Journal of Humanities

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The (un)making of a man: fathers and sons in the African novel

Ken Lipenga Jr.


The subject of masculinities is among the relatively unexamined topics in African literature. There have been many discussions of the portrayal of women, but few surrounding the portrayal of men and boys. A look at the literature reveals that African literature has been influential in the forming of masculinities, but also in the critiquing of certain models of masculinity. One of the ways in which this is done is through the portrayal of the process in which fathers teach their sons the performance of masculinity. In this paper, I explore these processes through examining the nature of relationships between fathers and sons in the African novel. My argument is specifically based on four novels: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Zakes Mda’s The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013), Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley (2012) and Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu(2014). In my reading, I draw from Judith Butler’s notion of gender performativity, but also engage with scholarship on masculinities in Africa. This perspective enables me to read the texts as not merely depicting masculinity as a social topic, but also as a means by which the authors create tension, establish character development, and entrench, challenge but also suggest new masculinities.

Keywords: masculinity, African novel, gender, performativity, paternity

AJOL African Journals Online