The Girl Who Can by Ama Ata Aidoo
In The Girl Who Can by Ama Ata Aidoo we have the theme of conflict, innocence, freedom, insecurity, connection and pride. Taken from her collection of the same name the story is narrated in the first person by a young seven year old girl and after reading the story the reader realises that Aidoo may be exploring the theme of conflict. Nana and Maami argue about two things. The narrator’s skinny legs and the narrator’s father. It is as though Nana is in disagreement with Maami when it comes to both issues. She does not consider that the narrator will have the ability to have children as her legs will not support the hips that Nana believes are needed for a woman to carry a child. This may be important as in many ways Nana may not only be criticizing the narrator but she might also be criticizing Maami and blaming her for the fact that the narrator has such skinny legs. As to Nana’s judgement on the narrator’s father the reader can only assume that again Nan is criticizing Maami for her choice of husband. Which may leave some readers to suggest that there is a conflict between both Nana and Maami with Nana always getting the upper hand possibly due to the insecurities that Maami may feel due to the criticism she gets from Nana.
It is also interesting that the narrator herself does not feel insecure about how her legs look rather she is more inquisitive as to whether or not she will be able to have children. Even though she has yet to fully grow and is only seven years of age. The narrator’s curiosity may be important as it suggests that the narrator is still somewhat innocent. As one would expect a seven year old child to be. It is also noticeable that at times the narrator says things which are deemed inappropriate by Nana. Again this may suggest that the narrator is innocent and is merely trying to understand the world around her. It is also interesting that the narrator is so modest about her achievements when it comes to running. It is as though her abilities in running are normal for the narrator. She doesn’t counteract anything Nana says about her legs by telling Nana that she has legs that are suitable for running and that she is proud of herself. If anything the narrator again acts modestly. It is both Nana and Maami who consider what the narrator has done to be an achievement and something in which they are proud of the narrator.
The narrator’s running also connects her with Nana. Who walks to school with the narrator and carries the winning cup home on her back. From going to criticizing the narrator (and Maami) Nana is full of pride. It is as though the narrator has fulfilled her potential without the hindrance of Nana’s traditional beliefs when it comes to the quality of a girl or woman’s legs. If anything the narrator’s abilities when it comes to running free the narrator from the traditional outlook that Nana has when it comes to the abilities of a woman to give birth. This might be important as Aidoo may be suggesting that the narrator may not necessarily carry on the traditions that Nana has lived her life by. With freedom comes choices and the narrator may choose later on in life to take a different path to Nana and Maami. She is after all physically different in Nana’s eyes so it would not be too much to suggest that mentally the narrator might also be different to Nana and Maami.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the only real freedom that the narrator has comes with her running and as mentioned the narrator is modest about her abilities. She does not consider herself to be more important than others. Just because she keeps winning races. If anything the narrator has an ability which the reader is left hoping is nurtured by Nana and Maami. That both women continue to be proud of the narrator’s achievements and that they might accept that the narrator’s life may turn out differently to how their life has turned out. It is as though the narrator has not only freedom and choices but she may be independent too. Even if she is still a very young girl. Despite all the criticism that is thrown in the narrator’s direction none of it sticks to the narrator. She may very well continue her life focusing on her running and the fact that she has the long, skinny legs of a runner. Something that is beneficial to the narrator and as such leaves the reader left with a sense of optimism for the narrator’s future. The narrator has choices that Nana and Maami may never have had.