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Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe


Feminism is a contradictory phenomenon, and thus, the views on feminism differ in their analysis as the phenomenon itself differs in meaning. Feminism can be understood in general, except for its most radical appearances. The most common representation of feminism in literature can be seen through the introduction of positive women.

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An example of such representation, where the theme of feminism is not limited to the positive representation of women, is the finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize for Fiction, the novel “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe. Taking place in the fictional African country Kangan, the author through the interaction of the characters in a political setting addresses many important themes, among which is the role of women in the society. This paper analyzes the theme of feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” through the discussions of the role of women in Kangan.


Feminism as a general definition could be defined as seeking to establish the position of women as equal to men. According to the novel, the context of feminism could be seen as political in a certain way. Although the political narration of the story is of male characters, it can be seen that the true heroine is Beatrice.

In that, her position can be taken as the most rational among the male characters in pointing to their flaws in ruling the country, “Well you fellows, all three of you are incredibly conceited. The story of this country, as far as you are concerned is the story of the three of you.” (Achebe) In a wider context, Beatrice considers that the power given to Sam, Chris, and Ikem does not constitute the power that they think they have.

They think of the world as a man world, which can be seen from Sam’s position of despotism; “…my colleagues, eleven intelligent, educated men who let this happen to them, who actually went out of their way to invite it… the cream of our society and the hope of the black race.”(2)

The position of the author regarding the role of women in the society can be seen through Beatrice’s argument with Ikem. Beatrice considered that Ikem’s position toward women is lacking a defined view, a position which Ikem himself later realized; “I tell him he has no clear role for women in his political thinking; and he doesn’t seem to be able to understand it. Or didn’t until near the end.”(91)

In Beatrice’s view regarding the role of women, it is not merely giving women rights, but also giving these rights in time. Beatrice criticizes Ikem several times through the novel comparing his position towards women to “assigning women the role of a fire-brigade after the house has caught fire and been virtually consumed” (97), and picking up “the spears abandoned by their defeated menfolk.”(91)

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Feminism is one of its demonstrations is a direction toward breaking established rules and traditions. In that sense, Beatrice could be representing that direction in the novel. An example of such attitude can be obvious through Beatrice’s monologue on the tradition of naming the child; “In our traditional society…the father named the child. But the man who should have done it today is absent …I think our tradition is faulty there. It is really safest to ask the mother what her child should be called” (222)

A more direct feministic approach in the novel can be seen through the author’s choice of the title. It is known that in ant colonies the majority is formed from the caste of workers, which are sterile wingless females. In choosing such title the author might be referring to the ability of females in doing most of the job, in contrast to the fertile females who only have reproductive functions. Thus, the position of Beatrice in the novel can be seen as a pursuit to take positions differing from the latter.

Feminism can be seen as an opposition to women’s oppression, the origins of which were discussed in the novel. The letter written by Ikem acknowledges some of these origins referring to negative images of women through history. In such way Ikem is attempting to realize his incorrect position and explain the roots in such treatment of women throughout history by referring to the bible; “The women are, of course, the biggest single group of oppressed people in the world and, if we are to believe the book of Genesis, the very oldest”(98)

In such way, Ikem realizes that there are certain problems that lie within the African culture, which are of distinctive nature that should not be taken as merely a problem of African women, “There is no universal conglomerate of the oppressed. Free people may be alike everywhere in their freedom but the oppressed inhabit each their own peculiar hell.”(99)

Analyzing Ikem’s reasoning it might come to be understandable why feminism is such a contradictory and ambiguous direction. Feminism is acting like women’s response to certain history of oppression. These histories differed in many countries and cultures, and accordingly, the responses, i.e. feminist movements were different in each case.

The main point is the solution proposed by Ikem for the oppression, which is reform, and as society consists of individuals, the reform must start within each individual, “The most we can hope to do with a problematic individual psyche is to re-form it… You reform it around what it is, its core of reality; not around an intellectual abstraction.”(99-100)

Analyzing the novel, it can be seen that Beatrice is the real heroine, where she represents the position of the independent and rational woman. She is not afraid to subject everything to criticism, such as political weaknesses of the government, the role of women, the traditions, and even herself. Beatrice’s ambitions can serve as an indication that there should not be a limit for women to the degree of success that they can achieve. In that sense, her ambitions are like the ambitions of Africa that seek change after the colonization period.

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It can be seen that, in the context of the novel, feminism can be seen as a journey for the restoration of justice in African society. The political situations shown in the novel served as a background for the revelation that the hope lies in integrating women in society, where they should participate equally in solving social issues. In that sense, the novel is attempting to state that the issues of sexism and gender are no less important than the issues of colonization, and weak political situations, where all of them require the usage of new ways differing from the established patterns, and reform is one of such ways.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savannah. African Writers Series. Oxford ; Portsmouth, N.H., USA: Heinemann, 1988.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 4). Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe.

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"Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe." StudyCorgi, 4 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Feminism in “Anthills of the Savannah” by Chinua Achebe'. 4 November.

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