Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Shane Graham


Shane Graham


Benjamin Gunsberg


Gabriele Ciciurkaite


The thesis, Re-defining Madness: Reading Female Identity Creation and Self-realization in Colonial and Postcolonial African Literature, compares female identity creation in three novels by African female authors. It reveals how the colonial texts represent extreme female identity formation (stagnation vs. transcendent life) juxtaposed with the dynamic and interconnected identity formation represented in postcolonial writing. The analysis begins with The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria), to detail how identity stagnation results when the protagonist faces oppression in her culturally defined role as mother, yet returns to this role without further opposition. The second section focuses on Efuru by Flora Nwapa (Nigeria) to provide the binary opposite view of identity creation, as the protagonist faces her oppression (colonization) and breaks with cultural expectations to further achieve self-realization. Analysis of how Nwapa’s character reaches a transcendent (independent) state, details how transcendence in colonial life entails extreme resistance, which the author depicts as life without marriage and motherhood. The thesis brings in Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) to provide evidence that a path between the two extremes offered in colonial life, becomes possible as postcolonial realization. The yet-to-be realized character of Tambu, offers the possibility that a woman can choose both motherhood and reach self-realization. This work furthermore details forms of madness defined by Foucault in Madness and Civilization and expounds on the form which proves temporary and necessary, “Hysteria and Hypochondria,” to show its placement in each novel. This thesis relates how these novels show confrontation with oppression leads to hysterical or hypochondriac responses, responses that if pushed through can lead to re-birth. The postcolonial life depicted in Nervous Conditions offers evidence that back and forth movement between extreme forms of living offers hope for this re-birth as characters embrace struggle and uncertainty to find a middle path that leads to balanced identity progression.