Narrator and Narrative in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl

G. Elissa Popoff, English 27 1997

The relationship between the narrator and the narrative of The Slave Girl merits special consideration. In contrast to Wole Soyinka's autobiography, Aké, The Slave Girl is narrated by an omniscient third person. However, this narrator occasionally lets the mask of impartiality slip, yielding insight into this book and its raison d'etre. (An example: Chapter 15, "It never occurred to her that the big house could be sold or that, if she had married Clifford, she might have become a changed person with different values who would not have felt so alien in a luxurious house. What was the point of speculation?" 176-177)

It seems to me that The Slave Girl's central theme is change, whether it be the series of changes in Ojebeta's life or the impending change from colonialism to independence or the changes caused by a meeting of two cultures or the need for change (a possible inspiration for this book). To iterate in a slightly altered form the question in the cited passage above, what is the point of speculation by the narrator? Isn't The Slave Girl in its entirety a speculation, being an undocumented fictional creation of Buchi Emecheta? Speculation's importance, I believe, lies in its direct connection to the future. In the human linear perception of time, the "what might be" (or the "I have a dream") of speculation is inevitably cast into the future. This couching of speculation generates actions intended to bring about the desired speculative notion. These actions, the end product of speculation as it were, affect the present. Herein lies speculation's importance: as an influence on the present-- as well as on the future. Therefore, the lack of such speculation leads to a continuation of the status quo and the absence of change.

Frequently when the narrator comments on the story's unfolding events, as in the cited passage above in which Ojebeta cannot visualize herself as leading any other sort of life than the one she ends up with, it is to add in the unimagined, disrupting the story's "status quo", its straightforward narrative flow. In Chapter Thirteen's final paragraph, the narrator interjects: "The irony was that the process would eventually come full circle and people would reject their English names; but that was to be in the days of Independence, after the end of colonialism. That was in the future." An unexpected bit of information, both for the reader and for the characters, had they known of it. Characters such as Ojebeta and Jacob alter their lifestyles and themselves only after exposure to the previously unimaginable, the purely speculative, in the form of English culture.

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Emecheta OV