (Benin)" (131). The young
In this act ofcommunication, neither the storyteller
girl 's misdeed derives from her disobedience to her
nor the audience has a predetermined role. Both are
mother. At the end of the tale, when the spirit dies,
in tum audience and storyteller. In the words ofcritic
the girl's misdeed is repaired and her salvation
Smitherman: "'There is no sharp line between
achieved. Efuru also commits a misdeed by breaking
performers or communications and the audience, for
her community's traditionallaw which forbids her
virtually everyone is performing and everyone is
to leave her parents for her suitor unless the latter
listening'" (1977, in Awkward, 1989, 49). The
pays the dowry first. But her misdeed is repaired
response to a calI can be verbal. This is delineated in
later when she accepts to retum to herfather's house
Efuru when Eneke calls his audience at the beginning
(280). By accepting her failure as fate, she reconciles
ofhis tale: "Mbadee". The audience responds: "de.
herselfwith her "misdeed" and can henceforth hope
Mbadee. de" (131). The communication settled,
for salvation.
Eneke can rely'On the faithfulness of his audience
and freely teÜ his tale. The verbal response of the
In contrast to Efuru, Beloved focuses on the oral
chorus to the storyteUer's calI also occurs in the
and historical nature of the narration. Sethe's story
scene in which Eneke tells his audience about the
is recounted orally in three parts. Baby Suggs tells
death ofthe spirit who wants to marry Nkwo's sister
one version. Sethe herself recounts another part and
or about Okirikpa's death after the latter becomes
the last version is told by Denver. But when
so fat that he can no longer fit in his house:
associated, they constitute the heroine's whole story.
Many a time, the novel hints at the general history
Nkwo, brought a tin of kerosene. She
of Black Americans. The story's beginning is very
poured it on the roof and set the house on
relevant in terms of historical refetence: "1873",
fire. The house bumt to ashes, and thus
the spirit was killed. 'Serves him right',
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 WI" Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
the children rejoiced, 'to think that he
could marry such a beautiful girl'. 'But
100ked.And the more fine pointsshemade,
's not the
d f th
the more detail she provided.. the more
e s ory,
ne e
Beloved liked it. So she anticipated the
contInued.. 'The ashes of the burnt body
ofthe spirit were in a heap and as Okirikpa
questions by giving blood to the scraps
her mother and grandmother had told her
\\yas passing by, he saw the heap ofashes.
"What a fine snuff", he says. So he
~and a heartbeat. The monologue became,
In fact, a duet as they lay down together,
coIlected sorne, and with his thumb he put
in his two nostrils, and went home. When
Denver nursing Beloved's interest like a
lover whose pleasure was to overl'eedthe
he got home, he began t0 en1arge. and to
loved. (78, italics mine)
enlarge and to enlarge until he was too
big for his house, and final1y he bUTSt and
Here too, the metaphor of feeding. like that in
died. 'Ew-o-o-o', the women and the
Efuru's marriage with Gilbert, is thrown into relief.
children exclaimed. (137)
It represents a significant stylistic device and
constitutes a powerful thread in the novel. In Efuru,
The moral of the whole tale is the price of
this .metaphor is fulfilled through marri age and
disobedience. Because the young girl refuses to
preclsely through birthing while in Beloved. it is
respect her mother's waming and follows her mates
provided to the reader by the text. This dual
to the udara tree to collect its fruits (132), she cornes
perception of feeding puts side by side the social
across the spirit who wants to marry her. By blending
and cultural reality through which women are
her narrative with this tale, Nwapa demonstrates her
victimized in Efuru's and Sethe's communities. Baby
knowledge of the African oral tradition. This tale is
Suggs' story, Sethe's infanticide, Beloved's
therefore illustrative of the social organization of
resurrection, in one word, the lineage of Black
the writer's community. It also depicts the African
women's traumatic experiences, are paradoxically
traditional way ofteaching, educating, transmitting
told as a process of feeding. First, in a vertical
wisdom and knowledge through tales, fables and
downward process (from grandmother to mother
parables from adults to younger generations.
and from mother to daughter) and second, following
Furthermore, Okirikpa's new physical appearance,
a horizontal axis (from daughter to daughter or from
after he puts the ashes of the spirit in his nostrils,
same to same). However, on either side, the process
revives the traditional belief that spirits never die.
intends to satisfy the "greedy" desire of the listener.
They always appear in new forms, demonstrating
But beyond the very act of feeding, this metaphor
their everlasting character.
relates to the notion of survival. The different stories
feed the listeners and help them discover their
On the other hand, the response to the storyteller's
identity while giving them strength to survive the
calI can he non verbal. In Efuru, this is given through
difficulties they experience.
the attitude of sorne of Eneke's audience, namely
the children who "made faces", sorne of whom
The rhetorical as weIl as the structuring powers of
"spate on the ground" (136) as Eneke describes the
storytelling bring Efuru and Beloved together in
scene. Through this depiction, Nwapa gives a
inter-textual cohesion. For example, in Beloved, the
realistic dimension to the tradition of storytelling
appearance of the baby ghost is a sign of anxiety
and demonstrates its predominant role within African
and fear for the audience and the reader as weIl:
"124 was ... full ofa baby's venom. The women in
the house knew it and so did the children" (3). The
A similar interaction to that between Eneke and the
narrator presents a baby who cornes back from death
group of villagers, translated by a non verbal
after an infanticide perpetrated by its mother. Placed
response to the storyteller's calI, and which requires
into the context of storytelling, that of orality, this
that more information and details be given as the
beginning foreshadows the unfolding ofa good tale,
story progresses, occurs in Beloved when Denver
precisely through its mysterious opening. Likewise,
tells Beloved the story of her birth:
in Efuru, the reader is placed face to face with a
protagonist who is a reincamation of the river
Denver was seeing it DOW and feeling it-
Goddess Uhamiri. The heroine's barrenness, after
through Beloved. Feeling how it must have
birthing one child, stems from the river Goddess'
felt to her mother. Seeing how it must have
Revuf du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1 er Semestre)

Sciences sociales et humaines
choice ofher as her worshipper. As such, Efuru must
A close examination of Nwapa's and Morrison's
represent her in aIl her fullness and infertility is an
plots reveals their link with fantasy as defined by
aspect ofthis plenitude.
Todorov. In Beloved, the unexpected reappearance
of the baby ghost at 124 Bluestone Road disrupts
Like Efuru who is inhabited by the river
the daily life ofSethe's family. For, "as soon as merely
Goddess, Sethe is haunted by the baby ghost
looking in a mirror shattered it, as 'soon as
[Beloved's] two tiny band prints appeared in the
who resurrects to daim her share of love. This
cake" (3), Sethe's boys (Buglar and Howard) feh it
daim is shown by her narcissistic behavior
was high time they left to escape the mysterious and
anytime her mother manages to satisfy her
frightening atmosphere which haunts their
ceaseless demands (240-241), her "greedy"
household. Later on, Paul D deserts the house when
he realizes that Sethe's love for Beloved has become
desire and her devouring looks:
so immense that she seems to forget him (203). This
reappearance even hastens Sethe's loss ofher mental
Sethewas liked, tasOOd, eaten by Beloved's
sanity. She is housebound by Beloved. This adds
eyes. Like a familiar, she hovered, never
not only to the psychic trauma she goes through in
leaving the room Sethe was in unless
remembering the horrors ofslavery, but it also makes
required and told to. She rose early in the
her realize the threat that hovers over her family
dark to be there, waiting in the kitchen
life. In addition, Sethe's infanticide can be viewed
when Sethe came down to make fast bread
as a Biblical anaIogy. It might be a feminine/feminist
before she left for work. In lamplight, and
over the f1ames ofthe cooking stove, their
representation of Abraham 's attempt to kill his
two shadows clashed and crossed on the
beloved son Isaac in The Book ofExodus. Ofcourse,
ceiling like black swords. She was in the
the two acts do not have the same significance.
window at two when Sethe returned, or
Abraham's act is the materialization ofhis people's
the doorway; then the porch, its steps, the
traditional ritual ofworshiping God, whereas Sethe's
path, the road, till finally, surrendering to
murder is a symbol of liberation. She sacrifices
the habit, Beloved began inching down
Beloved to prevent her other children from being
Bluestone Road further and further each
taken back to slavery. However, the connection
day to meet Sethe and walk her back to
between the two scenes lies in the biological parent's
124. (57)
(spiritual/deliberate) intention to kill his/her
The narration of Efuru and Beloved is akin to that
of a tale. The heroines' stories, their tragedies can
On the other hand, the anaIogy betweenAbraham's
be said to be fantasies in so far as they are hardly
and Sethe's acts brings forth a triangulation. In his
believable. Indeed, as Todorov writes in Introduction
attempt to kill Isaac, Abraham links his relationship
à la littérature fantastique (1970), "fantasy is the
with his son to God. As such, he restores God in
hesitation someone who knows only natural laws
His status of a supreme being who exercises a right
bas, face to an apparently supematural event" (29).
oflife and death over human beings. In the end, God
He goes on:
is mercifuI and substitutes a lamb for Isaac. But at
the same time, He claims that no human being apart
Fantasy creates a particular effect on the
reader - fear, horror or curiosity - [... ]
from Him has such right over his/her fellow
Fantasy serves the narration, maintains
creatures. A similar triangulation to that occurring
suspense: the presence of fantastic
among Abraham, Isaac and God is also brought out
elements allows a really close organization
among Sethe, Beloved and Schoolteacher. As a slave
of the plot. Finally, fantasy has at first
master, Schoolteacher has life and death right over
sight a tautological function: it helps
both the heroine and her daughter. But Sethe·
describe a fantastic universe but this
reassigns this right to "Death" which in her eyes, '
universe is not as much a reality outside
stands for a supreme "being". By killing, she raises
language; the description and the object
Death to the rank ofa divinity, a redeemer (like God) .
described are not different. (98, translation
which must save Beloved from Schoolteacher's
crudty. Sethe's murder therefore proves 10 be a
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série D, VoL 007 N° 1-1006 (1" Semestre)

- - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
mercy killing in the sense that it is intended to avert
dimension of the sacred. From a spiritual point of
her daughter's suffering from her master's hands.
view, as a human being, Efuru is unclean while the
river Goddess symbolizes purity. It is then through
In Efuru, the heroine's fate is related to the will of
the opposition ofthe unclean to the pure, that she is
the river Goddess which has taken hold ofher. She
able to control reality because the power ofthe river
knows that she can no longer do anything by herself
Goddess is uncontrollable by a human being.
without the interference of her "holy" or "water"
spirit as she and her father are told by the dibia (the
In many ways, Efuru and Beloved can be interpreted
oracle): "The goddess ofthe lake has chosen her as
as quests. The appearance of Beloved at 124 and
one ofher worshippers. It is a great honour. She is
the revelation of Efuru's being chosen by the river
going to protect you and shower riches on you. But
Goddess, respectively characterize their beginnings.
you must keep her laws" (191-192). Both Sethe and
These events are landmarks in the heroines' lives
Efuru are then controlled by forces outside them
and prompt their quests for selfhood. The dramatic
and beyond their control. It is no wonder then, that
events of their lives urge them into a "pilgrimage"
their stories can or must be read as tales. Because
which leaèls them to tell their stories and to explore
these brutal forces are beyond human power, they
the interwoven links oftheir existence. Through the
provide both stories with a mythic, or even fantastic,
different unfolding of their stories, both Sethe and
Efuru realize that their lives evolve in a full circle..
For Sethe, the trauma of slavery she wants to erase
Yet, Efuru diverges somewhat from Beloved in its
from her mind and make her children escape is
unfolding ofthe mythic dimension. Sethe's tragedy
unavoidable: "My plan was to take us to the other
occurs in a dreamlike way, giving the novel an oneiric
side where my own ma'am is" (203). When she
tum instead. The nightmarish tension commences
declares that she "made up [her song] and sung it to
with the first signs of the ghost's presence at 124
[her] children, [that] nobody knows that song but
Bluestone Road and covers a two year period until
[her] and [her] children" (176), she indirecdy affirms
the end of the novel, a period during which the
her authority over her legacy ofher story which she
heroine must confront and live with that strange
is the only one able to tell.
reality. Sethe symbolically wakes up from her
nightmare thanks to the prayer of exorcism from
When the narrator asserts that the heroine's story
the neighboring women who help her get rid of
"was not a story to pass on" (274; 275), we
Beloved. Through this ceremony, the community
understand that it has come full circle. Sethe's story
constitutes a shield for Sethe and gives her shelter,
starts with the murder ofher beloved daughter whose
as Baby Suggs presses her to do: "Lay em down,
resurrection symbolically stops this story and
Sethe. Sword and shield. Down. Down. Both of'em
consequendy the passing ofthe relay. She sheds her
down. Down by the riverside. Sword and shield.
blood but she realizes that she has not gotten rid of
Don't study war no more. Lay aIl that mess down"
her child forever because this very part of her true
(86). Obviously, Baby's invocation proves to be
self she has rejected cornes back to her. Despite her
efficient since before Beloved appears at 124, Sethe
sorrow, she must succumb to her fate: "Anything
enjoys a twenty-eight day freedom (95).
dead coming back to life hurts" Amy Denyer notes
prosaically (35); and she accepts it: "When 1 tell
Like in a nightmare, Beloved haunts the heroine.
you you mine" she says, "1 also mean l'm yours"
When running away, she finds rescue in the
(203). At this point, Sethe and Beloved are fused.
community of women who use the power of their
They become whole. It is thus understandable that
prayer to defeat the ghost (261). She is purified and
Sethe has come back to where she started from, like
regains her identity. As far as Efuru is concemed,
the heroine of Efuru after the failure of her two
the plot is mythic in the traditional sense ofthe term.
marriages: "1 have ended where began - in my
The supematural power ofthe river Goddess directs
father's house. The difference is that now my father
the heroine's life. As a symbolic reprcœntation of
is dead" she says (Efuru, 280). Similarly, Efuru
the river Goddess in her community, Efuru is
follows a circular trajectory. Contrary to what she
required to undergo a ritual to appeal to her (192).
has hoped, she fails both as a wife and a mother
This is why aIl her actions are read as a myth since
through marriage. She then retums to her father's
the role she is assigned can be fulfilled only through
house and accepts her misadventure as a fate: "It is
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

Sciences sociales et humaines
the will ofour gods and my chi that such a misfortune
Schoolteacher's tyranny. Finally,
befall me" (280).
she urges Paul D (her mother's
lover) tomake love to her (l17).
Nwapa incorporates in her narrative the indigenous
These relations between the
traditional features, characteristic oforal stories. The
ghost and the triad of characters
tale-like aspect of the heroine's story derives from
contribute to the symbolic
the fact that she has qualities seldom found in a
structure ofthe narration. Unlike
human being. The narrator is quick to underline this
Efuru, Beloved's relation with
at the opening of the novel: "Efuru was her name.
the se characters is rather
She was a remarkable woman. It was not that she
destructive as it is revealed
came from a distinguished family. She was
through the unfolding of the
distinguished herself' (1). Throughout her life, she
narrative: Paul D deserts 124
makes use of these qualities. Even when she is
because Beloved's presence
wronged or hurt, she is always ready to do good.
frightens him and prevents Sethe
For instance, she takes Nwosu, Ogea's father (126)
from loving him. Towards the
and Nnona (160) to the hospital and pays for their
end of the novel, Sethe and
medical care. Though Ogea's parents did not pay
Denver run away for they too,
back her first debt as they had promised and even
can no longer withstand this
did not come to tell her that they could not keep
their word (151), Efuru accepts to help them face
their financial problems once again (216). In
Another essential stylistic feature which brings
addition, she makes the necessary arrangements for
Efuru's and Beloved's narrative plot together into a
her husband Gilbert to marry her maid Ogea as his
cohesive set, needs to be analyzed. It relates to the
third wife (273). In sum, Efuru is a character
oral technique. In Efuru, this technique evokes the
endowed with a high morals based on self-
established values of communal life and the
abnegation. Such qualities are rare; this is why she
traditional moral order represented by the old spirits.
deserves to be the river Goddess' worshipper.
For instance, the scene in which the stolen fish bites
the hand ofthe thief, is not simply a crime, but also
As it can be noted, Efuru is
a sacrilege against the community, the moral order
charitable to the people of her
and is justly punished by Uhamiri (161). Likewise,
community regardless of her
the traditional word games and playsongs the writer
relationship with them. Her
incorporates into her narrative represent these ideals
offamily unity (127), while the house building songs
polymorphous feature ofher role
(143) stand for (female) social roles which are
and raise her to the rank of a
constitutive of Efuru's society.
divinity. This mythic dimension is
then fulfilled through the various
In Beloved, the oral technique is also played out in
levels ofher relationship with the
the conversation between Denver and the baby
ghost. Beloved explains Denver where she cornes
from, how her life was there and how she has
kindheartedness offers her role a
been prevented by Sethe from coming back (75).
more divinatory aspect than
In the end, she decides: "[1 gonna] stay here. 1
Beloved whose mythic feature
belong here" (76) because, as she says: "[she has]
evolves in her relation with
come back to see Sethe's face" (75). From then
Denver, Sethe and Paul D. She
on, Denver realizes that her mother is caught in a
appears as a sister for Denver
spider's web. Later, Beloved asks her: "Tell me
with whom she leams her family
how Sethe made you in the boat" (76). In fact, the
story. She stands for Sethe's
ghost's final concem is essential for the.
mirror through which the heroine
understanding of the family story. Through it, she
remembers the trauma ofslavery
links her story to Sethe's attempt to murder her
and her share ofthe burden under
other children. It is then clear that Morrison sums
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
up Black Americans' history as she is reiterating
(1950-1980). New York: Doubleday.
her contribution to the tradition of storytelling.
Moreover, this question alludes to the Middle
5. Gates, Henry Louis J r. and K. A. Appiah, eds.,
Passage and establishes the writer's participation
1993. Toni Morrison: Critical
in the portrayal of the historical events of slavery.
Perspective Past and Present. New
On the whole, by blending tales into their plots or!
York: Amistad.
and by shaping them like tales, Nwapa and
Morrison respectively carry out the role of the
6. Guillaumin, Colette, 1992. Sexe, race et prati-
griot as a storyteller.
que du pouvoir: l'idée de nature.
Paris : Côté-femmes.
The narratives of Efuru and Beloved imply through
7. Iyasere, Solomon, (O.), and MarIa, (W.),
the manner of telling Black women's experience,
Iyasere, 2000. Understanding Toni
Nwapa's and Morrison's testimony to the practice
of storytelling. Like griot-historians, both writers
Beloved and Sula: Selected Essays
go deeply into the untold or neglected side of this
and Criticisms ofworks by the Nobel
experience, emphasizing the specificity ofwomen's
Prize-winning author. New York:
plight. As such, they bear witness to their people's
Whitston Publishing Company 2000.
past and gather informations about this past for the
generations after them. These novels confirm
8. Leymarie, Isabelle, 1999. Les griots
Nwapa's knowledge of Igbo cultural tradition and
Wolof du Sénégal. Paris: Maison-
Morrison's criticism of slavery's ordeals for Black
neuve & Lafose.
Americans. In using the craftsmanship of the griot
to convey Black women's predicament, both
novelists show artistic strength, pointing to
9. McDowell, Deborah E. and Arnold
Rampersad, eds.,
possibilities and ways of telling stories to depict
1989. Slavery and the
Black women's oppression.
2- 1 focus on sorne of the oppressive forces that victirnize
Imagination. Baltimore: The Johns
Black women because they cannot be ail exhaustively
Hopkins University Press.
explored here.
10. Morrison, Toni, 1978. Beloved. Great Britain:
1l.Nwapa, Flora, 1966. EluTu. London: Heine-
1. Braxton and McLaughlin, eds. , 1990. Wild
Women in the Whirlwind: Afra-American
12. Olandele, Tarivo, 1984. Female Novelists of
Culture and the Contemporary
Modern Africa. London: McMillan.
Literary Renaissance. London: Serpent's
13. Omolade, Barbara, 1994. The Rising Song of
African-American Women. New York.
2. Brown, Lloyd Weslealey, 1981. Women Writers
in Black Africa. Westport: Greenwood
14. Plasa, Carl and Betty J. Ring, eds., 1994. The
Discourse ofSlavery: Aphra Behn to Toni
3. Davies, Carole Boyce and Anne Adams Graves,
Morrison. New York: Routledge.
eds., 1986. Ngambika: Studies of
15. Propp, Vladimir, 1970. Morphologie du conte.
Women in African Literature. New
Paris: Seuil. Morphology ofthe Folktale.
Jersey: Africa World Press.
trans. Laurence Scott. 1968. USA:
University ofTexas Press.
4. Evans, Marie, ed., 1983. Black Women Writers
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (ter Semestre)

Sciences sociales et humaines
16. Raynaud, Claudine, 1996. Toni Morrison,
Howard, 1975. USA: Cornwell
L'esthétique de la survie. Paris. Belin.
University Press.
19. Umeh, Marie ed., 1998. Emerging Perspecti-
17. Taylor-Guthrie, Danielle, eds., 1994.
ves on Flora Nwapa: Critical and
Conversations with Toni Morrison. Jackson:
Theoretical Essays. New Jersey:
University Press of Mississippi.
Africa World Press.
20. Walker, Alice, 1983. In Search ofOur Mothers '
18. Todorov, Tzvctan, 1970. Introduction à la lit-
Gardens. New York: Harcourt Brace
térature fantastique. Paris: Seuil ; The
Fantastic: A Structural Approach to
a Literary Genre, trans. Richard
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)