Narratives of Dissidence: Desire and the Female Protagonist in Retold Folktales in Contemporary Ghana

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Yitah, H
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University of Lagos Press, Akoka
Such theories, derived as they are mainly from works in the written Western literary canon, have excluded African oral narratives. Even when narrative theorizing and criticism involve the folktale, the focus is usually on adaptations of Western tales in prose fiction. For example, Angela Carter‟s adaptations of fairytales in her writings have come to define theory and criticism of this genre to the extent that scholars now categorize the field into “fairytale studies before Angela Carter” and “fairy tale studies after Angela Carter” (Haase 2010). But as I shall demonstrate in this paper, traditional oral tales have undergone a profound transformation in the light of contemporary felt realities. Just as Western feminists such as Judith Viorst (1986) have written and published retold versions of staple folktales like Cinderella, some storytellers in Africa are transforming this genre within the oral performance context in ways that require critical attention. Modern technology is thought to have transformed the world into a global village. Yet different societies and peoples respond to its stimuli in different ways due to their different circumstances and experiences, and their narratives constitute one important area of everyday practice which reflects such changes. Therefore, in Unilag Journal of Humanities (UJH) Vol. 4 No. 2, 2017 2 folklore studies oral folktales are as important as those adapted into written literature, and both deserve attention in narrative theory and criticism if we are to uncover what new possibilities of understanding and action they reveal about human societies. The folktales I examine in this paper are from my native Kasem culture in northern Ghana. I focus on four purposely selected folktales out of seventy-two stories told in the past six years (2010-2016): two by adult females to adult female audiences and two others by teenage girls to a mixed adult audience. All the tales were told at night during indoor farm-related activities such as plucking or cracking groundnuts or sorting cobs of millet—activities that begin after dinner has been cooked and eaten and young children have gone to bed. The absence of children on both occasions meant that the performers could feel at ease to recreate narratives using more complex plots that might be difficult for children to grasp. As Goody (1992/1993: 51) has pointed out, adults may adopt more complex modes for communicating among themselves, while for communicating with children they may use simpler levels of interpretation. I shall use interchangeably the terms “recreated” and “retold” to refer to these innovative folktales and contrast them with the traditional communally owned corpus since these relatively recent retellings do not yet seem to have entered the “mainstream.” In order to narrow my focus, I have selected tales that foreground consciously created female narrative desire. Such individual strivings, in my view, have implications for narrative theory, as they tend to initiate action in the folktales—usually dissident action intended to subvert or challenge male authority. Therefore, I call these retold folktales “narratives of dissident desire.” I examine narrative intention and action through (1) open-ended plots that break the presumed “stylistic consistency” of the folktale and leave meaning fluid—a revolutionary structure that reflects the equally radical subject matter; and (2) characters who inscribe themselves and their desires into a „modern‟ world which is a far cry from the traditional fantasy world typically associated with the folktale, thus attaining subjecthood through performing their desire. If, as Peter Brooks (1984:38) has theorized, “striving creates narrative,” it would be instructive to examine how these representations of dissident desire problemat
Journal Articles
Female Protagonist , Folktales , Ghana , Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION::Aesthetic subjects::Literature
Yitah, H (2017). Narratives of Dissidence: Desire and the Female Protagonist in Retold Folktales in Contemporary Ghana. Unilag Journal of Humanities, Vol.4(2), 1-17p.