Representations of Women in War in Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and Festus Iyayi’s Heroes


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1.1       Background to the Study


In a largely patriarchal society such as Nigeria, the wartime picture of ‘man does’ ‘woman is’ perhaps only an extension of what obtains in times of peace. A close examination of the portrayals of women in literature and myth reveals that the entire female experience is one to which very little freedom is accrued. One would find that the women we meet in stories are limited to just two broad categories, the chaste, submissive woman who is the personification of every good thing. She is the lovely virgin, the good girl who helps the old woman and gets rewarded, the one who suffers tribulations silently until a rich man comes along to ‘free’ her; she is the kind gentle loving mother of myth, long-suffering and accommodating to all. The other category is just the opposite, usually independent and sexually liberated, she is the witch, the prostitute, the evil femme fatale who leads men to their doom, the proud, educated woman who becomes someone’s girlfriend, but never wife, the one who is never able to have a child.

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Representations of Women in War in Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and Festus Iyayi’s Heroes

According to Jungian theory, these recurring archetypes are fragments of the collective unconscious and represent to a large extent the collective expectations of society, and so we find that in society, the woman who sticks to the patriarchal order and accepts her role is cast as the good woman, the “eternal feminine”, she lives and works and dies unknown but accepted by all, and the woman who tries to resist becomes an outcast of sorts, and in the stories, comes to a terrible end, like the proud girl of myth who rejects all her suitors and elopes with a handsome stranger only to find out that he is in fact a skull with borrowed body parts. This point is even more pertinent considering the fact that stories are a tool for inculcating group values and societal expectations.

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Kate Millet in her work ‘Sexual Politics’ says about the patriarchy that “It is sustained by a system of socialization, which originates in the family and is reinforced by literature, education and religion; it also depends on economic exploitation, state power and eventually, force (especially sexual violence and rape) (qtd. In Humm 27). There is perhaps no question that in all societies, war times are different from peace times.

Representations of Women in War in Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and Festus Iyayi’s Heroes

In the past, wars were fought mostly by men, in designated warfronts, leaving the women to ‘man’ the home front. With the advance of modern warfare, and the extension of the war front to include the homefront, it would seem that the wars are now being brought to the women from the outset. In the bid to conquer and subdue, ordinary men become murderers and rapists, and the women take on different roles. In the bid to survive, people take on their more primal nature, rules are suspended. As the popular saying goes, All is fair in love and war. However, these archetypes go deeper than laws and rules and conventions. In most cases, we find that it is in fact the women who are custodians of this order, and so it would seem that even in the absence of men, while the men are off fighting, these archetypes are still upheld.

This paper seeks to explore the ways in which the female characters in the novels, as representatives of real women in the Nigerian Civil War, navigate these communally established archetypes, given their new roles in situations of conflict.

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