Zikora, named after its eponymous protagonist, is a short story that explores the world of women who are repeatedly mistreated by the men in their lives. Just like other short stories, Zikora possesses a compact plot that revolves around one storyline. Using the lives of her protagonist, Mmiliaku and Mama, Chimamanda Adichie affirms that the male gender is incapable of doing things right. All the aforementioned characters are victims of grave injustice in their different relationships. To simply put it, these characters are portrayed as martyrs of male nonchalance. Apart from the injustice these women face, they are all linked together by blood, and by the unquestionable and unreserved love they show for their kids.
Chimamanda Adichie, once again, explores the theme of callous males in relationships. Starting the story at its complication stage — the protagonist’s protracted labour — she paints an image of abandonment. That is, her protagonist has been left by her lover to face the most trying period of a woman’s life alone. By graphically describing the ordeals faced by the protagonist, who is yet to be named, Adichie sheds light on the plight of women in labour. To her, the pain undergone in the process of birthing a new life is unreasonable and incomparable. To make matters worse, the father of her child is nowhere to be found.
Quite stereotypically, as evident in most of her works, she represents her male characters as unfeeling, childish and entitled. These traits are evident in the lives of men such as Kwame, the protagonist’s father, Emmanuel and the basketball player. To showcase the unfeeling nature of the male specie, Adichie describes the basketball player as one who is uninterested in commitments: similar to the way that Kwame is indifferent towards Zikora when she informs him of her pregnancy. Zikora’s father is no different because he jumps at the opportunity to take in a second wife in a bid to have a male child. Emmanuel is projected as a sadist who derives pleasure in mounting his wife even when she is dry, thereby subjecting her to pain instead of sexual pleasures. Also important to note is how these men are classified as unintelligent due to their lack of knowledge on the female biological system. A textual illustration is seen where Kwame, a well-educated lawyer is depicted as showing hesitation and surprise when he was told that an influential American suggested that women should be able to hold in their menstrual discharge. All these instances are used by the author to support the unfavorable way at which she views men.
Contrary to the presentation of the male characters is the way the female characters are depicted. They are highlighted as caring, trusting and longsuffering. Mama, most prominently, is used to highlight these qualities. She is a woman who loses her husband to a second wife, yet she accept this new reality by resigning to her fate. Despite the unfortunate events in her life, she remains a doting mother to her daughter, Zikora. Mmiliaku, Zikora’s cousin, also falls into this category. She is constantly abused by her rich husband who deems it proper for her to neither work nor be friends with ladies who are single. Her acquiescence in the face of domestic abuse strengthens the theme of female subjugation. Similarly, the main protagonist is used to reinforce these characteristics. Zikora exposes her caring side by the fierce love she shows to her baby. This is exemplified through her stance against the circumcision of her son because she is aware that cutting the foreskin of a child is a painful experience. Despite Kwame’s betrayal, Zikora is trusting enough to believe that he would still change. A great question raised by the plights of these women is the recurring question: Why do women have go through these degrading acts in relationships?
By contrasting the males with their female counterparts, Adichie is able to create a chasm between reality and her fictional world. In reality, we have the good and bad in both genders; but in this story, one cannot help but notice how the bad features of men pervades its entire literariness. Are we to believe that the nature of man is to be selfish and insensitive? Are we also to believe that all women are caring and loving? While we cannot deny the act of male nonchalance in the larger world, we can at least kick against the act of misrepresentating men; that is, it is becoming quite cliche for feminist writers’ to give their male characters animalistic traits. In summary, having flat male characters is a trend that Chimamanda should seek to break. Perhaps, the mantra, “NOT ALL MEN”, should be promoted with all vigour.
In terms of the mode of narration, this book will probably stand out. The way the delivery scene is described is vivid enough for it to be pictorially registered in the minds of the readers. Adichie’s use of simple expression in place of flowery and complex ones will undoubtedly make this book more accessible to readers from all walks of life. Narration, undoubtedly, constitutes a strong point of the writer’s credentials.
Another aspect of this story that is worth attention is her plot structure. Instead of starting the story at its expository stage — the stage where we are introduced to the characters — Adichie begins at the complication stage; that is, the time where the protagonist put to bed. This way, she is able to build up suspense by making the readers wonder what must have brought the protagonist to the stage of giving birth as a single mother. To fill this vacuum, the author makes good use of the flashback technique. Through this, we are able to know the things that transpired in the past. Quite surprisingly, the story ends on a cliffhanger — there is no resolution to the conflict. The absence of a reasonable resolution opens up this story to a lot of possibilities. Will the father of the child assume responsibility or will he continue to be callous? In my opinion, the cliffhanger simply points out the fact that this vicious cycle of male nonchalance is most likely going to continue.
The book, Zikora, raises issues that are significant to the emancipation of the female gender from the shackles of the patriarchal society. However, these issues are tackled in a one-sided manner because there is no male voice of reason to complement the female voices. We are not all Eugenes or Kwames, neither are we all Obinzes who would easily leave a marriage to chase after childhood fantasies. We cannot all be animals, can we?
© Chiedozie Ude