The Role of Childhhod in Emecheta's the Slave Girl

Barnali Tahbildar '97, English 27 (1997)

Although Emecheta first presents Ojebeta , the female protagonist of The Slave Girl, as a child, she provides no real sense of a distinct childhood for this character. Did Ojebeta ever have birthday parties like young Wole? Did she ever get into mischievous trouble? Did she sing, dance, or follow parades as a child? The truth is that the reader does not know. Immediately after the death of her parents, Ojebeta begins her literal and figurative journey into slavery. She does not have time to be a child in the sense that Wole Soyinka has a distinct period of childhood. Whereas Soyinka fills Aké with anecdotes of the prototypical child (i.e. the child at play, the child at school, the child being naughty), Emecheta chooses to leave out incidents because (a) her novel is more concerned with the position of Ojebeta as a female rather than as a child character and because(b) the conditions of her society make Ojebeta lose her childhood.

One could argue that because of Ojebeta's socio-economic position, she is not privileged enough to have the prototypical childhood. In Ojebeta, we encounter not the child at play but the child at work; a child objectified, bought and sold into domestic labor within a patriarchal economy. Furthermore, Ojebeta's status as an orphan contributes to the notion of her lost childhood. In The Slave Girl, the sentimental value of childhood has been lost and, in its place, a new economic value has been attached.


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