Saturday, December 8, 2012

Odale's Choice: Criticism

Odale’s Choice was published by Barbadian writer Edward Brathwaite in the year 1967 and prior to that performed at the Mfantisam Secondary School, Saltpond, Ghana in 1962. Odale’s Choice is the modernized version of the Greek play Antigone. It is concerned with the rebellion of one girl, Odale, who defies her uncle Creon when she tries to give her bother the dignity of a burial. The setting of the play is an unnamed location in Africa. In the production note in the book it states that
The theme is timeless: the defiance of tyranny, a situation full of conflict and natural drama (3). 
Therefore, though it is set in an unnamed African country the universal themes of tyranny and conflict suggest it could be mapped over any territory or land in the world. In fact, one could very easily re-write Brathwaite’s play and set it in a Middle Eastern country governed using Sharia law. The restriction of women in a religious patriarchal climate is very applicable to the themes of female oppression and male domination represented in Brathwaite’s play by Odale and her uncled Creon.

 As a re-writing of an ancient Greek play revered in the West it adheres to the precept of Caribbean literature as being primarily concerned with “writing back to the Empire” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffins). This writing back concept has been one performed by many other Caribbean writers, including Jean Rhys with Wide Sargasso Sea, her response to Jane Eyre. 

The impulse of the play is clearly guided by Edward’s awakening African consciousness. At the publishing of this book he was still called Edward, though now he is Kamau. The birth name alone tells us that it is an early work by Brathwaite. The play is saturated by this burgeoning nostalgia for Africa which Walcott would say is no longer our own to be nostalgic about. The language of the text at times sounds distinctively Barbadian instead of that of an African country. For example on page 13 a sergeant says “An’ keep you eyes open! … you lamp gone out an’ you mouth open sleepin’.” The arrangement of words here sounds uniquely Bajan. The question thus becomes, was this intentionally done by Brathwaite, a linguistic attempt to bridge Africa and Barbados divided by colonial history by using both Bajan dialect as well as cliché African words? Was taking this play to Africa his early attempt to legitimize himself as African in African eyes? Walcott, the realist, would say to these claims of legitimacy to an African identity that we can never go back and the attempt to do so is a farce. According to him the “claim we put forward now as Africans is not our inheritance but a bequest, like that of other races” (10). Therefore he believes that we as the descendants of Africans (and of Europeans and of Amerindians, and of Syrians, and Chinese, and of Indians, and whatever other groups came here to make the Caribbean an even more complicated and layered archipelago) are so far removed from the point of origin that to request an African identity is not our right but is merely our heritage which we don't have a right to.

However the worth of this play may be found in its universal themes of tyranny and male domination as most of modern day societies are still very patriarchal and Odale's struggle in  this society as a lone female is very relatable till this day. As such, the one passage which achieves a level of sincerity is Odale's monologue where she laments the oppressed status of the woman, and also exhibits a level of internalised misogyny:
We are women. We bring you into the and we bear you out again. We weep at your birth and mourn at your death. That at least is our duty; that alone we can do. And if we don't do it, we are failing all women. We are weak, but we must be strong (19)
 This appraisal of the limits and weaknesses of women is challenged by Odale herself who defies her uncle in order to bury her brother. So in practice she works against the words that come out of her mouth. Finally, by the closing of the play her actions and actions resemble each other:
Don't touch me! Of my own free will, I will go! (32)
These are Odale's final words as she led off by male guards to her death. This persistence of female resistance in the uber-patriarchal society represented by her tyrannical, omnipotent uncle is one to be admired, but it is about the only good aspect of this relatively weak early work.

Works Cited
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth, Griffith, Tiffin, Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in
Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Brathwaite, Edward. “Odale’s Choice”. Ibadan: Evan Brothers Limited, 2011. Print.

Walcott, Derek. “What the Twilight Says.” What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1998. Print. 3-35.

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