The Role of Childhood in The Slave Girl

Elora Lee Raymond '99, English 27 (1997)

Emecheta uses childhood differently than does Soyinka. In The Slave Girl, she uses Ojebeta's childhood to emphasize an innocence and dependence of her main character that makes her subsequent betrayal more strikingly painful, thus underscoring Emecheta's message that for women, marriage is slavery. Emecheta establishes Ojebeta as a precious, wanted child in the beginning of the novel. Her father undertakes a dangerous journey for her sake; her birth is a blessing and a dream come true for her parents. She is especially loved because she is so precious.

Ojebeta's childlike attributes contrast highly with the treatment she receives as a woman and a slave. Ma Palagada, who barely considers Ojebeta human calculates her worth in terms of money, and the men in her life make decisions about her fate based solely on money with no consideration for her as a person. When Okolie and Ojebeta are taking the trip to sell Ojebeta at the market, Emecheta portrays Ojebeta as trusting, curious, dependent, and loving. She "ran into the protection of his wide arms" (32). While Okolie is worried about selling Ojebeta into slavery, Ojebeta wants to play with her brother, considers his state of mind, and shows childlike inquisitiveness and spirit. Emecheta underscores the injustice that Okolie commits by showing Ojebeta's childlike trust and dependence.

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