The “African male literary tradition” and revisionist polemics in Isidore Okpewho’s writing
Keywords:African male writing, female body, masculinity, feminism, postcolonialism, African literature, Isidore Okpewho
African literature has been very polemically, but usefully engaged, by feminists and other concerned gender stakeholders in the past three decades on the note that its foundational discursive platform of representation is patriarchal, largely representing the female body as ‘absent’ and ‘other’ in the imaginative landscape of canonical African(ist) expression. While these critical efforts have significantly succeeded in interrogating phallocentrism in African male writing, they have, however, failed to recognize several masculinist indicators in the latter that have purposively undermined the hegemonic/patriarchal frame of maleness. In this article I argue, through a reading of Isidore Okpewho’s first three novels, that certain representations of African male writing preceding those of the contemporary turn portray revisionist attitudes to patriarchy, or any form of hegemonic masculinity. In these, the African woman is made to gain visibility and she becomes active on her own social terms. I thus debunk popular feminist-oriented claims that the canonical African literary male tradition necessarily inscribes the African woman in the stereotypical narrative of being a ‘mother-nation/mother-Africa image’, ‘prostitute’, ‘witch’, or socio-cultural other. I suggest a more careful, distilled, and responsible approach toward the politics of agency and power involving gender and identity (re)formation in the African world, culture, and literature.
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