Anowa Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 24-page guide for “Anowa” by Ama Ata Aidoo includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Motherhood and Tradition.
“Anowa” is a riveting play that was first published in 1970 by Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo. The play is set in the 1870s, and its narrative is based on both regional legends and folktales. One of the most noticeable folktales found in “Anowa” is the story of the “disobedient daughter,” where a young woman often refuses to marry a particular suitor, and her refusal or “independence” results in disaster for her and/or others. Aidoo takes this cautionary tale and turns it on its head, however, resulting in a powerful struggle between old and new ways of thinking.
The play begins in the village of Yebi, on Africa’s coast. Two characters, known separately as Old Man and Old Woman, and collectively as Being-The-Mouth-That-Eats-Salt-And-Pepper, speak to the audience. The elders relate how the village has been blessed with sustenance, and that this is in part due to the villagers’ desire to live balanced lives. There is one oddity in the village, however. The elders relate how Anowa, the daughter of Badua, refuses every suitor who asks for her hand in marriage despite her parents and the other villagers’ wishes. Badua herself is generally blamed, and the villagers wonder if Anowa is meant to be a priestess.
Anowa is then introduced. She is sourcing water when she meets Kofi Ako. The two young people seem to fall in love at first sight. Meanwhile, Badua and her husband, Osam, are speaking of Anowa’s reluctance to marry. Badua is afraid as Anowa is of marrying age. Osam, however, feels that the task of marrying daughters is not within his realm. He does remind his wife that Anowa is different from other girls, and might be destined to be a priestess, though Badua does not agree. The parents are suddenly interrupted by Anowa, who relates that she has finally found the man she wishes to marry, Kofi Ako. Badua is horrified, as Kofi Ako has a reputation for being both vain and lazy. Mother and daughter argue, and Anowa eventually packs her belongings, stating that she will marry Kofi Ako regardless, and that she will not return to Yebi. The Old Man and Old Woman then return and speak of Badua’s sadness due to Anowa’s disobedience. The Old Man then admits that he is unsure if the villagers are angry at Anowa for choosing Kofi Ako or because of her breaking of tradition by making her own choice.
The play shifts to two years later, when Kofi Ako and Anowa are on the road. Anowa is sad as she has not conceived yet. She suggests finding a wife for Kofi Ako so that he can have a child, though he staunchly refuses the idea. Later as Anowa sleeps, Kofi Ako wishes to himself that Anowa would begin acting like a real wife. Her willfulness causes others to think her his sister, plus she labors too much for a wife. Though he loves her, he wishes Anowa would more traditional.
Kofi Ako later suggests that the couple buy slaves to help with the labor, but Anowa angrily refuses. She wants no part in buying people. Kofi Ako reminds her that everyone buys slaves. He eventually grows tired of Anowa’s independent thinking and takes the matter into his own hand by buying slaves. Meanwhile, Anowa’s parents discuss the fact that they have not seen or heard from their daughter, who is now rich from the couple having bought slaves to help with their business. It is also revealed that Anowa’s dislike of slavery is common knowledge, though Badua cannot understand what the reasoning is as slaves make life easier for people.
Kofi Ako and Anowa are now older, suggesting that more time has gone by. Anowa is angry that she is not able to help Kofi Ako or the slaves carry things. They still do not have a child, and Anowa desires to be of some use. Kofi Ako dislikes the fact that Anowa still will not settle down and busy herself with taking care of the house. Anowa again suggests they find a wife for him so that he can have a child, which angers him. The lights dim and the Old Man and Old Woman return. The elders reveal that the couple is buying a large quantity of slaves, but question the morality of this act. The Old Woman thinks Anowa is to blame for the couple’s problems, and suggests that Kofi Ako will soon gain the upper hand in the relationship.
Years later, Kofi Ako is now the wealthiest man in the region. His dress is contrasted sharply with Anowa’s shabby dress and demeanor. As she waits for him to return home, she thinks back to a time when she was younger and witnessed white men taking people away. Though her grandmother told her to forget the incident, she never has. When Kofi Ako returns, he takes issue with Anowa’s behavior and appearance. She again tries to suggest that he take another wife and have a child. Kofi Ako refuses, and tells Anowa to leave the house as she is unhappy and has not provided a child. He will provide her a house back in Yebi, but she refuses. She then realizes that he is now impotent on account of her not providing a child. This revelation is made in front of slaves, however, angering Kofi Ako. He races outside, and then a gunshot is heard. The scene ends with Anowa’s laughter. It is revealed during a funeral procession back in Yebi that Kofi Ako shot himself and Anowa drowned herself. The Old Woman still blames Anowa for driving Kofi Ako mad, while the Old Man suggests that things might have been different if Anowa was treated differently by the villagers.
Anowa’s character is seen by many to be a symbol of feminism, and a telling example of contemporary Ghanaian history growing from its restrictive past. Anowa’s actions ultimately bring about her ruin. She chooses her own suitor, thus remaining true to her own beliefs. Her actions, however, result in an unhappy marriage and, ultimately, lead to death. Moreover, Aidoo’s play shows how the treatment of women mirrors the treatment of people through the act of slavery, thus tying economic oppression to domestic oppression. Both acts are covered up by silence and a reliance on tradition. The villagers are complicit in the slave trade, in harming their own people, just like human beings are complicit in harming one another through traditions such as forced marriage and defining social roles for women. Anowa’s fate is symbolic of what happens when freedoms are taken away, when people are forced to live not by their own choosing, but by the rules of others.