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Receptive Subjects: Gender and Sexuality in Novels by Igbo Authors

  • Author / Creator
    Umezurike, Uchechukwu Peter
  • This dissertation examines how characters construct and contest masculinities in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows, and Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees. It explores how Nigerian novelists redefine what it means to be a man or a woman by articulating new ways of doing masculinity and femininity and challenging a culture that discriminates against its citizens based on sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Motivated by questions of a shared human vulnerability, my research also shows how these writers (re)imagine what it means to be human while contesting the valorization of gender or sexual identities. The writers create characters whose receptiveness, I argue, defines their relations to the other, affirming an affinity with the other. While research on African masculinities is grounded mainly in ethnographic, anthropological, or psychological analysis and aims at health and policy development programs, my research emphasizes a literary critique of Nigerian men and women that extends our understanding beyond the gender binary. Postcolonial, feminist, and queer theories frame my study. I draw on ideas by Judith Butler, Michael Slote, Martha Nussbaum, Chielozona Eze, Emmanuel Levinas, Lee Edelman, and Michel Foucault and organize my dissertation thus: Chapter One, “Gender, Masculinities, and Queer Studies in Africa,” situates my study of masculinities in Nigerian fiction within the existing scholarship on gender, masculinities, and queerness in Africa. Chapter Two, “‘A son who is a man’: Precariousness in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart,” locates the protagonist's firstborn, Nwoye, as an example of “receptive” masculinity and argues that his receptivity towards others underlies his renunciation of male hegemony. Chapter Three, “‘A freedom to be, to do’: Orthodoxy in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus,” elaborates on Achebe’s father-son relationships by arguing that Jaja, the male protagonist, serves as a source of trouble to the “disciplinary” masculinity personified by his father. Chapter Four, “‘A real man’: Tradition in Dibia’s Walking with Shadows,” demonstrates that Dibia subverts gay stereotypes through his portrayal of Adrian, the homosexual character, to disaffirm popular notions of what it means to be a man. I argue that he creates receptive characters such as Chike and Ada to emphasize the link between receptivity and queer flourishing. Chapter Five, “‘Let peace be. Let life be’: Hospitality in Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees,” interrogates Okparanta’s exploration of the mother-daughter relationship dramatized by Adaobi and Ijeoma and the familial negotiations around same-sex intimacy. Okparanta deploys an ethic of hospitality to underscore the centrality of family support to queer flourishing. I conclude that Achebe, Adichie, Dibia, and Okparanta underscore receptivity to reconstruct masculinity (and femininity) and call for gender redefinition.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-tz45-e862
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.