The Problem of Racial Inequality in Nnedi Okorafor’s Novel Who Fears Death
Perhaps no problem is raised so frequently in the world literature as the problem of racial inequality. Nnedi Okorafor though does this in a unique way in her debut novel Who Fears Death. The post-apocalyptic land described in the novel has in fact very real features.
The protagonist Onyesonwu and her friend Mwita are looking for their place in a hostile environment. To become happy, they should learn to courageously resist racial prejudices and to use the power granted them for the benefit of the needy. Onyesonwu and Mwita go a long way to understand that racial differences make a powerful tool that is used by one group of people to subordinate another group. Taking a closer look at the road covered by Onyesonwu and Mwita, this essay argues that racial and ethnic discrimination are a powerful psychological tool that is used by one group of people to dominate another group.
How to Stop Fearing Death
Discrimination feeds on fear. This simple, but not always evident, idea makes the backbone of Okorafor’s novel. To confirm the veracity of this assertion, it is suggested to study the context in which the novel was written and to analyze its symbolism.In the year 2010, Who Fears Death was awarded Carl Brandon Kindred Award “for an outstanding work of speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity.” In the 21st century, racial and ethnic harassment is still an important problem which is evident from Okorafor’s reflection on the reasons for writing the novel. According to the author, she was deeply impressed by Emily Wax’s 2004 Washington Post article “We Want to Make a Light Baby” addressing the problem of weaponized rape by Arab soldiers against Black African women during the Darfur conflict. Okorafor notes that the article “created the passageway through which Onyesonwu slipped through my world” (387).
Onyesonwu is Okarofor’s protagonist, and her name is translated as “who fears death.” Understanding the etymology of the protagonist’s name is important, because it reveals the allegory of Okarofor’s narration. The young woman is Ewu, and it is evidently the main reason for which she is afraid of death. In Okarafor’s post-apocalyptical version of Sudan, Ewu is a term used to refer to a child born from the dark-skinned Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man. Ewu’s appearance strongly distinguishes them from Okeke and Nuru, and makes them objects of ridicule and even dangerous persecution. It is thus natural that Onyesonwu fears death, but her quest to find her father Daib helps the woman to defeat her fear that is the main reason for which Ewu cannot find their place in the new society.
Onyesonwu is not alone in her fears, as they are shared by Mwita, an Ewu man who will later become her husband. Like Onyesonwu, Mwita is faced with numerous, often absurd prejudices, for instance that Ewu people look the same, violent, and unteachable. As the narration unfolds, it becomes clear that these prejudices are …