The Marxist Formula in Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood
"Marx states that we are truly free only when '[people] place themselves in a position to control their own historical destiny'"(Slaughter 25).
Britain's imperial colonization of Africa triggered vast change within the tribal civilizations thriving on the continent prior to European occupation. For the Africans, these changes altered every level of their culture: language, religion, as well as ancient tribal customs. But one of the most devastating aspects of the British colonization in Africa was the European economic system: capitalism. Capitalism left many Africans reeling from its destructive impact on tribal economies. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta's tale of the British occupation of Nigeria in the 1930s and 1940s. Emecheta's skillfully constructed story uses various literary devices to develop empathy for her characters suffering at the hands of the English. However, underlying these literary techniques -- and boosting the storyís political objectives -- exists a Marxist economic analysis of the colonial system. Emecheta's Marxist examination provides an outline for illustrating how imperialistic capitalism alienated Africans from their culture, and from one another, causing irreparable damage to the social fabric of Nigeria. The Marxist argument in The Joys of Motherhood demonstrates how the root of the characters' downfall is the socioeconomic shift from the tribal economic paradigm to the exploitative, capitalist system used by the British.
However, Emecheta also criticizes her tribal culture's oppressive hierarchy, illustrating the Ibo treatment of slaves and of women. So although European colonialism is the catalyst of modern Africaís exploitation, Emecheta points out that a significant level of class-oriented oppression existed in African culture long before the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the Germans ever arrived in Africa. Emecheta criticizes European colonialism using three approaches: (1) capitalism's separation of worker and her/his product, (2) capitalism's use of organized religion to reinforce the dominant economic paradigm, and (3) Britain's conscription of Africans into military service for the colonial state during the Second World War. Emecheta reveals the exploitative and destructive power of capitalism by creating characters who sacrifice their identities and their culture to survive under a colonial system; and the only way to survive within the imperialistic structure is to excel within the capitalist organization. To accurately examine the oppressed nature of the female characters in The Joys of Motherhood, however, we must first briefly examine their tribal culture. It is also necessary to define Ibo culture in economic terms so that we have a benchmark against which to compare changes that occur within the characters as they move into the capitalist system.