For the novelist to be able to achieve his vision for her/his artwork, there is a necessity to ensure that the form of the story complements the thematic or ideological concerns of the work. This is exactly what Njabulo Ndebele avers in his essay, “Redefining Relevance”:
The complexity of the daily problems of living in fact coincides with the demands of the creative act. That means a search for appropriate form and technique which could enable him to grasp the complexity and render it understandable. (66)
One of such technique is characterization—the process of creating characters in a work of art. This technique is very important, especially because characters are an important element in the novel. Confirming this is,Ezeigbo, in her A Companion to the Novel, notes that characters “constitutes one of the most valid strongholds of realism in the novel” (12). Novelists deploy different ways of creating characters. Ezeigbo, a notable scholar of the novel, explains some of these methods, thus:
Characterization in a novel can be achieved by expository or dramatic means…the reader gets to know the character’s nature or personality through the character’s speeches, attitudes, behaviour, recorded thoughts and the character’s relationships with other characters in the novel. (13)
Characters, more than any other element in the novel, often, directly or indirectly, reveal the novelist’s ideology. To illustrate, in Purple Hibiscus, the character of Aunty Ifeoma is used by Adichie to promote her feminist ideology. In the same vein, Flora Nwapa’s Efuru in Efuru, Emecheta’s Adaku in The Joys of Motherhood, becomes ideological apparatuses for the novelist to make their feminist statement. More so, their creations of these strong-willed characters is a form of (re)ordering of the stereotypical characterization of female characters by male writers, such as Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, amongst others, as weak, subservient, sterile, and merely concerned about petty engagements. In short, the characterization of females in the works of these male writers is made to fit in with the androcentric or patriarchal ideology. Thus, whether intentionally or not, writers often use their characters (hence, their characterization) to buttress their ideology and even their aesthetic concerns. This also holds true for Sello Duiker, whose novel, The Hidden Star, reflects feminist patterns and magical paradigms. In this essay, the writer examines the feminist patterns and magical paradigms in the characterization of Duiker’s The Hidden Star.
THE HIDDEN STAR: A SYNOPSIS
The novel narrates the adventure of a female child, Nolitye, and her friends, Bheki and the bespectacled Four Eyes, who must reunite her divided and oppressive community, using the magic stone that is mythologically said to contain the solution to their problems. In her quest to fulfil her calling as the stone keeper, she is faced with series of obstacles, including the bully, Rotten Nellie and her gang of Spoilers, MaMtonga and her fellow old witches, the Zim, some hurdles in the underworld, and, finally, Ncitjana. She is able to collect all the parts of the magic stone which makes it possible for her world to be better again. The development of Nolitye simultaneously matches her sojourn and (con)quest which makes the novel a sort of bildungsroman.
FEMINIST PATTERNS AND MAGICAL PARADIGMS IN THE HIDDEN STAR
It is pertinent that we briefly explain the feminist as well as the magical aesthetics of the novel before we examine the feminist patterns and magical paradigms that are noticeable in Duiker’s The Hidden Star. Even though the feminist aesthetics is quite variegated, there seem to be an agreement by all feminist that it “is a worldwide ideological and political movement directed at changing the existing power relations between women and men in a patriarchal society” (Adunmi, 161).
Under the umbrella of feministic practices, women (starting with the girl child) are no longer to be left behind in the affairs of the society. It is just as Acholonu captures it:
Women should no longer be decorative accessories, objects to be moved about and companions to be flattered or claimed with promises. They should see themselves as nation’s primary fundamental root from which all else grows and blossoms. Women must be encouraged to take keen interest in the destiny of the country. (34)
Magical Realism is used to describe the prose fiction of some Latin American writers and now also used to describe the works of other Third World writers who exhibit the same idiosyncracies. The novels under this label are a mixture of realism. In other words, they are graphic representations of ordinary events and experiences and their detailed descriptions, with elements of fantasy and surrealism. Other features of this type of fiction are dreamlike states, mythic elements and supernatural forces, as well as fairy-tales (9).
In the characterization of especially the major characters of the novel, Duiker reveals his feminist patterning. We begin with the female protagonist, Nolitye. Contrary to the traditional gender roles of the female child as weak, uncritical, etc., Duiker, in this novel, characterizes Nolitye as a strong-willed, self-determined, intelligent, and courageous, amongst other qualities. That she is made a responsible only daughter is worthy of note, given that in patriarchal consciousness, the female child is of little, or no, use in societal development. This pattern of creating useful and responsible daughters resonates in many a feminist novel. One quickly calls to mind Nneoma in Ezeigbo’s Trafficked, Aunty Ifeoma in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Efuru in Nwapa’s Efuru, Wanja in Ngugi’s Petals of Blood, and Beatrice in Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. Nolitye is also made to be very intelligent, especially because of her education. This is a very important characterization technique seeing that the girl-child is usually denied education. Thus, by creating an intelligent female character, whose main interest is mathematics (a subject that is usually regarded as masculine, because it is wrongly assumed that females are not analytically-inclined), Duiker clearly makes a strong feminist statement: females, like their male counterpart, can be as educated, if not more. The fact that Nolitye is also made to take on the huge task of reuniting her discordant society is not coincendental. The use of her intelligence and strong-will, as well as empowerment as the keeper of stones is a testament to the fact that, if given the opportunity, women can successfully carry the responsibility of building the society.
Duiker makes his female characters, apart from those of the old generation, leaders. And he ensures that they carry out this leadership role well. On her part, Nolitye successfully coordinates the activities of Bheki and Four Eyes. Rotten Nellie also manages her role as the leader of the gang of Spoilers successfully. Rotten Nellie adopts a radical approach to leadership, which could be seen as her way of combating the masculine forces that oppresses her society. She subverts the ordering of male-famale. We find her radical feminist streak especially in this instance:
“First things first,” Rotten Nellie begins, trying hard to sound like Mrs lesufi, the headmistress. “I think the boys should start off wuth a show of soccer skills.”
“But I thought ladies went first,” Nolitye says, a twinkle in her eyes. She knows her comment will drive Rotten Nellie mad.
“Oh shut up with the lady stuff!” Rotten Nellie explodes. “do I in any case look like a lady?” (65)
Although a radical, Rotten Nellie ends up a nice person by contributing her own quota to Nolitye’s quest, which, in the end, will also be to her benefit. This instance, though vaguely so, encapsulate the feminist pattern of sisterhood, or female bonding—a pattern that is also noticeable in many novels of feminist writers. Nneoma and Efe in Eziegbo’s Trafficked, Nko and her roommates in Emecheta’s Double Yoke, Aunty Ifeoma and Mrs Eugene (as well as Kambili and Amaka) in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus clearly illustrates this pattern.
Oppositional representation is another feminist pattern that Duiker uses in his characterization. The advantage of these characterization patterning is that it helps to avoid failing of stereotypical representation in the feminist fiction. It is for such failing that Emecheta’sThe Joys of Motherhood received an unfavourable criticism from Eustace Palmer, for presenting her male characters as stereotypes—as irresponsible, power drunk, and physically disfigured or caricature-like, and embodying the Manichean allegory. She does not present a holistic worldview, like is the case in Duiker’s The Hidden Star. Thus, like Ezeigbo who represents both alternatives in Efe/Nneoma, Adichie who represents the opposition of Aunty Ifeoma/Beatrice, Duiker represents oppositions in Nolitye/Nellie, Thembi/MaMtonga, Xholi/Ncitjana, etc.
Even though earlier rejections of the forms of narrative which preceded the emergence of the novel form established by Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding, was on the accusation that it is fantastic (thus, unrealistic), the coagulation of the magical with the realistic is now regarded as the truer or more enriching form of the novel. This is especially so as in the intricacies of human living, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to divorce man’s spiritual essence from his physical existence. Especially amongst third world novelists, the supernatural is regarded as a sacrosanct part of one’s existential reality. The novel, The Hidden Star is chock-full with magical realistic paradigms. Magical paradigms in the novel range from myth, the supernatural, folktales, fantasy, surrealism, to dream-like states (or trance). For instance, we read of how the magic stone increased their fat cakes (51); of Bheki’s sibling, Khaya, turning into a giant baby after licking the magic stone (92). Nolitye’s dreams and dream-like states are also very resonant in the novel. She dreams about her parents, about Ncitjana, amongst other dreams. At some point, even Nolitye finds no disparity between dreams and reality:
“I’m fine, papa. It’s just a few scratches,” she says, feeling happier than she has ever been. All her father does is hold her close to him.
“I must be dreaming,” Nolitye says.
“Dreams are doors to future.”
“Mama!” She lets go of her father. “But how is it possible that you can walk into my dream?”
“Because sometimes dreams are more real than life.” (107-8)
The myth of Nkulunkulu (78-79) is an example of mythical content in the novel. On fairy-tale, Nomakhosi represents the guardian angel trope.
In this essay, the writer has examined the feminist patterns and magical paradigms in Duiker’s The Hidden Star. Duiker, through his characterization of both female and male characters along feminist patterns, and his exploration of the magical realist mode of narrative, passes as a writer worth his salt. It should not be surprising, then, that he becomes a source of inspiration for aspiring (south) African writers. Like Duiker has done, it behoves on all and sundry to continue to spread the true knowledge and make it become not a hidden, but a conspicuous star.
Adunmi, Joseph. “Gender Theory and Ideology: A Study of Zaynub Alkali’s The Stillborn”. In O.Obafemi& C. Bodunde (Eds).Criticism, Theory and Ideology in African Literature. Ilorin: Dept. of English, University of Ilorin, 161, 2003. Print.
Catherine, Acholonu. “BuchiEmecheta.” In Y. Ogunbunyi (Ed) Perspective on Nigerian Literature 1700 to the Present.(Vol. 2). Lagos. Guardian Books Nig ltd, 34, 1998. Print.
Duiker, S.The Hidden Star. Abuja: Cassava Republic, 2006. Print.
Ezeigbo, A.A.A Companion to the Novel. Lagos: Vista Books, 1998. Print.