Arts, Media and Popular Culture
Gender-based Genre Conventions and the Critical Reception of Buchi Emecheta’s Destination Biafra (Nigeria)
A gendered spatial schema of war – which creates a dichotomy between a masculine battlefront
and a feminine home-front – undermines the credibility of women’s participation in battle,
impacting on the legitimacy of women’s war novels. Through a study of Buchi Emecheta’s
Destination Biafra, first published in 1982, this article highlights the role of genre conventions
in the production and reception of war novels written by African women. Emecheta makes
a daring choice to reconceptualise the home and/or battlefront dichotomy. By manipulating
the representational genre convention of soldier-hero she subverts its archetypal masculinity.
Debbie, the female soldier-hero, is the focal point of this analysis. Within the context of postcolonial
African literature, women’s writing is portrayed as a process of ‘writing back’ to a
canon that represents women as apolitical conduits of tradition. In Debbie, Emecheta foregoes
canonical markers of African ‘authenticity’ to create a liminal figure that negotiates her identity
between modernity and tradition; masculinity and femininity. The article concludes that the
principal reason why the characterisation of Debbie is deemed dissatisfying is that it defies the
facile categorisation offered by the adherence to the gendered representational conventions.
Too often genre is considered a fixed category yet a meaningful analysis of Destination Biafra
forces one to consider it as an open category whose conventions can be ‘bent’ to accommodate
minority literatures spawning new sub-genres.
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