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Existential Feminism in Chinelo Okparanta Under the Udala Tree

Existential Feminism in Chinelo Okparanta Under the Udala Tree

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In the course of this research work, an attempt was made to identify existentialist feminist views on women. The first chapter is the general introduction, which features, scope and limitations, research problem and research methodology. The second chapter, which is the literature review, focuses scholar’s views of on existential feminism and what other scholars have said about the works of Chinelo Okparanta.

The third chapter discusses the theoretical model which was adopted as theoretical frameworks for this study which was the Simone de Beauvoir’s existential feminism. Existentialist feminism Simone de Beauvoir is used as an approach to express the way of being human (existence) then it will be analyzed how the forms of marginalization of women as others and how forms of resistance carried out by women as a form of existence.

Chapter four deals with textual analysis of the text understudy which was Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree. The researcher has also identified the effects of child upbringing, parenting, and discrimination on children, and forceful marriage. It also discusses survival of women without men which was seen in the case of the major character Ijoma.

The last chapter, which is chapter five summaries, presents the research the summary, findings and concludes the whole work. The cultural beliefs about motherhood that makes women desperate to fulfill the qualities of being a mother. Women are seen as failure when they fail to meet the demands of motherhood. This feeling of failure puts women through emotional and psychological pains.

It is found also that women can survive without men. Women maltreated are scared to leave their husbands because, they are afraid they will not survive without them. Some women struggle to survive without help from men. It shows that men are dispensable and that sometimes women are better off without men.

 Chapter one


1.1 Background to the Study

Throughout history, women generally have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men have. Wifehood and womanhood were considered as women’s most significant professions, and they are long considered naturally weaker than men are. Their rights and being are taken for granted. Silence becomes the virtue of women but with education, the silence is broken.

Feminism is women’s Liberation ideology which is supported by all of the approaches that indicate women to get unfairness because of sex. This movement rose because the woman always supposed as the second sex and got the discrimination in the social life. It does not mean the extreme rebellion movement of woman to man, but to opposite the social caste and the paradigm of static myth in the social.

Woman is not a weak creature because she has her own ability to get the position in the society. In the other word, this movement is the awareness of women about their identity to destruct the hierarchy that is harmful for woman’s position, such as exploitation of woman, and also slavery by man. This content aspect is the stronger because it is only as a container or media (Djojosuroto, 2006).

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Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Existentialism is a philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together are not sufficient for understanding all of human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence.

(Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is to recognize the responsibility we have for our existence. This philosophy analyzes relationships between the individual and things, or other human beings, and how they limit or condition choice.

Existentialist feminists emphasize concepts such as freedom, interpersonal relationships, and the experience of living as a human body. They value the capacity for radical change, but recognize that factors such as self-deception and the anxiety caused by the possibility of change can limit it. Many are dedicated to exposing and undermining socially imposed gender roles and cultural constructs limiting women’s self-determination, and criticize post-structuralist feminists who deny the intrinsic freedom of individual women.

A woman who makes considered choices regarding her way of life and suffers the anxiety associated with that freedom, isolation, or nonconformity, yet remains free, and demonstrates the tenets of existentialism. The novels of Kate Chopin, Doris Lessing, Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, and Margaret Drabble include such existential heroines.

Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree that portray a  tale of Ijeoma, a young girl who lives in a small town called Ojoto with her mother, Adaora, and father, Uzo, in the middle of the Nigerian Civil War. Following an air raid at the start of the novel, Ijeoma and her mother Adaora escape unharmed but her father is killed.

This leaves Ijeoma under Adaora’s care. The death of Uzo has a profound effect on Adaora’s mental health, sending her into a trance-like state. Eventually, Adaora soon decides to send Ijeoma away to the far away town of Nwewi, to live with family friends, under the idea that it’s safer and the right thing to do although Ijeoma is reluctant to move due to the strong bond she has to her mother as well her young age.

Ijeoma is taken in by a School Teacher, where she soon meets Amina, who becomes the object of her affection. The illicitness of the relationship and hesitation stemming from homophobic views from society puts strain on their relationship.

Existential Feminism in Chinelo Okparanta Under the Udala Tree

Adaora, through frequently visiting Ijeoma, slowly begins to realise the affection that Ijeoma and Amina have for each other and expresses utter disapproval, quoting the bible and making Ijeoma swear allegiance to God and ultimately, to end the relationship and stop having ‘wrong’ feelings for each other. Eventually, Ijeoma is sent back to Ojoto to live with Adaora again while Amina remains with the school teacher. Ijeoma’s relationship with Amina slowly fizzles out thereafter.

In literary works, women figures are often talked and used as imaging objects, because women are very interesting to talk. Women have two sides. On the other side women are cravings whose charms and can drive men crazy. On the other hand women are considered weak and the weaknesses are used as an excuse by bad men to exploit their beauty (Sugihastuti, 2010, Akmaliyah 2019; Ilzam, 2019).

There is even the assumption that women are second-class human beings, who although they have beauty, do not have the same existence as men. Aristotle assumed that women were the sexes determined based on their lack of certain qualities and Aquinas argued that women were imperfect men. The existence of women means anything.

The existence of women figure is not only a complement to a story but also a central figure of a literary work. The existence or self-actualization according to Maslow’s term is the highest need that each individual wants to achieve. Each individual is certain to have a need for recognition of their existence in society, which then becomes one part of the community itself. The spirit of the realization of women who have existed continues to grow, even today. It is on this background that this work seeks to examine existential feminism in Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The  issue  of  an „authentic‟  identity  interpretation  of  the  African  woman  in  the  face  of  rapid social change has continued to interest critics and scholars alike. The shifts from the rural to the urban, the agrarian economy to the work service sector as well as other such changes have created a complex identity pattern for the woman.

Similarly, the evolution from the colonial to the postcolonial era, as well as the transition from the non-literate to the literate, has conferred on the woman a certain status that has either been misunderstood or inappropriately interpreted. Obioma Nnaemeka in “Feminism, Rebellious Women and Cultural Boundaries: Rereading Flora Nwapa and Her Compatriots,” for instance, argues that the plethora of identities applied to the African woman has led to her being named, renamed and misnamed (81).

On the basis of the peculiarity of African female identity, crucial problems inform this study and they include the following: the inclusion or exclusion of women in the mainstream culture, the pertinence of culture in the formation of female identity and the perspectives of representation of female identity by women writers.

Would the representations feature the African cultural reality of communality or complementarity and considering the fact that culture is sometimes inimical to progress, would it change to suit the dynamism of identity? The definitions of African female identity become problematic in the interplays between culture and regional specificity.

African women’s attainment of identity right is geared to cultural change, that is, the need that launches women on a search for identity drives them logically and practically to the politics of cultural change without subversion of the status quo. There is the need to know how female characters negotiate their individuality within their specific societies. This way we may be able to distinguish between the portrayals of female identities in Africa and those situated in Western cultures.

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In these days when focus is on women and related issues, these problems have continued to feature prominently in discussions of gender and the role of women in society.

Existential Feminism in Chinelo Okparanta Under the Udala Tree

1.3 Aim and Objectives

The aim of this study is to examine existential feminism in Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree. This study thus has the following objectives:

  1. Investigate identity and representation of African women in socio-cultural contexts;
  2. Examine how African women renegotiate female identity through cultural dynamics with images that connote vitality and productivity as aesthetic symbols without inverting tradition;
  3. Show that African women’s identity is complementary without situating it within strict definitive categories of the subject or object;
  4. Demonstrate the subverting of patriarchy or woman in deviant reconstructing of identity and sexuality.

 1.4    Significance of the Study

This study is significant in the following ways;

  1. it reveals some cultural practices that affect the women
  2. the study reveals the root cause of this cultural practices
  3. the study also helps to correct the negative portrayal of women as second class citizen in African literature .
  4. Equally, this work helps to bring libration to women in African societies.
  5. it will also help to boost love and unity among men and women and possibly put an end to the clash between men and women

1.5 Research Methodology

The methodology for this research work is a qualitative research which relies on the analysis of some extrapolation of the primary texts. The research will also avail itself of some critical works. Magazines and other periodical drawn from the library. This research will also exploit the internet space for some online materials related to the subject of the research.

1.6     Scope and Limitation

This scope of this study is limited to existential feminism in Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree. This is to enable the researcher complete the work within the stipulated time. Therefore, all conclusions are based on textual analysis of the selected text.

1.7 Definition of Terms

Existential Feminism: Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.

African Women: African women are born in, live in, and are from the continent of Africa. The culture, evolution and history of African women is related to the evolution and history of the African continent itself.

Socio-Cultural: Sociocultural is a term related to social and cultural factors, which means common traditions, habits, patterns and beliefs present in a population group

Mr. Harrison

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