Publication details [#2255]

Cooper, Brenda. 2007. The rhetoric of a new essentialism versus multiple worlds: Isidore Okpewho's "Call Me by My Rightful Name" and Buchi Emecheta's "The New Tribe" in conversation. Signs and Society 42 (2) : 19–36. 18 pp.


This paper contrasts two recently published novels by Nigerian writers living in the Diaspora - Isidore Okpewho's "Call Me by My Rightful Name" and Buchi Emecheta's "The New Tribe". It demonstrates how Emecheta, long resident in London, embeds her fiction in the concrete realities of the everyday. She rejects the myths attached to an idealized Africa. In so doing, she relies on the rhetoric of metonymy. Okpewho, by contrast, a relatively recent migrant to the USA, harnesses a strategic form of essentialism, as he calls for black people everywhere to return, metaphorically, to the language and culture of their African homeland. This call is understood within the context of the racist American culture Okpewho, and some of his colleagues from Ibadan, confront. However, ultimately, the paper critiques this essentialism and the metaphoric language attached to it, in terms of its reproduction of some of the old, idealized ways of representing Africa and also in gender terms, given how patriarchal this revival of roots turns out to be. Finally, it demonstrates the profound difference in gender terms between Okpewho's and Emecheta's manipulations of a story taken from the oral tradition. (Brenda Cooper)