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Representation of (Step) Mothering and Identity Formation of Children in Plural Marriage Settings in Two Nigerian Children’s Narratives

Olutoyin Bimpe Jegede


Literary scholars and critics have alluded to aspects of childhood and its representation in African Literature. However, enough critical attention has not been given to the study of childhood in polygamous marriage settings and the implication of mothering and step mothering on the identity formation of children in such family settings. Through a text focused approach, this paper fills the gap. It examines how the protagonists’ in two children’s narratives struggle at negotiating a stable identity. The two narratives are The Wicked Stepmother (2001) and “The Wicked Stepmother”(1999). The first one by Uche Eke, is from Igbo background, while the second by Dayo Sanyaolu is from Yoruba background. The theoretical frame for the study is ego psychology, using the models of Sigmund Freud and Norman Holland and through it, identifying the psychic context of the narratives and examining the protagonists’ struggles in forming stable identities. The paper posits that polygamy is more problematic for women and children than for the fathers in such relationships. This is because they are faced with more economic, psychological and social challenges which make mothering and stable growth difficult. The paper discusses the protagonists’ attempts at identity negotiation through their interaction with others, and identity crises which arise as a result of their ‘absent’ mothers. It further examines their struggles for identity as Oedipus complex and as a classical condition called ‘mother fixation’. Through character analysis, the paper draws attention to the ego psychology of the protagonists by looking at their conscious motives and feelings. The narratives reveal that identities are constructed through difference and relation to others. They further reveal that deprivation and show of preference are negative behaviors which are common in plural marriages and through which identities are constructed. These create lack, boundaries, low self-esteem and polarized identity between “self” and “other” and within the “self’. Besides, the content and form of the narratives reveal the symbiotic relationship between oral and written literature in Nigeria. In sum, the paper notes that the narratives raise serious issues of global concern on the rights of children in Nigeria. Step mothering creates complex interaction and socio cultural environments which affect children physically and psychologically. The interest of such children should therefore be protected. Insights from this study are significant for scholarship in children’s literature, mothering and identity formation.

Keywords: polygamous family, mothering, unstable growth, self, other

LWATI: A Journal of Contemporary Research, 8(4), 128-139, 2011

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eISSN: 1813-2227