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Constructions of subalternity in African women’s writing in French Adesanmi, Pius


The central assumption of this study is that the awareness of a historically constructed, culturally sanctioned condition of subalternity is at the heart of the fictional production of Francophone African women writers. Subalternity here is viewed as a narrative and spatial continuum inside which African women have to negotiate issues relating to subjecthood and identity, both marked by gender and colonialism. Various definitions of 'the subaltern' are relevant, ranging from Antonio Gramsci's to those of the South Asian Subaltern Studies group, and to John Beverley's and Fredric Jameson's discussions. Jameson's emphasis on subalternity as "the feelings of mental inferiority nad habits of subservience and obedience which... develop in situations of domination - most dramatically in the experience of colonized peoples" (Jameson, 1981) is crucial, because it demonstrates the constructedness of that ontological condition. The approach adopted here aims to include gender as a category in a discourse that often excludes it, and to bring social science-oriented concepts into dialogue with literary theory and criticism. Combined with a discussion of Africa-influenced versions of feminist theory (stiwanism, negofeminism, motherism), Subaltern studies provides a space for the emergence of a south-south postcolonial debate that can throw new light on writing by African women. Fictional works by Therese Kuoh-Moukoury, Mariama Ba, Aminata Maiga Ka, Angele Rawiri, Philomene Bassek, Evelyne Mpoudi-Ngolle, Regina Yaou, Fatou Keita, and Abibatou Traore are read as conveying the various stages of consciousness on the part of the subaltern. Kuoh-Moukoury's Rencontres essentielles (1969), Maiga Ka's La voie du salut (1985), and Bassek's La tache de sang (1990) exemplify a first stage of consciousness in which the subaltern woman submits passively to oppressive patriarchal, cultural and religious prescriptions. Ba's Une si longue lettre (1979), Mpoudi Ngolle's Sous La cendre le feu (1990) and Rawiri's Fureurs et cris de femmes (1989) present a more assertive, rebellious heroine whose efforts are undermined by a resilient social context. Finally, Traore's Sidagamie (1998), Kei'ta's Rebelle (1998) and Yaou's Le prix de la revoke (1997) address the possibility of a sustained African women's struggle resulting not only in transient personal and isolated victories but also in an enduring social transformation governed by the ethos of gender equality.

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