Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Rosalie Murphy Baum, Ph.D.


African women, Identity, Language, Gender studies, Voices


My dissertation is in the tradition of redressing the critical imbalance that has undervalued or neglected African women writers by considering Flora Nwapa's three best-known novels, analyzing from a feminist and dialogic perspective what choice and discovery mean for Nwapa's female characters in Efuru (1966), Idu (1970), and One is Enough (1981). Flora Nwapa writes about women and their lives, issues, and concerns within a traditional Igbo culture radically affected by British colonialism. As she explores and analyzes many of the characteristics of her tribal group, she posits the women's desires for change, choice, and acceptance within a society in which they wish to participate fully as human beings not just in the roles traditionally allowed them-as workers, wives, and mothers.

Instead, they wish greater freedom than traditional Igbo customs allow in the domestic and public realms; but their beliefs and values have been transformed by Christianity, western education, and an increasing emphasis upon the individual. The women in Nwapa's novels speak to the needs of both collective and individual female identity within their culture. They seek love and respect from the community and acceptance of the choices they make. As Nwapa's novels evolve, her female characters become increasingly independent, aggressive and self-styled: they become women with a mission to realize themselves. I have drawn upon the criticism of Barbara Smith, Obioma Nnaemeka, and Barbara Christian to ground my study. The definition of African feminism comes from Carole Boyce Davies' introduction to Ngambika. The discussion of language, dialogue, and heteroglossia relies upon the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Mae Henderson.

The dissertation focuses upon all important characters in Efuru, Idu, and One is Enough, but especially on the dialogue and actions of central female characters in order to analyze the never-ceasing polyphonic dialogue that Nwapa's female characters have between self and society, between self and self-consciousness, and among themselves. In a world where they struggle to blend their traditional culture and institutions with western influences, they seek both independence and a communal cohesiveness in which many voices and choices can survive in a complementary manner.