Saturday, December 10, 2011

Identity Question in Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost


Since the very beginning of creation, man has always searched for the “self.” For in the words of Bob Marley, the popular Jamaican artiste, “If you don’t know where you’re coming from, how can you know where you’re going to.” It is this notion of self that propels Ama Ata Aidoo to express her concern on the issue of identity in her novel, The Dilemma of a Ghost.

The notion that a man lost to his origin is a dead man is almost true especially if one considers the disorientation suffered by Eulalie Rush in the play. Of course the confused woman is not guilty of cultural “splitness”; she bonds, in the end, to the very culture she once tagged primitive and senseless. In fact, Eulalie, just like many African-Americans, cannot deny her true identity, even though she tries to avoid being linked to the African origin. At a point, she cannot but declare: “I’ve come to the very source.” This statement, no doubt, further negates her misconceived opinions about Africa until she comes to Africa. Of course we cannot overrule the significant role of love in this. It is the unconditional love Eulalie has for Ato that assists her in the search for her self.
Furthermore, since Eulalie is not a white woman, it will be totally a misconception on the part of her fiancé’s family to brand her a stranger. Interestingly, she herself is ignorant of this truth. For this reason then, one cannot be said to be culturally lost when one does not know the essence of loss, or rather, its consequence. Had Eulalie been in Africa before her prejudiced discussion with Fiona, her friend, she would have been more conscious of herself being one of them. Perhaps this would serve her right; perhaps not.   

With regard to the foregoing, one may then be tempted to ask: what has marriage got to do with identity? The answer to this is simple. There is no marriage without love as there is no love without the self. To be sure, knowing yourself is a precedent of knowing your spouse. Ato’s reactions to his fiancée’s strange behaviour in the play elaborate this further. To Ato, Eulalie is everything he desires in a woman, her identity notwithstanding. He loves her and brings her home, to “the very source” even though he understands his household will object to such action. He even tries to convince his family to accept Eulalie as one of them. So he tells them: “Eulalie’s ancestors were of our ancestors.” Unfortunately for Ato, it still remains incomprehensible to his family that a woman whose skin is as dark as theirs could have the land of the white man as her home.   

For Eulalie the search for identity is internal; it is more concentrated in the mind than in the outward appearance. If this is mostly the case with most Blacks whom fate has given the land of the white man (in this case, America) as home, then the struggle for identity is more pressing within the “self” than within any other social circumstances such as marriage. Besides, how can man ever know where he is and probably where he is heading for, when he remains lost as regard the knowledge of his past? Thus, a lost person knows he is lost, but he keeps his search for himself secret, for he dreads to be labelled inferior.


What more, Aidoo has proved her worth once more. The expression of the notion of the self in The Dilemma of a Ghost is so powerful that it is difficult not to mention it, even if one has chosen to explore other issues. In all, Aidoo’s manipulation of the character of Eulalie in the play is apt as it helps to realise the psychological essence of self in the midst of the search for one’s root. At last, it seems Aidoo is proclaiming aloud the inner suffering undergone by those whose root is a nightmare; and where no connection exists.