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Discourse analysis on Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl

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par Emard Brice LIKIBI
Université Marien Ngouabi - CAPES 2008

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Discourse analysis in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl is our main concern in the present study. In fact, emphasis is put on the author's style and the characters' discourse.

Actually, the choice of the topic and of the novel was proposed by my academic advisor. Moreover, we have chosen to work on discourse analysis because it is not yet dealt with by students of Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), and the choice of the novel is due to its literary interest. I was glad to embark myself on this study because no previous work on this field has been carried out at ENS. I have found it challenging to plunge into the literary analysis which should be a bridge between literature and linguistics.

Before going on the deep of the subject, it is important to define the main lexical items in order to clarify the topic. Discourse comes from Latin «discursus» which means «running to and from». Hence, discourse is a piece of text or pronunciation that is complete. And, discourse analysis is a general term for a number of approaches to analyse written, spoken or signed language. Actually, our prior interest consists of finding out Buchi Emecheta's techniques in the handling of English language.

As far as the hypothesis of our work is concerned, we can say that the discourse of Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl reveals African aesthetic creations. Concerning our methodology, we will refer to Arlette Chermain's statement (1981: 31): «D'une manière générale, plusieurs méthodes peuvent éclairer d'une manière convergente le récit (le sectarisme risque d'être sclérosant)»

Nevertheless, we will focus on three approaches: structural; sociological, and linguistic. The first approach will help us to study the structure of Buchi Emecheta in The Slave Girl. The second one presents the advantage of dealing with the relationship between literature and society. Finally, the third one will help us to analyse the different styles used by the author.

Before tackling the main issue, it sounds interesting to say a word about the author's biography and her works. Buchi Emecheta's full name is Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta. She was born in Yaba, near Lagos, Nigeria in July 21, 1944. She is a daughter of a railway worker. She lost both of her parents when she was at a young age, and spent her early childhood being educated at a missionary school. At seventeen, she got married to Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was eleven. Her husband went to London to study and she 1962. At the age of twenty-two, she left her husband and got a BSc degree in sociology at London University, while supporting her five children. From 1982 to 1983, she became a Member of Home Secretary's Advisory.

As a writer, Buchi Emecheta wrote novels about the struggles of African women moving from traditional to modern roles in their societies. Buchi's two first novels are respectively In the Ditch (1972) and Second- Class Citizen (1974). These novels are drawn from her own experience, and they were published together as Adah's Story in 1983. In 1976, she wrote The Bride Price. But other novels are set in Nigeria and are highly critical of African women. These include the ironic titles The Joys of Motherhood (1979) and Destination Biafia (1982). She wrote in 1977 The Slave Girl, the novel we are concerned with, thanks to which she won Jock Campbell Award. Additionally, Buchi wrote a children story, The Wrestling Match in 1980, critical works, essays, and an autobiography, Head Above Water in 1986.

The Slave Girl depicts the story of Agbanje Ojebeta, who is sold by her brother, Okolie. Ojebeta is a daughter of Okwuekwu Oda (her father) and Umeadi (her mother). She was living wealthy with her two brothers in Ibuza village before the spreading of an epidemic called `felenza' which killed the most of the Ibuza people such is the case of her parents. To avoid, however, such a catastrophe to Ojebeta, Okolie decides to leave their village, Ibuza, for Onitsha village where their so-called relative live.

During their outward journey, they meet their aunt Uteh and her husband Eze who do not allow them to continue their journey. Unfortunately, early in the morning, Okolie and Ojebeta get up and continue their journey without telling them. They walk for a long time and take canoes until they reach Onitsha Village.

When reaching Otu market, Ojebeta is troubled for she has never seen such a big market with different people from different cultures and with different kinds of materials coming from «The United Africa Company». Surprisingly she remarks that most of people glance at her.

Actually, there is a wealthy woman called Ma Palagada by whom Okolie decides to sell her sister because he badly needs money. Having no choice, Ojebeta's brother took the eight English pounds which is the amount suggested by the buyer. Accordingly, his sister came to increase the number of Ma Palagada's slaves.

Although it was hard for Ojebeta to live far from her brother at the outset, she gradually got used to this new situation and she became an active member of Ma Palagada's household. She worked the other slaves do. In the meantime, Ojebeta met good luck with Clifford's arrival from Lagos. In fact, Ma Palagada's son fell in love with her with his mother's consent. Ojebeta saw life with new eyes because she stops working hard as the others slaves do. Ma Palagada thinks that this is a way to get back the money spent to buy Ojebeta.

To help Ma Palagada from a long-standing serious illness, her daughter comes from Asaba along with her two younger children. The household atmosphere changes a lot because of Victoria' attitudes and behaviour. She obliges Ojebeta to look after her children and planned to travel with her to Asaba to be her housemaid. Because of the ill- treatment she endures from her, Ojebeta runs away the D-day. As we may guess, she returns back to her native village, Ibuza, where she resumes breathing the air of freedom. In this respect, a sentence in the novel asserts: «I would rather be a poor girl in Ibuza than a well-fed slave in this house without Ma». (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 144)

Finally, Jacob and Alice Ojebeta get married and Jacob pays back Ma's money to Clifford who has joined the British army. Ojebeta is now called Aganje Ojebeta Alice Onkonji. To better achieve this study, there are two parts. The first about narrative analysis has got two chapters: the author's style and the narrative techniques. In the first chapter, emphasis is put on Buchi Emecheta's talent to carry out her message whereas in the second one, the impact of oral traditions in the point of view is assessed.

Language functions and linguistic forms which is the main issue of the second part are presented into two chapters. Language functions which stand as the first chapter refers to the techniques used to express characters' emotions, feelings, and state of mind through language use. Finally, the analysis on how linguistic features interact with the didactic dimension of the novel will be examined.

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