Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy and Frankenstein

Yufang showed me a quote about Frankenstein and Science Fiction in a book on her postcolonial literature comprehensive exam reading list, Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy (1977).  Aidoo is a Ghanaian feminist writer, and she’s currently a visiting professor at Brown University.  I thought it was really interesting the way that Aidoo uses the Western Frankenstein myth or model to talk about the evolutionary derivation of whiteness (Europeans) from blackness (African) following the early-human diaspora from the African continent a couple million years ago.  The speaker aligns Europeans with Frankenstein’s monster, or the “man from the icy caves of the north,” through the exclamation, “But good God, I refuse to think that the man from the icy caves of the north could have been one of our inventions.  Yet sometimes one wonders, considering the ferocity with which he has been attacking us.  As though we were to blame for his feelings of inadequacy.  Both physical and otherwise.  Especially physical” (115).  And then the speaker ties it together with the Frankenstein story and a terrific observation about the nature of SF in general by saying, “It all sounds like science fiction.  Like the story of Frankenstein.  But then, science fiction is only a wild extension of reality, no?”  I’ve included the full quote with some extra material leading up to it below.

            My question is:  who was there when we were saying farewell to our God?  My Darling, we are not responsible for anybody else but ourselves.  We did not create other races.  So we should not let others make us suffer because we are stronger than them or have better skins.

            Sickle cell anaemia.  High blood pressure.  Faster heartbeats in infancy.  One truth maybe.  A whole lot of wishful thinking.  No amount of pseudo-scientific junk is going to make us a weaker race than we are.  And may they come to no good who wish us ill.  After all, what baby doesn’t know that the glistening blackest coal also gives the hottest and the most sustained heat?  Energy.  Motion.  We are all that.  Yes, why not? . . . A curse on those who for money would ruin the Earth and trade in human miseries.

            We have always produced great minds.  But good God, I refuse to think that the man from the icy caves of the north could have been one of our inventions.  Yet sometimes one wonders, considering the ferocity with which he has been attacking us.  As though we were to blame for his feelings of inadequacy.  Both physical and otherwise.  Especially physical.

            It all sounds like science fiction.  Like the story of Frankenstein.  But then, science fiction is only a wild extension of reality, no?  (Aidoo 114-115)

 What’s even more interesting about this quote is the fact that this novel is representative of Ghanaian literature despite its modernist underpinnings and Western intertextualities.  I’m not saying that a Ghanaian novel cannot do or contain those things, but my suspicion is that there are other novels that aren’t considered world literature, and here I’m borrowing from James English’s analysis of Keri Hulme’s the bone people in The Economy of Prestige, because they aren’t readily accessible to a Western audience.  This is because they are more Ghanian (whatever that might mean) and less engaged with post-Enlightenment, Western (or in this case, Northern) ideas and textual networks.  

However, this is the great debate in postcolonialist studies–following the colonial era, you can’t, as the saying goes, return home.  The colonial experience irrevocably changes the colonized’s culture and language.  In Ghana’s case, it was once a colonial holding of the United Kingdom, and it was the first African colony to achieve its independence from the crown.  As a result of the colonizer’s influence, English is the primary language of Ghana, and the UK educational system is more than likely similar to that of other former colonial holdings such as India.  Ghana is implicated with and tied to the West through its past and present, so there really isn’t such a thing as “pure” Ghanaian literature devoid of Western influence, but there is certainly Ghanaian literature that is part of the expansive global networks emanating diachronically from the Enlightenment and the continuing influence of the Western colonizer.  

Find out more about Aidoo on Wikipedia here, or on her Brown University faculty entry here.  The bibliographic entry for her novel is:

Aidoo, Ama Ata.  Our Sister Killjoy, or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint.  New York:  Longman, 1977.

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