Introduction
Readers of novels continue to experience and interpret the
public and private realms of human life as separate, despite the
fact that feminism and Marxism have taught us that they are linked.
By focusing on the interconnected nature—indeed, the interpenetra-
tion—of the private and public spheres of life (in this case, the do-
mestic and national spheres), I redefine the terms of conversation
about politics and gender in Africa. I focus on how collectivity is
understood and how novels represent the individual’s relation to the
collective. For the first generation of postcolonial African novelists,
who published between 1958 and 1988, the most obvious manifesta-
tion of political commitment took the form of anticolonial resistance
and agitation for national sovereignty. Thematizing colonialism in
public terms is not the only way to tell a political tale, however. I
argue that reading allegorically allows one to elucidate new meanings
in the domestic sphere of life and in intimate relations between
people. The domestic, where women historically have set their nov-
els, offers as sharp an analytic perspective on collectivity and national
politics as does the arena of public political action. As readers of
African literature, we must learn to read this realm more carefully.
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