PORTRAYAL OF GENDERED EXPERIENCES IN SELECTED AFRICAN MIGRANT NARRATIVES

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ABSTRACT

Migration over the years has become a recurrent theme in contemporary African literature. Existing studies on migration have focused mainly on the female gender in discourses of migration and gender. Literatures on gender and migration have evaded critical study of the experiences of both males and females. This study therefore investigated the experiences of both sexes in migration narratives.

A qualitative approach was used in this study. This entailed in-depth analysis of the selected texts from the four regions of Africa: North, South, East and West. To create the desired gender balance, two of the authors are male while two are females. Postcolonialism and Postmodernism theories were employed in the analysis of the texts. Postcolonialism was applied in the analysis of the characters’ interactions with one another while Postmodernism was used in the analysis of the characters as it relates to the new society they find themselves.

This study revealed that the male characters have their masculine ego subdued in the diaspora while female migrants experience freedom to pursue and actualize their dreams despite initial challenges. In The Beautiful Thing that Heaven Bears, Sepha becomes timid and suffers inferiority complex in his relationship with Judith. In Brooklyn Height, Hend resists all sexual advances, sticks to her moral standing and eventually achieves her dreams. Effects of migration include distrust and breakdown of traditional African communal life. In A Squatter’s Tale, Obi distrusts Happiness when he finds out that Happiness lied to him about the fees for the papers. Obi also suffers rejection from Ego who ordinarily would have accommodated him if they were to be in Nigeria. Coping and survival strategies adopted by Africans in diaspora include aping American looks and accent; procurement of fake documents; and contract marriages. In We Need New Names, Fostalina adopts American outlooks and appearances. She changes her meal and exercises in-front of the television to become slim like the American women. Role reversal occurs socially and in gender relationships. In Beautiful Thing that Heaven Bears, Berhane who had a driver driving him back in Ethopia, became a taxi driver in America and Sepha, the very vocal man, lost his manliness to Judith as she played the “man” in their short lived romance.

The study concluded that postcolonial disillusionment affects migrants and their gendered relations. It recommended that migrants should maintain their traditional communal living ethos even in diaspora, they should maintain their identities, work on the decolonisation of their minds.

Keywords:     Gender, disillusionment, migrant, politickingand transnational

Word Count: 414

                                 TABLE OF CONTENTS

Content                               Page

Title Page                                                                                  i

Certification  ii                                                                                                                                              

Dedication                                                                                            iii        

Acknowledgements                                                                                  iv

Abstract                               vi                                                                                            

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION                                                                         

  1. Background to the Study                                                            1                 
    1. Statement of the Problem                                                       2
    1. Objective of the Study                                                               3
    1. Research Questions                                                             3
    1. Scope of the Study                                                                  4
    1. Significance of the Study                                                        4
    1. Methodology                                                                               5

1.7.1    Justification for Choice of Texts                                   5

  1. Theoretical Framework                       6

CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF LITERATURE

2.0       Introduction                                                                                        10

2.1       Typologies of Migration                                 10

2.2       Theories of Migration                                 11

2.2.1    Macro theories of Migration                                     11

2.2.2    Micro theories of Migration                             13

2.3       Reasons for Migration                                   14

2.3.1    Global Systems                                                    14

2.3.2    Political Economy                                                     14

2.3.3    Structural Constraints and Facilitators                      15

2.4       Gender in Migrant Studies                                16

Content                               Page

2.5       Gendered Experiences of Migrant                           19

2.6       Gendered Experiences in African Migrant Narratives          22

2.7       Review of Related Literature on Selected Texts                                                        25

2.7.1    Ike Oguine’s A Squatter’s Tale                                        25

2.7.2    Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Thing that Heaven Bears         26

2.7.3    Bulawayo No Violet We Need New Names        26

2.7.4    Miral al Tahawy Brooklyn Height                                28

CHAPTER THREE: PORTRAYAL OF GENDER ROLES IN THE BEAUTIFUL THAT HEAVEN BEARS AND BROOKLY HEIGHT

3.1       Background of Dinaw Mengestu: The Beautiful Thing that Heaven Bears   29

3.1.1    Synopsis of The Beautiful that Heaven Bears               29

3.1.2    Role Reversal in The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears   30       

3.1.3    Sepha’s Battle for Identity and Placement              37

3.1.4    Tucking Away the Past and Berhane’s Survival Instincts     39

3.2       Background of Miral Al-Tahawy: Brooklyn Height               40

3.2.1    Synopsis of Brooklyn Height                       41

3.2.2    Portrayal of Gender Roles in Brooklyn Heights           42

3.2.3     The Listening Friendship                                        45

3.2.4    Hends Quest for the Breath of Independence                            46

3.2.5    Emilia’s quest for friendship                                           46

3.3       Traditional Gender Archetypes and Transnational Life   47       

CHAPTER FOUR: GENDER POLITICKING IN SQUATTER’S TALE AND WE NEED NEW NAMES

4.1       Background of Ike Oguine: A Squatter’s Tale       49

4.1.1    Synopsis of Ike Oguine’s Squatter’s Tale         50

4.1.2    Gender Politicking and the disillusioned migrant in Squatter’s Tale  51

4.1.3    Obi’s Success Finding Mission                                56

4.1.4    The Dreams and Schemes of Uncle Happiness                   59

4.2       Biographical sketch of NoViolet Bulawayo: We Need New Names 60

Content                               Page

4.2.1    Synopsis of We Need New Names                         60

4.2.2    Gender Politicking and the colonised mind in We Need New Names      61

4.2.3    Migration and changes in Gender Relation                   65

4.2.4    Beyond Darling’s “American Dream”                 65

4.2.5    The Disillusionment of Aunt Fostalina            67

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

5.1       Summary                                               69

5.1.1    Summary of Findings                             69

5.2       Conclusion                              72       

5.3       Recommendations                                      73

5.4       Contribution to Knowledge                  74

5.5       Suggestion for Further Studies                         74

References                                                           75       

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  1. Background to the Study

Due to the volatility in the political terrain in African states, migration of the citizenry has been on the increase daring all odds just to escape from political violence and victimisation and also seeking for greener pastures. Constantly, African writers have narrated their experiences and memoirs alike. Some of such memoirs are based on personal experiences of the writers while others are either fiction or observations of the writes. In all, migration remains a recurrent theme in the current literary circle and has been broadened with close relation to other fields and areas of interest such as gender, child development and so on.

In the politics and governance of migration, migrants are studied in the new nations of settlement they occupy. However, in according preferences and conditions of service and living, migrants are assessed based on gender. There are therefore militating factors in the life of the immigrant that arise as a result of gender politicking and gender roles. The migrant narrative is arguably one of the best ways to understand these influences. According to Marita Eastmond (2007;248), “Placed in their wider socio-political and cultural contexts, stories can provide insights into how forced migrants seek to make sense of displacement and violence, re-establish identity in ruptured life courses and communities, or bear witness to violence and repression”. The effects of gender politicking further come into play in the making of decisions “in the workplaces of immigrants, in neoliberal or welfare state policies towards migration or foreign-born populations, in diasporas, and even in the capitalist world system” (Donato et al. 2006: 6) as well as other areas involving the migrant. 

Migrant narratives usually focus on international migration and the ordeal of the migrant seeking for a better self or a better tomorrow in countries other than theirs. And the narrative perspective is usually the scenario whereby the migrant writer that engages extensively in the literary preoccupation of telling migrant stories is a migrant or have been a migrant at one point in life. Therefore it is safe to say that the migrant writer usually writes from experience, that is, in fictionalising stories he or she may have witnessed while a migrant. So in effect, a study of migrant narratives reflects the reality of the migrant’s new milieu.

An understanding of what it is to be an international migrant is essential. In the apt description by Mary Chamberlain (1998):

International migrants are by definition global people whose horizons and allegiances, education and enterprise, family and friendship are both portable and elastic. What, finally, unsettles about international migration is that it internationalizes the nation-state and globalizes identity. Fluidity, not fixity, characterizes the migrant, contemporary nomads and cultural gypsies.

The effect of international migration internationalizing the nation-state according to Yurick (1995:205) is that “Newly emerging states had to make political choices upon which all aspects of national and economic survival depended and to position their autonomy not merely within a regional perspective, but a global one.” The outcome of this new global order is that “trade emerged not as .a precursor to territorial and imperial expansion, or as an economic lubricant but as a display of ideological finery, to sell and seduce”.

This idea of ‘selling and seducing’ in the type of trade that largely accommodates the migrant is an offshoot of gender politicking in effect. The purpose of this research therefore is to examine portrayal of gendered experiences in African migrant narratives. In view of this, migrant narratives and “oral histories can tease out ways in which gender differences impact on, or are impacted by, transnational lives” (Chamberlain & Leydesdorff  2004:227).

  1. Statement of the Problem

 Several decades back, studies on gender and migration has essentially focused on the female folk. The female migrant has technically been used to imply or connote gender in gender and migration based researches. Researchers in gender and migration field had focused more on female migrants owing to the assumption that women migrate to accompany or reunite with their breadwinners and in other cases migrate to escape the largely patriarchal society or seeing migration as another means of securing greener pasture especially for single mothers.

Nonetheless, gender is the biological reality that there are two sexes. Over time, gender discourses as it relates to migration has focused more on the female gender and subjugated the experiences of the male gender in its discourses. This has led to a dearth of critical work on the real focus of gender migrant experiences as encompassing both sexes. There is therefore a need to fill this vacuum and examine the entire migration process as a gendered phenomenon by studying in detail migrant narratives and the militating effects of gender politicking and gender roles in the lives of all the migrant characters they present. This study unlike previous researches focuses on both the male and female gender without downplay on the male counterpart.

PORTRAYAL OF GENDERED EXPERIENCES IN SELECTED AFRICAN MIGRANT NARRATIVES