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Dr Emmanuel Ngwira

Home country: Malawi

PANGeA partner: University of Malawi

Year of enrolment: 2010

Graduation date: March 2013

Department:  English

Supervisor: Dr Lucy Graham

Dissertation title: Writing marginality: history, authorship and gender in the fiction of Zoe Wicomb and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


ABSTRACT: This thesis puts the fiction of Zoë Wicomb and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie into conversation with particular reference to three issues: authorship, history and gender. Apart from anything else, what Wicomb and Adichie have in common is an interest in the representation of marginalised or minority ethnic groups within the nation - the coloured people in the case of Wicomb, and the Igbo in the case of Adichie. Yet what both writers also have in common is that neither seems to advocate the reification of these ethnic groups in reformulations of nationalist discourse. The thesis argues that through their focus on various forms of marginality, both Wicomb and Adichie destabilise traditional notions of nation, authorship, history, gender identity, the boundary between domestic and public life, and the idea of "home". The thesis focuses on four main topics, each of which is covered in a chapter: the question of authorial voice in relation to history; perspectives offered by women characters in relation to oppressive or traumatic historical moments; oppressive or traumatic histories intruding into the intimate domestic space; and the issue of transnational migration and its (un)homely effects. Employing concepts of metafiction and mise-en-abyme self-reflexivity, the study begins by considering the ways in which Wicomb's David's Story and Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun both reflect on the idea of authorship. Focusing on the ways in which each text draws the reader into witnessing authorship, the thesis argues that the two novels can be put into conversation as they both stage dilemmas about authorship in relation to those marginalised by national histories. Following on from this idea of marginalisation by nationalist histories, the thesis then proceeds to examine both writers' foregrounding of women's stories that are set in oppressive and/or violent historical times – under apartheid in the case of Wicomb's You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town, and during the Biafran war in the case of Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. Utilising ideas about gender, history and literary history by Tiyambe Zeleza, Florence Stratton and Elleke Boehmer, the study analyses how, beginning with father-daughter relationships, Wicomb and Adichie wean their female characters from their fathers' control so that they may begin telling their own stories that complicate and subvert the stories that their fathers represent. Drawing on Sigmund Freud's theory of "the uncanny" and Homi Bhabha's postcolonial reading of that theory, the study then turns to discuss the ways in which oppressive national histories become manifest in domestic spaces (that are usually marginalised in national histories), turning those spaces into unhomely homes, in Wicomb's Playing in the Light and Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. In both novels, purity (whether racial or religious) is cultivated in the family home, but this cultivation of purity, which is reflected symbolically in the kinds of gardens each family grows, evidently has "unhomely" effects that signal the return of the repressed, of that which is disavowed in discourses of purity. Since both Wicomb and Adichie are African-born women authors living abroad, and since the "unhomely" aspects of transnational existence are reflected upon in their fiction, the study finally considers the forms of marginality to the national posed by the migrant. Transnational migration is examined in Wicomb's The One That Got Away and in Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck, placing stories from these two recently published sets of short stories into dialogue.

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