Anowa Themes

Ama Ata Aidoo

Anowa

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  • Features an extended summary and 5 sections of expert analysis.
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Anowa Themes

Motherhood

Women and mothers—and specifically, the failures of both—are central to the events that have the most impact on the characters. From the outset, the Old Woman posits that Anowa’s struggles are due to the actions of her mother, Badua, who stacked the deck against her from the moment of her birth. Badua is frustrated that she cannot dissuade Anowa from marrying Kofi and leaving Yebi. At first, Anowa is concerned that she may not be able to bear children, but by the end of the play the void of her childless life consumes her and her husband.

Beyond the actual physical act of giving birth, Anowa shows the primary duty of motherhood to be teaching a female child to act properly and normally. Therefore, when Anowa refuses to conform to her mother’s ideas of proper behavior, Badua sees herself as a failure. When Anowa is unable to conceive, she views herself as being both physically incapable and unworthy of doing so. In this way, because most women can conceive children, Anowa never has a chance to be normal. This causes her great distress because she believes that a woman’s primary purpose is to bear children. As the year pass, her disappointment over her childlessness grows.

There are hints throughout the book that if Anowa had a female child, she would raise her to be a different sort of woman. A woman who thought, spoke her mind, and chose her own destiny. Because she never experiences motherhood, Anowa is also denied the chance to create a woman like herself, a woman whose influence might help to dilute the controlling influence of men in Ghanaian society.

Tradition

Anowa and the Old Man represent the possibility of new traditions replacing the old. In Anowa’s case, her efforts are futile. In the Old Man’s case, it is unclear whether his optimism is well-founded or not, since he is so near the end of his life and will never know if the world changes. But overall, Aidoo makes it clear that if traditions do not evolve, a society stagnates. The debate between conservatism and progressivism is demonstrated in the conflicts between between Anowa and Kofi, Badua and Osam, the Old Man and the Old Woman, and even between the children who clean Kofi’s throne room.

Change is always turbulent, and especially so in societies whose norms have formed over centuries. The only way in which traditions can be replaced is by demonstrating the usefulness of new traditions. However, when no one in the play—save for Anowa and the Old Man—are willing to entertain the possibility that their society might evolve, those who seek progress are immediately branded as insane, witches, or worse. Further enforcing the intractability of the problem are the constant reminders that in most of the Ghanaian folk tales, the heroine who seeks to choose her own suitor is often punished along with everyone she loves. In this way, Anowa’s actions do not inspire other villagers to independence, but instead reenact ancient tropes. They fear her and gossip about her because she represents something their culture has been taught to abhor: a woman who seeks to elevate her own station and choose her own life.

Slavery

Slavery appears in several forms in Anowa. First, there is the literal acquisition of slaves. Much to Anowa’s disapproval, Kofi purchases men to employ in “bonded labor.” In this setting, these people are property, without agency or options. But marriage itself is presented as another sort of bondage, particularly for wives. Women in Anowa are expected to bear children, make their husbands feel special, and are encouraged to be seen not heard, particularly when they offer unorthodox opinions. While the punishments for a rebellious wife are not as severe as those that could be administered to an unruly slave, the women still live in oppressive environments in which they can be made to suffer—through shunning, for example—for their opinions.

Culture itself is also presented as a kind of enslavement. Anowa suffers greatly because she is enslaved by the prevailing ideas of what women should be. She is perceived as crazy and has no way to prove to anyone that she is sane. The characters in Anowa are all bound by the system in which they live. However, most remain unaware that they are imprisoned because they are able to be happy within the system. However, the strictures of their society limit the expansiveness of their thoughts and intellectual aspirations.