A feminist critique of the image of woman in the prose works of selected Xhosa writers (1909 - 1980)

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The study examines, from a feminist point of view, the stereotypic image of woman in Xhosa prose fiction from pre-literate times to the era of written literature (1909 - 1980). Attaching feminist critical theory to conventional literary characterisation gives this pioneering study a human dime,n sion that is bound to rejuvenate traditional critical appredation and highlight the tremendous power of art to reflect or parallel real-life experiences. Consequently, the study transcends the confines of traditional literary criticism. It throws interdisciplinary light on the African feminist dilemma over the past 70 years while focusing on gender stereotyping as a characterisation technique. Chapter 1 clearly demarcates the scope of study and the critical position adopted, while chapter 2 traces stereotypes back to Xhosa folk-tales. In this way, an interesting link or parallel in stereotyping between oral and written literature is highlighted. It is worth pointing out that Chapter 3 is significant in that no women writers' works produced in the first and the second decades have survived. The male writers of the period describe women in strict stereotypic fashion, without fear of contradiction, from Woman as Eve to Woman as Witch, among other archetypal images. The female stereotypic image in the third and the fourth decades, the role of the first two female novelists and the early seeds of female. resistance to male domination, are discussed. in Chapter 4 while Chapter 5 highlights the depiction of female characters by male and female prose writers in the Fifties, culminating in Mzamane's exposure of glaring anti-female social norms and practices. In Chapter 6 the spotlight is cast on the woman of the Sixties and the rise of active resistance to male dominance. Some contemporary women, as pointed out in Chapter 7, have crossed the Rubicon in diverse ways. They are assertive, independent, proactive and relentlessly opposed to male dominance. Chapter 8 sums up the main points in relation to the Xhosa woman's attitude towards Western feminism: while many Xhosa women feel justifiably unhappy about male dominance, they refuse to let their frustrations affect their unity with men in the greater struggle against racism. Although the study concludes on an anti-climactic note for Western feminists, it focuses on this crucial and unique distinction between Western and black feminism.