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Postnational feminism in Third World women's literature

Hena Zafar Ahmad, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation investigates selected third world women writers' texts to explore how they reevaluate the relationship between woman and nation from postcolonial feminist perspectives. Further, this dissertation proposes that these texts, Kamala Maskandaya's Nectar in a Sieve (1954), Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day (1980), Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (1988), and Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes (1991), revealing a rootedness in the nation, resist national cultures, which are complicit with patriarchal ideologies, making it possible for us to see their "national" constructions of woman's identity as postnational. Chapter One formulates the dissertation's theoretical framework, drawing on selected writings of postcolonial third world feminist critics, among others, that are relevant to my discussion. Applying Benedict Anderson's concept of nation and identity as "imagined" constructs, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, I explore how these texts challenge the "imagined" patriarchal constructions of women as signifiers of national cultures. Chapter Two focuses on the impact of Markandaya's colonial heritage and diasporic consciousness in generating an ambivalence towards the concept of nationalism as seen in Nectar in a Sieve. Chapter Three analyzes how Dangarembga's feminist consciousness critiques the role of colonial and patriarchal agendas in creating a "nervous" national culture with neocolonial repercussions for women. Chapter Four compares feminist consciousness across cultural, geographical, and historical differences in Nectar in a Sieve and Nervous Conditions to examine how the latter text's postcolonial awareness reconceptualizes woman's empowerment. Chapter Five explores third world feminism, decolonization, and the modes of resistance to patriarchal structures in Changes, Clear Light of Day, and Nervous Conditions. Chapter Six, the Conclusion, offers a few questions for further exploration. Central to my analysis is the postnationalism I read into these texts which, I suggest, derives from the writers' more immediate concerns with female empowerment that problematize the female gendered identity and critique the role of nationalism, particularly in its complicity with the patriarchal. In doing so, these writers' diasporic consciousness leads towards a postnational conceptual paradigm, which reveals what is most particular in their writings--an inherent paradox implicit in that they both oppose and reaffirm nationalistic agendas. ^

Subject Area

Modern literature|Asian literature|African literature|Women's studies

Recommended Citation

Ahmad, Hena Zafar, "Postnational feminism in Third World women's literature" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909144.