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Female Autonomy in Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2020

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Summary

The feminist notion of autonomy, a self-governing ability, has been almost absent from moral philosophy until recently. The absence suggests that the ethical concerns of men, such as universality and neutrality, maintain a dominant position in shaping traditional ethics, resulting in the allegorical idea of an atomistic individual who is distanced from the social associations in which real agents are entrenched. From Immanuel Kant's notion of a rational being who possesses the moral power of ‘being a law unto itself’ (Kant 1785, 108) to John Rawl's perception of persons with the capacity to formulate principles of justice in the ‘original position […] behind the veil of ignorance’ (1971, 12), autonomy is underpinned with the implicit masculine ideal of the ‘self-made man’ who is metaphorically isolated. This unilateral stance is limiting in comprehending other dimensions of moral reasoning, particularly feminine notions of caring and issues of private life (Mackenzie and Stoljar 2000) that acknowledge independence and interdependence by valuing the agent who opts for social relationships. This uncritical moral perception has contributed considerably in influencing the ways contemporary Nigerian (and by extension African) women's texts are read, interpreted and understood, as critics, eager to explore postcoloniality with its associated moral and environmental decadence, undermine the intricacies surrounding the independence of the fictional figures in such works. Concentrating on Kaine Agary's Yellow-Yellow (2006), this essay challenges such reactionary readings by highlighting female autonomy as a recurrent motif that runs throughout the novel. Structured around self-asserting and self-originating agents, it argues that the heroines’ quest for autonomy, not necessarily environmental degradation, is responsible for their distinctive preferences for single parenthood and abortion. By authorizing both options as valid, Agary is read as an avant-garde Nigerian feminist writer who advances a feminist worldview that permits new ways of thinking about family – a line of thought that, I believe, is yet to receive attention from her critics.

Critical reviews of Agary's Yellow-Yellow have fixated on environmental degradation with its resultant moral pollution. Critics have described Yellow-Yellow as a novel that depicts the Niger Delta milieu, an ‘[e]cologically devastated world bedevilled by youthful restiveness, militancy, criminality, and varying degrees of ecocide pointing in the direction of Armageddon’ (Awhefeada 2013, 96).

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ALT 38 Environmental Transformations
African Literature Today
, pp. 65 - 77
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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