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- Overviews of feminist/womanist criticism of African literatures are increasingly focusing on the centrality of such crucial issues as the representations and mis-representations of women in literary texts, power, and gendered spaces construction. As already shown by Sharon Verba and Denise Coussy, writers with a feminist perspective are progressively moving away from the all too-often stereotyped images of women as victors or victims -- dutiful wives, good mothers, foolish virgins, femmes fatales, prostitutes -- toward stronger images or symbols of African women not only taking active and shared roles with men, but also taking responsibility for their own destinies.
- One of the African feminist writers who have succeeded in attaining these objectives is the Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo. In addition to addressing a wide range of issues of concern to feminist/womanist thought like the ways female children become women, the meaning of marriage for women, where women's work fits into their lives, or women's sexuality, she remarkably "give(s) a sense of structural and linguistic irony which is functional . . . signify(ing) a couple of things : the need for, and a very process of, revamping" (Verba 5). These accomplishments are extended in Aidoo's 1999 novel, Changes. This work dramatizes and subverts the male power mechanics which disempower women. As Alice Walker states (in praise appearing on the novel's front cover), "Aidoo has reaffirmed my faith in the power of the written word to reach, to teach, to empower and encourage."
- The purpose of this article is twofold. It firstly explores the ways Aidoo uses space and time in Changes to retell a history of both Ghanaian changes and "spaces which would at the same time be the history of powers . . . from the great strategies of geopolitics to the little tactics of the habitat" (Umiker-Sebeok 1). Secondly, it illustrates the relevance of Jean Umiker-Sebeok's semiotic analyses of the subtle relationships between spatial and temporal patterning, social structuration processes, and power, to Aidoo's approach toward reversing male power dynamics.
- As suggested by its title, Changes consists of a critique and of the status of woman in the shifting socio-political landscapes of contemporary Ghana. Post-independence Ghana now boasts significant political, infrastructural, social and economic improvements, improvements that have fostered increasingly independent, mobile, educated upper- and middle-class women in control of crucial matters such as their reproductive lives. Such changes, however, should not overshadow the fact that the majority of Ghanaians have not benefited from the said improvements and that most emancipated women's freedom and rights keep being seriously constrained by their gender. In this part of Africa, like anywhere else on the continent, Aidoo's sisters still live in a man's world where traditions are undermined by materialism because, despite the appearances, their underlying principles constantly get subverted under the effect of widespread hypocrisy. Almost three decades after the N'Krumah years, during which educational programmes aimed at achieving the balance of power between the sexes were initiated, the Ghanaian woman is left wondering why she has been made to pay so high a price for a situation of dangerous confusion.
- Aidoo dramatizes such a problematic world by arranging 'space-conscious' characters around her protagonist, Esi Sekyi, a relatively emancipated Ghanaian woman. For instance, Opokuya, Esi's best friend, lives on Sweet Breezes Hill, once a famous colonial residential area. In so doing, she is folded into a layered space of pre- and post-independence social practices. According to Opokuya, her husband's family's bungalow is haunted by spirits that remind her of the period when the British "banned the local liquor to force the natives to buy expensive English and Scottish Whisky, and then proceeded to take over the local women" (15). Here, Aidoo denounces the fact that, in addition to disintegrating a genuine African economic system, the British empire corrupted the most important social pillar of Ghanaian society -- the wife, mother, educator, citizen. Rape thus assumes symbolic as well as literal significance as a means of enhancing people's awareness of the detrimental effects of colonial interferences with the roles assigned to African women.
- Another space-conscious character is Ali, who runs Linga HideAways, an Accra travel and tourist agency. When he meets Esi, a beautiful young married woman with a master's degree in statistics, in his office, he experiences his usual malaise with women :'Well you see,' he began to explain, and then changed his mind. One area of communication that always made him feel sad were these walls which the different colonial experiences seemed to have erected between groups of Africans ... especially when it hit him in relation to women. (2)Ali is totally aware of the culturally disruptive impact of colonialism symbolized by the Linga HideAways headquarters along whose imaginary walls echoes of conflicting values (old and new) keep reverberating, jeopardizing mutual understanding and harmony among people from the same continent.
- However, it should not be forgotten that Ali is the typical example of the African male predator who "had dropped out of his mother's womb absolutely determined to come out and live this life" (21). He is the grandson of Musa Kondey, "a minor prince" who "had owned an impressive number of sons, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, wives and daughters. Definitely in that order of value." (23). And Ali was fathered by Musa Musa, someone whom he proudly describes as a clever tradesman "who bought everything from everybody and somebody who could sell anything to anybody" (23). He did his Koranic education along his father's routes "from Bamako down through Ouga and Kumasi, from Abidjan across Sekondi, Accra and Lome" (26) where he was proclaimed an exceptionally bright learner before ending up successfully doing his Master's in Economics and Business Administration in London, which enabled him to run Linga HideAways, a modern replica of his ancestor's trade. He lays claim to "the entire Guinea Coast, its hinterland and the Sub-Sahel for his own" (22), assuming many nationalities and thereby epitomising the future West-African Economic and Monetary Union citizen, one of the first steps toward N'Krumah's United States of Africa. His spatio-temporal expansionism confirms both Jane Bryce's critical assumption that Changes also deals with the constructions of nation (Bryce 1) and the intricate links between anti-colonialist struggle and literature because, as J. Murphy has suggested, "[t]his struggle to graft time and space to each other is a task of absolute importance in the building and maintenance of the nation" (Murphy 2).
- Like his father, Ali enjoys the privilege of picking and choosing who to be, where to establish himself, whom to betrothe or marry and use as "occupied territory" (89), and thinks "nothing is as sweet as being inside a woman" (83). When he, for instance, wanted to marry Esi, everybody "saw to it that everything went smoothly" (112) because "he was a scholar, so respectful . . . an unusual human being" (161). In this way, Ali operates as a symbolic product of patriarchal norms by and through which female Africanness is defined. This not only accounts for the complementary natures of female characters like Opokuya, Esi, Ali's first wife Fusena, and the crises and dilemmas that they go through, but it also, as Patricia McFadden claims, makes women "interrogate the identities we are inheriting and/or constructing: are they productive? are they good and strong? are they rooted in healthy traditions or in very masculinist, androcentric traditions?" (McFadden 2).
- The crises experienced by Fusena, Opokuya and Esi hinge on frustrating gender constraints or factors which generate intense anxieties which are intricately woven with time and space. One stance is Fusena's resentment of her stay in London :The rain was not the only problem Fusena had with her life as Ali's wife in London. One rainy day, it occurred to her that life should offer more than marriage. That is, if the life she was leading was in fact marriage. To begin with, she was beginning to admit to herself that by marrying Ali, she had exchanged a friend for a husband. She felt the loss implied in this admission keenly, and her grief was great. The first time that this hit her, she actually sat down and wept. She also knew immediately that there was nothing she could do about her situation. . . .More than the climate, distance, and solitude, it is the time Fusena has wasted before and during her London years, which she could have otherwise devoted to her studies, that makes her feel extremely bitter. Her frustrations have taken the form of thwarted abilities and ambitions sacrificed to the widely held "good Muslim wife" notion. This bitterness re-surfaces later because "[t]he first time Ali informed Fusena that he was thinking of taking a second wife, Fusena asked him, before the words were properly out of his mouth, 'She has a university degree ?'" (96).
Fusena had stared hard at London and admitted that she had another problem. It was this business of Ali getting more and more educated while she stayed the same. Sometimes she truly felt desperate. For whereas she could console herself that she would leave the wetness of London behind her once they went back home, she knew the other problems would stay with her. (65)
- Time- and space-related problems are also omnipresent at Opokuya's home. Opokuya is a state-registered nurse and qualified midwife, for whom crises primarily consist in frustrating negotiations or wahala with Kubi Dakwa, a selfish husband who humiliates her over the movements of the car. When he asks Opokuya why she is talking to herself, she confesses to having been thinking over what she calls her "problems" -- "Probably the same as yesterday's" (p. 16) -- stressing the permanent nature of her situation:Opokuya thought this was absolutely ridiculous and even mad. A car is to be used. How was she to work full-time, and medical work at that, and look after a family as big as theirs without transportation of her own ? Was he aware of the amount of running around one had to do to feed and clothe four growing children? (16)She is bent on having her husband take the car off maintenance because she too needs to have more time and mobility to devote to her duties as a wife, mother of four, and civil servant so as to further reduce the many restraints imposed on her on account of her gender.
- As for Esi, the central character, crises are a matter of divorcing Oko who wants to dominate her, entering another marriage with Ali, and fulfilling her psychological and emotional needs. There are many similarities between Opokuya and Esi, whose discourse and interior monologues about time and mobility constraints convey an acute awareness of the arbitrary boundaries that exist between masculinity and femininity :"How? How could I have done more than I did as a wife and a mother, and still be able to compete on an equal basis with my male colleagues in terms of my output? How can I do more than I'm already doing and compete effectively for promotion, travel opportunities and other side-benefits of the job?" (49)Esi's attitudes reflect a strong determination to avoid professional pitfalls like being late ("It was bad enough that she was to be late. A woman in her kind of job must be careful[,]" 9-10), or failing to deserve her salary because she is wasting time ("She sat down again, this time almost making herself comfortable. As if the state paid her to come and sit down in her office to try and sort out her personal life[,]" 11).
- It is the very combination of Opokuya's and Esi's penetrating analyses that makes the complex interrelationships between full-time work, love in marriage, and self-realization apparent. The following dialogue between the two friends about men who marry bright working women sheds more light on men's inconsistencies in regard to the spatio-temporal 'situation' of their wives:"The few who claim they like intelligent and active women are also interested in having such women permanently in their beds and in their kitchens."Any change in attitude on men's part seems unlikely because of men's typical inability to grasp the subtle relationships between female achievers' intelligence, independence or freedom, full professional connectivity, job-generated motivation, attraction, and love.
"Which is a contradiction."
"Yes. But there is. Very few men realise that the sharp girls they meet and fall in love with are sharp because, among other things, they've got challenging jobs in stimulating places. That such jobs are also demanding. That these are also the kinds of jobs that keep the mind active -- alive. Look, quite often, the first thing a man who marries a woman mainly for the quickness of her brain tries to do is get her to change her job to have a more "reasonable" one. Or to a part-time, not a full-time job. The pattern never, never changes. And then a 'reasonable' job is quite dull too." (44)
- The novel explains that Esi married Oko out of gratitude. The reasons why she decided to leave him are linked to his excessive possessiveness, her dream of professional accomplishment, and her marital status. These dissatisfactions are reflected in her thoughts about a second marriage:"I could not bear it," exclaimed Esi, quite obviously having a problem keeping her voice down. "Another husband to sit on my back all twenty-four hours of the day? The same arguments about where a woman's place is? Another husband to whine all day about how I love my work more than him? Ugh, Opokuya, I couldn't. And thank you very much." (45-6)Over the years, Esi has reached the conclusion that her relations with Oko have come to a dead end as a result of sterile battles for the right to manage and maximize the time she needs to strike the ideal balance between optimum productivity, professional excellence and socio-economic comfort. And when shortly after Oko "pulled her down, and moved on her . . . squeezed her breast repeatedly, thrust his tongue into her mouth, forced her unwilling legs apart, entered her, plunging in and out of her, thrashing to the left, to the right, pounding and just pounding away" (9), she decided that this was marital rape and took the "nicely mad" decision (72) to drive Oko out of her house and file a divorce. Her decision demonstrates Aidoo's commitment as a political activist as well as her use of rape as a signifer of colonial and postcolonial male dominance. Esi's experience here also coincides with one the four critical elements that Patricia McFadden considers as central to the "The Challenges and Prospects for the African Women's Movement in the 21st Century," that is, "the struggle to regain our female identity" because "African women have no personhood or bodily integrity as an established and recognised norm in any of our societies" (McFadden 2).
- It is ironic that a few weeks later, Ali -- who was "hardly a resident" in Accra (50) -- started wooing Esi, allowing her to enjoy the very freedom and time she was thirsting for: "On her part, Esi at this stage was not really allowing herself to understand or not to understand Ali's comings and goings in relation to herself. She found the relationship very relaxing. She knew she had better leave well alone" (77). Contrary to Oko,Ali was not on her back one of the twenty-four hours of every day. In fact, he was hardly ever near her at all, in that sense she was extremely free and extremely contented. She could concentrate on her job, and even occasionally bring work home. (133-4).However, Esi, who "enjoyed working with figures -- co-ordinating, them, correlating" (134) as well as "applying a research approach" (30), started focusing on what she identified as "patterns" in Ali's comings and goings ("Too soon, things returned to the pattern of a recent past[,]" 152). It began dawning on her that something was going wrong, that "[t]hen something she couldn't find acceptable began to happen" (135).
- Esi's awareness of her own frustrations reached an unprecedented peak on her return from her very first trip to Bamako with Ali :Esi did not know exactly when the change started taking place in her. Later she began to wonder whether it was the Bamako trip. Perhaps Ali became a little more concrete for her as a being once she had met his father, his "mother" and the other people from his past. In Bamako, she had also met her other Ali, the French-speaking dutiful son. That Ali was no less or more charming for her in a way she could never have foreseen or thought possible. So they had returned south with her almost falling in love with him all over again. Besides, after the introduction to his roots, she felt she had become more of his wife. This inevitably led her to expect him to become more of a husband. If this feeling was not conscious, it definitely was subconscious. (134-5)To highlight the changes Esi undergoes, Aidoo has directed a large-scale collision between space (through a sweeping survey of the West-African countries to which Ali claimed he belonged) and time (Ali's past and ancestry). This collision both enhances Esi's perception of Ali's alterity and status and ironically accounts for her unexpected demands on him for more closeness and presence. It is here that Esi's inconsistencies surface most, revealing how the "tough bird" widely known for her "don't careism" and thirst for independence and freedom has now found herself caught up in her own contradictions. She has ended up trapped in the very temporal pattern in which she had inscribed her own notions of marriage adequacy and acceptability, in the sense that she regarded Ali's spacing of his visits as totally unacceptable in terms of legitimacy. She then resents "the mess she was in" (139) and goes as far as regarding the car (a gift freighted with spatio-temporal irony) and other presents from Ali as bribes, that is, as "substitutes for his presence" (143). And, as expected, she begins suffering from Ali's frequent weekend absences: "She could see the weekend stretching ahead like the Yendi-Tamale road when it was constructed : straight, flat and endless" (140).
- To further illustrate the prominence of time as a structural element in Changes, one could also mention the novel's ironic last paragraph. Here, Aidoo uses a Ghanaian Highlife singer's refrain ("one day, one day," 162) not only as a source of constructions of time, but also as a means for popular culture to contribute to the acquisition and consolidation of wisdom. To me, the irony lies in the timely coincidence between Esi's critical interrogations of marriage and the comforting intrustion of a popular refrain voicing her hope that, sooner or later, African women will enjoy adequate marriages.
- It can therefore be said that Aidoo has been extremely successful both in effectively critiquing the status of women in contemporary Ghana and aptly confirming that, indeed, "social systems must be viewed as systems of interactions in which settings and temporal patterning are integral to the process of social structuration in which players jockey for controls of settings" (Umiker-Sebeok 1).
- More than many female African writers, Aidoo is particularly aware of the importance of feminism as a critical force for women's transformation, hence the pedagogical dimensions of her fiction which focus on social interactions, empowerment and disempowerment.
- The contribution of Changes to women's greater understanding of power relations can be clarified by drawing parallels between Aidoo's space and time re-gendering techniques and Jean Umiker-Sebeok's representations of gender in the life-cycle in U.S print ads, a sociological research project influenced by Erving Goffman, Anthony Giddens, Mark Johnson, and George Lakoff. This comparison puts Aidoo's pedagogical methodology into a new perspective and reveals how she highlights, dismantles and subverts male disempowerment and empowerment strategies that relegate women to a subaltern position.
- The special emphasis that Aidoo has given to the treatment of contemporary West-African changes reflects a departure from purely formal uses of space and time in fiction toward their social-theoretical use. As Lakoff has explained,Most forms of social theory have failed to take seriously enough not only the temporality of social conduct but also its social attributes . . . neither time nor space have been incorporated into the centre of social theory: rather, they are ordinarily treated as "environments" in which social conduct is enacted rather than as integral to its occurrence. (qtd. in Umiker-Sebeok 1)As shown in the preceding section, spatiality and temporality are at the heart of gender-related changes -- past, present and future. It now remains to explore their agency in male oppression and female liberation and self-realization.
- African women's abilities to challenge the objectification of women successfully depend on their understanding of how they are acted upon. It may therefore be worthwhile to focus on the ways Aidoo uses narrative techniques that are germane to the semiotic notion of the compulsion schema, which is defined as follows:The compulsion schema consists in a force which travels along a trajectory at a certain speed and moves or carries an object or a person along its path [. . .] Learned during early interactions with the environment, such as when a child is swept up and carried away by a parent, the compulsion schema, like all image schemas, is extremely productive in terms of social structuration. Discursively elaborated, it plays a role in our understanding of the power of discourse ("The crowd was carried away by the demagogue's powerful oratory"), social institutions ("The tax system drove them to ruin"), and our psychological and emotional life ("He was swept along by his love for her"). To be empowered is to serve as the force that controls the actions of others to one's advantage. From the perspective of the person who is acted upon, compulsion may be empowering, if it leads to the acquisition of resources needed to survive, e.g., when an emotion "drives us" toward an alliance with someone with whom we may expand our access to resources, or when a rescuer carries an accident victim to medical help. Since it takes control of our actions from us and we cannot count on the good will of the controlling force, compulsion is generally seen as disempowering, however. (Umiker-Sebeok 2)From this respect, Ali Kondey can be said to be a typical example of a controlling force for two main reasons. Firstly, when he meets Esi for the first time at his own office, he intentionally focuses the young woman's attention and interest on his own status by provokingly asking her permission to sit down: "May I sit down ?" (2), illustrating the widely held view that "men may seek closeness by means of status, while women may seek status by means of closeness" ("Gender Stereotypes" 3). Interestingly enough, Aidoo's narrator's commentaries reproduce the same discursive elaboration as Umiker-Sebeok's when describing the disempowering psychological and emotional impact of Ali's discourse: "His voice was virtually lulling her to sleep. When she got up to leave, saying that in that case, she better be going, she felt as if she were waking from a trance15" (3, my emphases).
- Secondly, despite the considerable amplitude of the spatial control which he exerts on his overall environment, Ali considers Esi's house as essential to the fulfilment of his own psychological and emotional needs :So being with Esi was altogether a change for Ali, for a number of other reasons too. For one, he was freed from the ordeal of having to find a place to be with a woman who was not his wife. . . . Being with Esi was also a rescue from the normal chaos of his existence. He could forget Linga for a while. He could also forget his home where, because of so many factors, privacy was a rare commodity. Here in this house, that was almost out of the city, he could unwind. (73-74)Ali's motivations hinge on his permanent search for changes from the normalcy of his daily life, a search that takes him to the liminal space of a home "almost" outside of the city. As an unwinding force, he carries Esi in his own trajectory and at his own speed, controlling her actions to his advantage :However, Esi and Ali reserved their love-making for the comfort of Esi's bed. This nearly always followed an outing, as well as any time he came just to be with her. He would shut up Linga HideAways at the end of the working day and drive straight to her. They would immediately fall into each other's arms and hold her welcoming kiss from the front door through the length of the sitting room, through the bedroom and to her bed. Then for the next hour or so it was just grunts and groans until, quite exhausted, they fell quiet. (72)In this ironic description Aidoo subtly shows that, indeed, it is Ali who does hold Esi and that it is he who conducts and controls this locked embrace along a ritual sweep, which is made to recur in Chapter 10: "As soon as Esi had shut the door behind them, they embraced. Following their usual practice, Ali was clearly embarking on a long kiss which would have ended on Esi's bed" (79). Here, words like "clearly," "embarking," and "would" emphasize the disempowering nature and function of this type of compulsion schema. It is as if Aidoo had integrated into her writing McFadden's emphasis on the necessity for women to understand the prominent role which rituals play in power relations:We have to interrogate the customs and the rituals which have shaped our identities as women. The rituals through which we are named, which inscribe messages on our bodies, which put us in little dark rooms and make us vulnerable to disempowerment. We all know those rituals. I know that human society cannot function without rituals; in fact, human beings are totally ritualised; we are hooked on the stuff. But it is what we do with rituals which concerns me; how ritual as a process facilitates power relations. (McFadden 4)
- It should also be noted that it was only after marriage that Esi realized her new husband crisscrossed not only Accra and the West-African region, but also the whole world ("'just come back from a trip'"; "'just this minute leaving the office to catch a plane,'" 136), as suggested by the innumerable gifts through which "Esi saw the entire world from her little bungalow" (154). Ironically enough, she starts getting frustrated by the freedom and loneliness she thirsted so much for because, with his mobility, Ali practically paralyses her, literally pinning her at home:That year's end turned out to be perhaps the most desolate time Esi had spent in all her life. She not only felt tired like everyone else at that time of the year, but she was also restless and lonely. She could not plan anything for the coming holidays. This was mainly because she kept hoping that Ali would come to stay for a reasonable length of time: during which they would decide on what they would do together . . . (137)In the end, she feels so depressed that she has to resort to tranquillisers.
- One of the most telling examples of male disempowerment strategies, which further illustrates the importance of the role space plays in Aidoo's approach to social structurations in Changes, is to be found in Esi's grandmother Nana's rhetoric about the so-called ideal husband or citizen: "Who is a good man if not the one who eats his wife completely, and pushes her down with a good gulp of alcohol? In our time, the best citizen was the man who swallowed more than one woman, and the more, the better" (106). Clearly enough, Nana's words sum up the essence of husbands' predatory nature even as this nature is 'naturalized' through an appeal to tradition. This symbolic representation is based on swallowing or catamorphic schemas, along with their digestive and copulative dominants, which are reminiscent of Gilbert Durand's Les structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire17. These schemas render the mental and visual images through which society, in this case women, organize, represent and symbolically euphemise their anxieties and fears in relation to male oppression.
- It should be noted, however, that Aidoo did not fail to use other metaphors of consumption. For example, Opokuya's appraises Ali as both an attractive "insurance policy" and a man who "'looks good enough to eat'" (52); Esi's is represented as a kenkey (a Ghanaian staple of cooked corn meal and one of the solid foundations of a vast national industry) seller doing her best not to be the kenkey. Such images serve to denounce the various consumer and consuming strategies at work in a corrupt and ruthless society and suggest woman's potentials for reaction and defence.
- Aidoo's hopes that women can change their lives for the better are embodied in Nana's optimistic conclusion to her interview with Esi:"Do I think it must always be the same? Certainly not. It can be changed. It can be better. Life on this earth need not always be some humans being gods and others being sacrificial animals. But it would take so much, no, not time. There has always been enough time for anything anyone ever really wanted to do. What it would take is a lot of thinking and a great deal of doing. But one wonders whether we are prepared to tire our minds and our bodies that much. Are we human beings prepared to try ?" (108)For Nana, women's liberation and self-realization mainly depend on a sustained will to develop their education and intellectual capacities in order to think and strategize together, as well as on their sisters' readiness to consent all the mental, psychological and physical sacrifices required to implement such changes. And it is only after quizzing Esi that Nana becomes convinced that, indeed, her granddaughter belongs to the generation that could help women unite and take up the challenge:Her grandmother hadn't exclaimed. In fact, she was silently pleased at the sharpness of her granddaughter's mind and deliberately allowed herself to be overcome by the new wisdom of a young woman who had let herself get well into booklearning. (109)
- Esi's wisdom is more than a matter of 'booklearning.' Indeed, as shown by the narrator, Esi had displayed an early awareness of the central role which body politics plays in sexual and social structuration, that, as Foucault said, "a body is, in its entirety, a materiality that is a cultural construct" (qtd. in Kirby 6):Esi was a tall woman. That fact made a short man of Oko, since people mostly expect any man to be taller than his wife and he was the same height as her. She was quite thin too, which gave her an elegance that was recognised by all except members of her own family. When she was younger and growing up in the big compound with her cousins and other members of the extended family, she had to be extremely careful about starting a quarrel with any one. Because no one lost the chance to call her, beanpole, bamboo, pestle or any such name which in their language described tall, thin and uncurved. (6)Esi's sharp-mindedness and strong character led her to question her own society's aesthetic canons in relation to her own body and instead to use her height, thinness and lack of curves to her own advantage. Not only did she subvert traditional notions of beauty, she also used nakedness as a means of making men she slept with dependent on her :Esi had always enjoyed walking around naked after love-making. For her, this was one of life's very few luxuries. Indeed, one miracle of her own existence was the fact in spite of the torment she had suffered during childhood and adolescence for having an unfeminine body, as an adult she was not shy of showing to the men she slept with . . . (73)Esi's ability to block and redirect culturally constructed sexual aesthetics had its effect on Ali. During his first encounter with Esi in his office, he had been left "completely fascinated with the sheer swiftness of her performance" (4). And, once in her bedroom, he took to relishing watching her exhibit her body and being swept along her sensual movements and gestures, relinquishing his compulsion schemas to hers:Quite early in their relationship, Ali had sensed that Esi was struggling to feel easy about him watching her. So as to encourage her boldness, he often pretended to be asleep so that he could lie there, aware of all the movements she made. It excited him enormously and was a source of one of the pleasures of being with her. He had slept with a great number of women in his time, but he knew very few women in his part of the world who even tried to be at ease with their own bodies . . . (73)Esi's body-consciousness succeeds in making Ali dependent in ways which may raise issues about ethical norms related to empowerment and disempowerment strategies and to received religious moralities.
- Nonetheless, when Esi becomes fed up with Ali's long and regular absences -- which made her realize her husband's failure to fulfil her psychological and emotional needs -- she decides to put an end to the love-making rituals they were both used to. She does so by reversing the compulsion schema to a containment schema, a pattern based on the principle of power or ability to control movement to and from containers. As Umiker-Sebeok explains, the body is "the quintessential container and the model for many of our other containers," as in the case wheremembership "in" the socially-sanctioned container known as a "family" will entail power to allow outsiders inside the family compound or to keep them out. By virtue of their status "inside" or "outside" the category containers such as "child" or "female", family members will have differing amounts of power to move to or from the compound. . . . Containment both empowers (by protecting resources inside from forces outside) and disempowers (by controlling our behavior as insiders, e.g. as husbands and wives "in a marriage", prisoners "in prison", students "in" school, or professionals "in" a profession). (Umiker-Sebeok 3)Esi exercises that control over Ali's movements (already analysed in the previous section) by stopping and blocking him, thereby preventing him from accessing her very "bone-and-flesh self" (162) physically, psychologically and emotionally. The correspondence of 'being in a body' and 'being in a marriage' is implied when Ali comes back from a trip, willing to embark on the lovemaking ritual that seals their relationship:With one hand clutching some parcels and his briefcase, he tried to grab her for an embrace with the other hand, even before he had entered the sitting room completely. But Esi would not let him. And since he was carrying too many things and one hand was completely occupied, she could easily wriggle free. (154)As can be seen here, Ali has been prevented from "unwinding." He feels hurt, confused and powerless, as a result of Esi's determination to resort to the containment-and-blockage schema to re-structure and re-gender space, time and power in relation to her new husband.
- The conclusion of Aidoo's novel provides us with insight into the difficulties of social change:So the marriage stayed, but radically changed. All questions and their answers disappeared. . . . For Esi though, things hadn't worked out so simply. She had to teach herself not to expect him at all. She had to teach herself not to wonder where he was when he was not with her. And that had been the hardest of the lessons to learn. (161)As we know from social theorists like Alvin Toffler, Marilyn Ferguson, and Kurt Loewen, changes are hard to promote or implement because people are resistant to changes that threaten their status, privileges, prestige, or dignity. For any change to take place, it is essential that things already learned be de-learned and re-learned, which always takes time in view of the risks of relapses and regression.
- Besides having taught herself the convenience of amnesia, Esi has learned more fundamental lessons to be shared with readers of Changes, who are made to cross hitherto unknown boundaries of male preserves into new spheres of struggles for changes "in attitude for both men and women as they evaluate and re-evaluate their social roles" (Rosemary Moyana qtd. in Verba 1). Even if her own containment strategies result in containing her own questioning and thus, perhaps, her own independent agency, they offer possibilities of ways to change the compulsion forces keeping an oppressive status quo in place.
- In the light of the parallels made in this article with some of Umiker-Sebeok's analyses of gender representation theories, Changes can be said to derive most of its originality, modernity and impact from Aidoo's innovative incorporation of spatiality and temporality into her rendering of the processes of social structuration through which women are disempowered or empowered. Through its multiple perspectives on social change and the female subject, Changes constitutes a most decisive answer to McFadden's central question: "how do we learn to manage power in a dignified way, to understand power and to position ourselves within the exercise of that power?" (McFadden 5).
[Note on the symbols included on the banners: These are motives from Adinkra printing, a craft associated with the Asante (Ashanti) people of Ghana. Adinkra symbols constitute a visual vocabulary of Akan social thought. As used in this article, the symbols (in order) represent: Beauty/Vigilance; Endurance/Independence; Measurement/Optimism; Safety/Security; Building on the Past; Wisdom/Knowledge.]
- Aidoo, Ata Ama. Changes. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 1999.
- Bryce, Jane. "'Going Home is another story': Constructions of Nation and Gender in Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes." West African Review 1 (1999). www.africaresource.com/war/vol1.1/jane.html
- Coussy, Denise. "La représentation de la femme dans la littérature africaine." In Confluences XIX, Ecritures de femmes: la problématique du dedans et du dehors. Paris: Université Paris X -- Nanterre Centre de Recherches Espaces/Ecritures, 2001, pp. 91-100.
- Durand, Gilbert. Les structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire. Paris: P. U. F., 1960.
- "Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes." http://www.friesian.com/gender.htm
- McFadden, Patricia. "The Challenges and Prospects for the African Women's Movement in the 21st Century." Women in Action 1 (1997): 1-7. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/30/152.html
- Murphy, J. "The Novel." (Spring 1996). http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/Novel.html
- Umiker-Sebeok, Jean. "Power and the Construction of Gendered Spaces 1." International Review of Sociology 6.3, pp. 1-14. http://www.slis.indiana.edu/umikerse/papers/power.html
- Verba, Sharon. "Feminist and Womanist Criticism of African Literature: A Bibliography." July 20, 1997. http://www.indiana.edu/~librcsd/bib/verba/index.html
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