Literature, Language, and Life

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Feminism in “Maps”

African literature demonstrates the African way of life, and the struggles they face in their own cultural context.  Whether or not these demonstrations are accurate or not is up to the reader and what they know about context, but to determine whether the portrayal of women in African literature is accurate, we must know more than just cultural context. To understand women in African literature, we must understand what it means to be an African woman. Carole Boyce Davies , a feminist literary critic, who focuses on African literature divides African women as seen in their literature into three categories; “the foolish virgin in rural settings, the femme fatale in urban settings, and the masculinized matron.” Although categorizing complex female characters into only three categories is borderline ludicrous, it is possible to put Misra and other female characters in maps into those situation.

Although we do not know whether or not Misra was a virgin when we were first introduced to her, we understand that she is Askar’s adoptive mother and did not give birth to him. This implies that she is a virgin of birth. However, we learn later on that she had a son before adopting Askar, which could mean she was a virgin to motherhood. She could also be considered as a virgin to the Somali culture, as she grew up Ethiopian before being displaced because of the Ogaden War. She  is foolish because she forces the connection between her and Askar, as though she wants them to adopt one identity in order for her to assimilate into the Somalian society.

And even though the book does not have an urban setting, Misra can still be considered as a femme fatale. In the first part, she has yet to to betray the Somali people, however she still sets up some men of the community to fall. An example of this is when she sleep with Sheikh, Aw-Adan. Somalia is an Islamic country, and by corrupting, or showing the corruption within, a man who is supposed to embody Islamic characteristics in turn shows how morally bankrupt the region is. She kills what is sacred.

Misra is not masculine, but is hyper-feminine, the opposite of Askar’s uncle Hilal’s wife, Salaado.  Salaado is the masculine matron, as she reversed the gender roles by being the bread winner and the one runs errands, while her husband is the one who takes care of the house.

Although I disagree that women can be categorized into one of three things, but I think that the categories are general enough to encompass most women in literature.


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