Grappling with Patriarchies
Narrative Strategies of Resistance in Miriam Tlali’s Writings

By Christina Cullhed
Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, No. 131
July 2006
Uppsala University Press
ISBN: 9789155465162
233 pages, Illustrated, 6 ½ x 9 ½”
$57.50 Paper original

This study is the first one devoted solely to the writings of the South African black novelist Miriam Tlali. It argues that her works constitute literary resistance not only to apartheid, noted by previous scholars, but also to South African patriarchies. Examining Tlali’s novels Muriel at Metropolitan (1975) and Amandla! (1980), and several short stories from Mihloti (1984) and Footprints in the Quag (1989), the study pits these texts against the black literary tradition dominated by men and also reads them within the social context of South African patriarchies, with its social restrictions on women and its taboos concerning sexualities.

To distance herself from the patriarchal values inherent in the male literary tradition and to negotiate social and sexual restrictions on women Tlali deploys narrative strategies like generic difference, generic dialogism, a double-voiced discourse, “whispering,” and “distancing.”
Drawing on the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and Julia Kristeva, this study first explores “novelistic” traits in Muriel which function both to resist male literary conventions, like the epic mode of narrative, and to criticise their patriarchal ideology.

Second, relying on Bakhtin, it analyses the generic dialogism and double-voicedness in Amandla!. Finally, making use of Kristeva’s semiotics and her theory of sacrifice, the study traces the development of a sacrificial discourse of gendered violence from Amandla! to some of Tlali’s short stories. Supported by Martha J. Reinecke’s explication of Kristeva, the author shows that Tlali’s texts insist that gendered violence upholds the sacrificial economies of both patriarchal apartheid and African patriarchy.

The strategies of “whispering” and “distancing,” surface in Tlali’s addressing of the sensitive issues of black women’s victimisation and gendered violence. “Whispering” entails muting the criticism of the perpetrators of gendered violence, whereas “distancing” results in dis/placing gendered violence on the margins of the community. This study also examines the literary/social context of Tlali’s oeuvre: it explores specific traits of the South African black literary tradition, how the issue of rape has been addressed there, and the depiction of African patriarchy in autobiographies by South African black women.

Literature; African Studies

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