Our Sister Killjoy: An African feminist perspective
There are many themes that emerge in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy, African feminism being one of them. Our Sister Killjoy is a story about a girl who is immersing into a foreign culture and is experiencing racial discrimination and cultural shock. However, as the plot develops, the story seems to focus on, as the sub-title indicates, the reflections of the black-eyed squint.
The question then becomes, what makes the reflections of the black-eyed squint African and feminist?
The black-eyed squint is neither explicitly characterized nor is it the moral of the story. It is, however, a consciousness that arises as Sissie is immersing in a foreign environment. With the help of prose, Ama Ata Aidoo creatively develops a voice for the black-eyed squint. This itself is unconventional; there are not many books that have a female lead character and more interesting, depict her as a character with her own mind.
The first chapter, Into a Bad Dream, focuses on Sisi’s journey to Germany. It starts when she is invited to a lavish dinner. There she meets Sammy, fellow countryman, whose real name she “did not catch.” This scene exhibits what might be Sissi’s nationalist side. She is very critical of Sammy who spoke “the foreign language well and familiar with them in a way that made her feel uneasy”
The press also has an interesting description of her departure, “ Our sister had made it. At the time, many airlines were not allowed to stop at Accra because Johannesburg and other Afrikaaner cities formed the backbone of their African business. One more Nkrumahn hallucination.” This line seems to indicate that Africans are going to Europe, not because they are were excited to go, but because of the colonial governments in Africa were running the economy. This explains why Sisi sounds like she is forced to go study abroad and why she is pragmatic about what her experience will be abroad.
Sisi’s suspicions do not betray her when she meets a woman telling a girl, who must have been her daughter, “Black girl.” It is also at that instant that Sisi realizes that she is a minority in Germany. Race seems to be something that never preoccupied Sisi, and she is shocked when she realizes that everyone else around her had a different skin color. Instead of feeling intimidated, the black-eyed squint rebels. Sisi decided that the people around her have “ the color of the pickled parts that used to come from foreign places to the markets in Ghana.” This thought also makes want to vomit. If this was mainstream text, this should be the time when starts to internalize oppression. This plot does the opposite; Sisi seems untouched to racial ideologies. Sisi goes as far as to mention that “for the rest of her life, she was to regret the moment when she decided to notice differences in human coloring,”
The Plums is arguably the section where Sisi is the most feminist. In this chapter, Sissie soon becomes friends with Marija Sommer, a German lady whose husband is never home. On numerous occasions, the reflections of the Black-eyed squint depicts Marija as ignorant. On page 23, when Marija asks Sisi where she comes from, and Sisi tells her she comes from Ghana. Marija presumes Ghana is near Canada. Sisi does not take this well, shocked by her poor judgment. “Pre-Columbian South American with only a little stretch of imagination. Perhaps but Eskimo? No. Too wide the disparity in the skin hue shape of eyes-thanks for the compliment, madam, but no.”
So often in this section, by using prose, Aidoo comments on gender inequality. On page 31, she mentions, “ 500 for a boy, 400 for a girl. Why should it surprise that it costs a little more to make a baby boy.”
Marija plucks fresh plums for Sissie everyday and showers her with food and other gifts. Sisi, however, thinks Marija exoticizes their friendship, a feeling she also felt every time she and her fellow campers were forced to go to the pine nursery. On page 35, the Sissie mentions, “ so they stuffed themselves with a certain calmness that passeth all understanding .”
At the end of this chapter, Marija expresses her love for Sissie. While she feels conflicted and at the same time curious about the power she exerts over Marija, Sissie decides to leave and heads to Munich.
In the third section, From Our Sister Killjoy, Sisi travels to London. Sisi is both surprised by the number of African in England and displeased by their living conditions. She starts to question why they left their warm homes in Africa to live there in chilly winters of London. She is even more distressed by the fact that they never told the truth at home.
In the final section, Sisi writes a love letter to her lover who has decided to remain abroad. It is questionable if the love letter was meant for her lover or to depict her ceaseless love for Africa. While one would expect the letter to be romantic, it is more political. Sissie mentions of the duties she had towards there motherland, the desperation that she cannot speak to her lover in no other but the colonial language, and most importantly that he considers a problem is that she is too aggressive, too outspoken, and "too serious".
In Our Sister Killjoy, Ama Ata Aidoo gives us a feminist story that has no relation whatsoever with our preconceived notions of the term. While this is certainly not the full interpretation of an African feminist, any African woman can relate and be driven by the reflections of the black-eyed squint.