What Are the Common Themes in African Literature?

African literature can be divided into three distinct categories: precolonial, colonial and postcolonial. Precolonial literature often takes the form of oral narratives that are sometimes accompanied by music and center around the trickster figure. Colonial literature examines the horrors of slavery and the slave trade, revolting against colonialism and drawing inspiration from Africa’s past. Postcolonial literature focuses on the clash between indigenous and colonial cultures, expressing hope for Africa’s future.

Within these categories is a subset of African women writers who focus on the ordeals that women face in a patriarchal and colonialist country. Their work often contains sub-themes of women finding strength in each other’s company when abandoned or dismissed by their husbands and fathers, who are, in turn, subjugated by the English. The narratives depict the struggles of women trying to hold together their families and preserve their cultures, but they often find themselves overruled by men.

As more African literature began to be written and published in European languages, some scholars have criticized its place in the African academic community. Others see the contradiction as a symbol of the eternal conflict between African and English identities. However, some writers argue that Africa cannot return to its past and that it is important to acknowledge and understand how the country has been changed by a foreign presence.