From Peripheral Metropolis to Inverted Eden: Development, Gender, and Subjectivity in the Contemporary, Female-Authored, West African Bildungsroman

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2021-08

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Abstract

The bildungsroman continues to be popular amongst writers, readers, and critics. Perhaps, this is because the representation of individual development is as compelling today as it ever has been. We continue to ask how the novel depicts a person as s/he responds to challenges, cultivates a subjectivity, and matures into an adult identity. However, there is no study that focuses on the contemporary African bildungsroman. This grave oversight means that our understanding of how individual development is represented in post-colonial and post-independence countries of the Global South is severely limited. My study of the female-authored, West African bildungsroman remedies this dearth in the scholarship. In my dissertation, From Peripheral Metropolis to Inverted Eden: Development, Gender and Subjectivity in the Contemporary, Female-Authored, West African Bildungsroman, I explicate the innovations and articulations of the genre through the work of Chimamanda Adichie, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Amma Darko, Leonora Miano, and Aminatta Forna. The project takes development as both a synonym of the German term, “bildung,” and as a concept which refers to the maturation process of an economy, nation, or idea. My research examines how contemporary female authors imagine bildung in contexts which are often hostile to women, the youth, and the poor, and examines how this genre imagines bildung in an international context characterized by antiblackness. I argue that the genre presents development in materialist terms because of its close attention to personal, social, and national economics and that the genre presents male and female genders as an important component of individuation and subjectivity. In addition, I demonstrate that the genre links the protagonist’s bildung to the nation’s educational, social service, and healthcare institutions. Finally, I explicate the narrative resolutions for orientations towards conjugality or consanguinity. In my framework, conjugality and consanguinity exist on a spectrum. In it, conjugality is an orientation to one’s own happiness and advancement, while consanguinity is an orientation toward advancement which incorporates a strong affiliation and link toward the wider community.

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Keywords

Bildungsroman, African Literature, Women's Literature, Literature and Development

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