Her Three Days by Sembenè Ousmane
In Her Three Days by Sembenè Ousmane we have the theme of control, desperation, gender roles, jealousy, acceptance, humiliation and polygamy. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes after reading the story that Ousmane may be exploring the theme of control, a man’s control over a woman. Throughout the story Noumbe is left waiting on Mustaphu. She is completely under his control and does not appear to function well during her three days. Rather than accept that Mustaphu might be with his fourth wife, Noumbe tries to fool herself into thinking that Mustaphu will arrive at any minute. How desperate or how controlled Noumbe actually may be is also noticeable by the fact that she makes sure that her children are not in her way over the three days that she has planned with Mustaphu. If anything Noumbe remains desperate until the very end of the story where she allows for her disappointment to turn to sarcasm.
The theme of gender roles is self-evident in the story. Noumbe as the wife (or one of the wives) of Mustaphu is at his beck and call. She does everything for him. If anything she has a role to play and that is of the house-bound dutiful wife. She is not allowed to think for herself and what is also interesting is that Noumbe accepts the position she finds herself in. As do Mustaphu’s other wives. It may also be significant that Noumbe is jealous of Mustaphu’s fourth wife. She is younger than Noumbe and as such is Mustaphu’s preferred choice when it comes to him spending time with his wives. Throughout the story Noumbe realizes that she cannot compete with a younger woman but this still does not stop her from believing that Mustaphu will soon arrive to her open and welcoming arms. If anything the reader suspects that Noumbe is unable to accept the position she finds herself in. She will not accept that Mustaphu has humiliated her by seeing his fourth wife instead of seeing her. Even though it is her three days.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fact that Noumbe adorns herself with clothes and jewellery suggests that she is attempting to make herself more appealing to Mustaphu. She knows that Mustaphu is probably with his younger wife and as such does everything to make herself more attractive to Mustaphu. The meat that Noumbe cooks and which she will not allow her children to eat could represent Noumbe’s attempt to entice Mustaphu. She knows that should Mustaphu have a full stomach he will not leave her for the three days. Aida is an important character in the story because she could be seen to symbolize reason. After all it is her who tries to be logical with Noumbe by telling her that the fourth wife, who again is younger than Noumbe, takes the number one role as wife in Mustaphu’s life. The three plates left by the side can also be seen to symbolize the ineffectiveness or uselessness of Noumbe’s three days of waiting. The title of the story could also be symbolic as her three days may refer to Noumbe’s menstrual cycle (short period) and how women (usually) do not get pregnant during their cycle. Noumbe does after all have five children with Mustaphu already.
The end of the story is interesting because a tired Noumbe rather than embracing Mustaphu when he arrives, is sarcastic in her replies to him. This may be important as it suggests that Noumbe is feeling hurt and abandoned and rather than face the reality that she has competition from Mustaphu’s fourth wife. She relies on being sarcastic and mocking Mustaphu. Though Noumbe is hurting it is interesting that Mustaphu is not accepting of her position. He has no time for Noumbe and promptly leaves her to her own devices. Where once Noumbe could rely on Mustaphu to arrive at her door for her three days this is no longer the case. Another woman has taken precedence over Noumbe. If anything Noumbe has to content herself with the fact that she is no longer Mustaphu’s number one choice when it comes to spending time with his wives.