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Discourse analysis on Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl

par Emard Brice LIKIBI
Marien NGOUABI - CAPES 2008

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A close link is established between a writer's techniques and the underlying message of his text. Accordingly, literary analysts handle various texts to shed light on the features of a work. Speaking about narrative writing, Henri Lopès (1997: 97) states: «l'écriture est le véhicule du message.» Actually, our main concern in this chapter is to answer the following question: what is the quality of discourse in The Slave Girl? An answer will be given through two chapters: the author's style and the narrative techniques.

Chapter 1: the author's style

Style refers to discourse technique a writer uses to convey his message either in prose or in verse; a manner which reveals the writer`s tonality. This personal way of organizing ideas can be laid on syntax, figure of thought, and rhetorical questions. In this respect, Buffon (1972: 203) declares that «the style is the man.»

Taking into account the above quotation, the question that arises in this chapter is what Buchi Emecheta's style in The Slave Girl is? This will be answered throughout four sections: repetition, linguistic interference, comparison, and symbols.

1. Repetition

Repetition is a figure of speech in which words or phrases occur more than once. Accordingly, Basile Marius NGASSAKI (5 janvier 2006: 44) asserts:

La répétition comme procédé de style est une particularité de l'oralité, mais elle prend une dimension spécifique en Afrique. Cette caractéristique est présente dans plusieurs aspects de la vie quotidienne. La manière de saluer de certains peuples africains, par exemple, illustre l'importance de la répétition. Le nombre de fois que deux personnes se secouent les mains en guise de salutations peut représenter le nombre de jours, de semaines, de mois ou d'années de séparation.

This technique is overused in The Slave Girl with different purposes and functions as stated by Basile Marius NGASSAKI (5 janvier 2006: 44-45):

La répétition se présente comme un refrain dans lequel l'auditoire retrouve des éléments déjà mentionnés. Elle contribue à accroître la nature rythmique du récit. N'oublions pas que le rythme est un élément artistique indispensable à l'art et à la littérature orale. Il existe aussi une autre forme de répétition qui présente une fonction purement phatique. Elle permet d'intensifier le sens des mots. La répétition peut aussi marquer la chronologie des événements; ce qui influence considérablement la technique d'élaboration du récit.

Actually, there are different kinds of repetitions found in Buchi Emecheta`s The Slave Girl. But our work will be restricted to polynsyndeton, inclusio, epistrophe, and anaphora .

In fact, repetition gives a particular intensification in a novel. In so doing, Buchi Emecheta uses different kinds of repetition. But, the first one we are going to consider is `polysyndeton' which is the repetition of conjunctions in a paragraph. In other terms, it is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted. Thus, a clearly but excellent illustration of polysyndeton is presented in the following terms:

At a time when it was glorious to be an Englishman, when the rein the great Queen Victoria's son was coming to its close, when the red of the British Empire covered almost half the map of the world, when colonisation was at its height, and Nigeria was being taken over by Great Britain. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 15)

In the light of what precedes, Buchi Emecheta writes the adverb of time «when» four times in a short paragraph to insist on the moment when colonisation ends. Besides, the author wants to raise the reader's attention that Nigeria will be free one day.

The second kind of repetition used by Buchi Emecheta in The Slave Girl is inclusio, the rhetorical figure in which a literary unit begins and ends with the same (or similar) word, phrase, or clause. This repetition serves as a framing device, iterating the theme of the section. It shows the insistence form on facts viewed as important. Thus, an excellent point in case is the following passage when Ma Palagada talks to Ojebeta:

«Come», she urged Ojebeta, «I only want to greet you. You haven't said a single word to me. Come. I am your relative, you know. Come. You mustn't be frightened to us. We are not bad people. Just come(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 51)

This passage shows that the verb «come» is repeated four times to emphasize Ma's need to be close Ojebeta. This redundancy is a technique of insisting in order to persuade and convince.

Another kind of repetition found in The Slave Girl is `epistrophe'. It is a rhetorical speech in which the same word or groups of word are repeated at the end of successive clauses. The following statement is assuredly a good example of epistrophe when Okolie talks to Ojebeta: «Ojebeta, we must hurry, we must hurry» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 35). This utterance reveals the importance of the message which refers to the necessity of Okolie to go and sell his sister. This expression shows that there is no time to waste.

The excellent illustration of epistrophe is also obvious in the following quotation: «Ma Palagada and Okolie talked and talked in voices» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 54). In this text, the verb `talked is repeated twice so as to bring the prolixity of both interlocutors.

Moreover, the repetition also occurs at the beginning of sentences in The Slave Girl. This repetition is called `anaphora' - a rhetorical figure which consists of repeating the initial word or words of a clause or sentence at the beginning of successive clauses -. Umeadi, thinking about `felenza', uses exclamation to express sorrow. . The good illustration is expressed in the following passage:

«Pom! Pom! Pom! The rumours that have been going round are true. Pom! There is a kind of death coming from across the salty waters. It has killed many people in Isele Azagba, it is creeping to Ogwashi, it is now coming to us. They call it Felenza. It is a white man's death. They shoot it into the air, and we breathe it in and die. Pom! Pom... (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 25)

In the above quotation, we remark that Buchi Emecheta uses the exclamation `Pom! Pom! Pom!' at the beginning and at the end of the paragraph to raise the reader's attention about the seriousness of the epidemic. This exclamation expresses surprise, emotion and fear of death. Accordingly, Basile Marius Ngassaki (janvier 2006: 62) asserts that «exclamation is a category of discourse which shows the natural and inner expressivity. A link is established between a thought and a word or a linguistic structure which pulls it out.»

Repetition is also used to bring precision about what has just been said. Evidence can be shown through the following passage: «I can't find him, my big brother» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 57). Here, repetition occurs on fact that the personal person «him» refers to «my big brother». Thus, this implies precision.

To the light of what precedes, it is important to underline that Buchi Emecheta uses excessive repetitions in The Slave Girl. As a matter of fact, this stylistic figure is a device of oral literature expressing the narrator or writer's way of insisting on facts considered important. Among styles used by Buchi Emecheta in The Slave Girl figures also the linguistic interference.

2. The Linguistic Interference

Linguistic structure of many Negro African texts is composed of the writer's mother tongue and the colonialist's languages. This is the logical consequence of colonialism, because Negro African writers are at the crossroads of two cultures: African and European, what L. S. Senghor calls «les métis culturels». In The Slave Girl, in fact, Buchi Emecheta mixes English words with local ones to render her language more realistic.

Actually, the linguistic interference in a novel changes the language real connotation. This can be observed through word by word translation of the author's mother tongue. This technique is also used by Buchi in The Slave Girl as evidenced in the following lines:

As he took a few steps from the stall, the girls looked at her and all of the sudden stopped their endless chatter. Chiogo was the first to find her tongue. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 26)

It results from the above passage that Buchi Emecheta translates Ibo language into English. Therefore, that leads the text to have the prolix or talkative style. But, it is important to note that the phrase «to find her tongue» is used here to mean her impoliteness. In that case, the lexicon `her tongue' is the translation of popular language. Besides, the use of «to find her tongue» here shows that the author's expression is like the simple translation of her mother tongue.

The linguistic interference provokes the orthographic alterations of certain words in The Slave Girl. In fact, the narrator transcribes the characters' language containing terms or phrases whose spelling is inaccurate. Thus, the following passage shows evidence:

But this felenza was a new thing that the «Potokis» had shot into the air, through everyone wondered why (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 26).

It results from this passage that the distorted lexicon is `felenza' because it does not exist amongst English vocabulary. In this respect, Buchi Emecheta uses Nigerian English certainly to adapt her message to make language more vivid. In linguistics, this is called `the word creation'. As a matter of fact, this altered word is used instead of `influenza' to report Umeadi's thoughts. This borrowed word plunges into the local linguistic flavour to meet the characteristics of pronunciation of the native language.

Another example of mispronunciation and orthographic alteration can be observed in the utterance below:

They all ate together, and had to go to the stream to fetch water, and she had to help in the large cooking place they called «Kinsheni», or something like that (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 61).

In this above utterance, the distorted item is «Kinseni». Through this, we understand that the narrator wants to say `kitchen. But the problem here is the word mispronunciation. Eventually, Buchi Emecheta altered this lexical item certainly to match the characters' origin and his/her linguistic expression.

Additionally, The Slave Girl comprises distorted names of nations.

Now, in the year of 1916, the rumours said that the new colonial masters were at near with their neighbours «the Germanis»; and the latter fought the British by blowing poisonous gas into the air (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 27).

From the above quotation, the lexicon «Germanis» is the alteration of the `Germans'. Actually, in the Slave Girl, Buchi Emecheta uses `neologism', the literary style which consists of creating words in a given literary genre. In this respect, `felenza', `Kinsheni', and `Germanis' are lexical items mispronounced by African characters.

The linguistic interference can also occur when Ibo words, phrases, or sentences are mixed with English ones. In fact, like many African writers, Buchi Emecheta mixes English lexical items with local ones throughout The Slave Girl because some of them cannot be translated into English. As a matter of fact, Ma Palagada, talking with Ma Mee about Mrs Simpson, says: «Look, she has her ntukwashi over her shoulder» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 103). Obviously, Buchi Emecheta uses the Ibo local word `ntukwashi' in this passage because the English translation may not be appropriate.

Sometimes, local words in The Slave Girl are explained in English so that non native Ibo speakers understand properly this language. The example that follows illustrates the point at issue: «..., and some still emigrated to what was known as «Olu Oyibo», white men's work» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 80). This technique renders the text more explicit because readers are from various origins. Nevertheless, what is important here is that Buchi writes all Ibo words in italics and with inverted comas to raise a particular attention to readers.

Moreover, the resort to the linguistic interference explains the author's attachment to her native languages. To close this section, we can say that this technique from the beginning to the end of The Slave Girl. That explains the fact that Buchi's characters speak a language which is, in fact, close to their sociological environment. It is certainly the reason why those characters in their speaking want to reproduce their particular mother tongue's pronunciation or Ibo words. That can also be explained that the author wants to value her culture and defy the colonialist's languages. To do so, Buchi Emecheta creates her own literary style. As a matter of fact, Charlotte Bruner (1986: 129) asserts:

«It was natural that when Western literary genres featuring the imposed European languages were integrated with African oral tradition, the narrative took on new form and expression. Some of today's internationally known African writers have created new forms of novels (...). In doing so, they have used their own linguistic creations: «Nigerian» or «Ghanaian» and Negritude French.»

Apart from the linguistic interference, comparison is also the main concern of this chapter.

3. Comparison

Comparison is defined as the act or process of examining two or more people or things in order to discover similarities and differences between them. As far as stylistics is concerned, it is a figure of speech which consists of comparing two elements in order to picture his/her message. In this way, the writers draw a comparison between two things. In fact, Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl comprises excessive use of comparison. In this regard, simile and metaphor will be our main concern in this section.

3.1. Simile

The Columbia Encyclopaedia, 6th edition, defines simile as follows: «A simile is a figure of speech used to make a comparison between two things with the words `like', `than', or `as'.» This technique is excessively used in The Slave Girl. Therefore, it is interpreted differently depending on the context in which it is expressed. Thus, the following conversation between Uteh and Ojebeta is a perfect illustration of simile:

«And the young in white I saw there, who looked like a ghost and walked like a ghost and a sleep-walker-was the new bride?» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 153-154)

It results from this passage that in this simile «the new bride» is compared to «a ghost" and «a sleep walker». From this, Buchi Emecheta uses what is called in stylistics `imaginative comparison'- the kind of mental similarity that is expressed in similes and metaphors -. Additionally, this is used here to disappoint Ojebeta. It is important to note that in this passage the author raises the matter of the conflict between modernism and traditionalism.

Simile also occurs by comparing human beings with animals. Describing Eke market, the narrator reports it as follows: «People swarmed and buzzed like insects» (Buchi, 1977: 44). In fact, this simile stands for that Eke market is crowded of people making noise. It is also important to note that the verbs «swarmed» and «buzzed» in the above simile are used figuratively because they are especially for insects not for human beings. But this explains certainly that Buchi Emecheta wants to focus on everyday activities at the market because insects work together and in bulk.

Apart from that, Buchi Emecheta uses sometimes hyperbole, a figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated, to express simile. Describing Ojebeta, the narrator compares her in the following manner:

She ran, almost flew like arrow, her little legs like swings, her heart beating fast in fear and anticipation, going as she fought to her brother (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 57).

From the above simile, we can say that Buchi Emecheta compares Ojebeta's «legs» to «swings» to demonstrate her vivacity in running. As a matter of fact, this simile is called a `beyond comparison', comparison which is out of the reality, because a man could not run as fast as an arrow.

Actually, the saying that follows is also a perfect illustration of simile: «there is in some truth in the saying that we die as we live» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 24). Actually, in this simile the author compares `death' with `life' to refer to biblical reality saying that we kill by a sword will die by a sword. In clear, it means that people are responsible for their death.

The other use of simile in The Slave Girl is to express anger and emotion as illustrated by the relationship between Clifford and Ojebeta. His expectation to have special relationship with her drives him to forbid her work hard as the other slaves do. Retorting negatively, Pa Palagada expresses her feelings through the following simile: «It was like a dog barking, so forceful and full of anger» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 119). In fact, this simile expresses irritation. Through this simile Buchi Emecheta denounces inequality or injustice because all people must be considered as the same. Having analysed simile, it is important to deal with the sub-section entitled metaphor.

3.2. Metaphor

This sub-chapter devoted to metaphors will be examined after defining the key term for our best understanding. Metaphor derives from Latin word `metaphora' which means `to carry, to transfer'. Collins Essential English dictionary, (Second Edition, 2006) defines metaphor as

a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally apply to in order to imply a resemblance, for example he is a lion in battle.

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English in its turn defines metaphor as

«A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literary applicable.»

Metaphor is used to draw a particular attention to the reader. In The Slave Girl, Buchi Emecheta uses metaphor extensively. A perfect illustration is the following passage:

«Ojebeta!» he called, using his masterly tone. «Tell nobody until the time becomes ripe.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 118)

From this quotation, the key lexical item expressing metaphor is the adjective «ripe». In fact, this adjective is used here figuratively to connote `ready'. In the other terms, this refers to the time when the execution or the realization will come true.

In view of what precedes, Buchi Emecheta uses metaphor to raise the reader's knowledge to connote the meaning of words regarding language in use. This section is also concerned with symbols.

4. Symbols

The Dictionary of the English Language, (Fourth Edition, 2003) defines a symbol as

«Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible.»

Since Africans believe in traditional realities, that may be one of the reasons for African writers to use symbols in most of their works. In fact, in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, symbols are utilized for different purposes. In this section, we will focus on the following two symbols: cowries, and kola nut.

4.1. Cowries

In ancient times, the cowries were currency used in Nigeria as in many African countries such as Nigerian in the same way as dollar is today. In fact, they have different connotative meanings. They are used first for protection against misfortune; then they are utilized as a currency, finally, they are drawn on as a dowry given to in-laws. Telling about the importance of cowries, Alafia Hapushel (1995: 30) asserts:

«I know I always feel good and grounded when I am wearing them [cowries]. Anyone has similar experiences or story to share?»

As we can observe from this assertion, Africans give a particular importance to cowries because they think that they bring good luck in whatever they do.

Actually, cowries also symbolize Goddess protection which is very powerful and connected with the strength of the ocean. In The Slave Girl, the author writes that Umeadi could bear daughters, but could not stay long. After Obejeta's birth, Umeadi wears her cowries so that she protects her from death:

«Your child will stay this time if you tie her with safety charms. These must consist of cowries, tops of tins brought here by protokis, and real bells made from metal.» (Buchi, 1977: 18)

Once more, this example shows that cowrie is one of the key elements for protection. This feature can be extended some human organs. Evidently, it is relevant to say from the passage below that Africans believe in cowries for they protect female genitals against evil spirits and they allow them be more healthy. Accordingly, Denis Roberson (1977: 45) declares:

«As I understand it the cowrie also represents Goddess protection; in the Yoruba tradition this would be Yemonja /Olukan - who also is the energy of water and the sea incidentally. My understanding is the cowrie's similarity to the appearance of the female genitals.»

Considering the importance given to motherhood in African communities, it is quite understandable for these people to care for female genitals as stated in the above quotation. Bringing fertility is an important factor for good.

In fact, cowries symbolize also dowry given to parents before getting married. Besides, cowries symbolise the power of destiny and prosperity. The most telling example will come from Alafia Happyshel's assertion (1945: 25):

«For many people in Africa, there are associated (as I understand it) with Eshu / Eleggua, the Orisa of the crosswords, of destiny, warriors Orisa and prosperity, all over yorubaland, as well as with many other African people.»

Obviously, cowries have different attributes in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl. They play an important role in African society since religion is highly valued in this environment. Beside this symbol, we also find kola nuts in The Slave Girl.

4.2. Kola nuts

According to African culture, kola nuts are the pods of various evergreen trees that grow mostly in Africa. These fruits are often used during ceremonies, presented to chiefs or guests. They are eaten daily without any particular purpose. Sometimes, they are used to make non-alcoholic drinks. Because it contains caffeine, the kola acts as a stimulant to be alive. In this regard, it is considered as a symbol of life in Africa.

In some parts of Africa, especially in West Saharan countries, kola nuts are given or shared between people to welcome visitors entering a home, usually during some formal ceremonies. On page 16 of The Slave Girl, for instance, Ukwuenkwu, the interpreter, shares kola nut with the District Officer to welcome him during the court ceremony between the villagers and the missionaries as the narrator reports:

Okwuenkwu had smiled, and he had chewed kolanut with the new D.O. and his interpreter (who was called locally the «tapilita»). (Buchi, 1977: 16)

Actually, it is relevant to note from this passage that offering a kola nut is a gesture of friendship and hospitality. In the same vein, Eze Ugo (1985: 25) asserts:

«Oji [kola] is the first thing served in every function or ceremony, personal or communal agreements, welcoming of a visitor to an Igbo home, and settlement of family disputes.»

The above assertion shows that kola nuts symbolise peace and welcome. It provides an important symbolic message in Africa, mostly in Western Africa. Actually, the kola nut is eaten with among people to welcome each other. In fact, Ojebeta's aunt does not hope to see her anymore; surprisingly, Ojebeta is back home (Ibuza) after a long stay in Onitsha. To celebrate her arrival and to welcome her, Uteh shares kola nut with Afo:

«Afo, have this chalk, and eat this peace of kolanut, for my daughter who I thought had died is back, Afo, eat kolanut....» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 149)

From the above utterance, Buchi Emecheta shows the importance of kola nut in African society. Here it also symbolises affectivity.

To summarize this chapter, we can say that Buchi Emecheta uses a very simple style with everyday language rather using complex metaphors or symbols in The Slave Girl; besides, her language used in this novel can just be powerful in evoking an emotional reaction to the reader. As a matter in case, Buchi Emecheta (1979) believes that the oral tradition has influenced her style:

«I put all those things a bit but I try to limit them, just concentrate on the story. You can evoke such emotions especially when feel deeply about what you are talking about even if you use ordinary language. I think that is my style.»

After the analysis of the chapter related to the author's style, let us examine the next one linked to the narrative techniques.

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