While reading The Secret Wives of the Four Wives I was the most intrigued by the character of Iya Tope. After Bolanle, Iya Tope’s perspective is the first alternative story/perspective that we, as readers, are exposed to and therefore sympathize with. She immediately identifies herself as the type of person who packs other people’s shit, which easily calls for pity. Also, she may be the easiest wife to sympathize with as she is the only one who showed any support or sympathy for Bolanle. Though being presented as the nicest of the wives, she is also characterized as being timid, submissive, simple, and relatively dumb. I found her lack of assertiveness to be slightly off-putting. Even though Iya Tope learns to speak her mind and does so for the first time on pg. 237 when she stands up to Iya Segi and Iya Femi for attempting to poison Bolanle, Iya Tope seems to immediately revert back to her reclusive and silent self afterwards.

I find her character so interesting in light of the debate over whether this is a feminist or anti-feminist novel. She and Bolanle are the two characters who end up better off at the end of novel then they were in the beginning. While Bolanle’s eventual freedom, independence, and newfound self-confidence all seem to suggest that Shoneyin is promoting feminist ideals, I cannot help but also consider Iya Tope’s parallel contentment in a vastly different end anti-feminist. In response to Baba Segi’s lock down on his wives Iya Tope is said to have “smiled; his words greatly satisfied her” (279). Iya Tope also becomes the preferred of Baba Segi in the end and she is the only one who isn’t stripped of her most prized possession (money-Iya Segi, luxury/church-Iya Femi). She seems to be rewarded for her submission throughout the rest of the novel. I feel that her ultimate satisfaction in a life that is dictated by a polygamist husband who demands that he be the sole provider, his wives never leave the home, his wives don’t obtain an education, and focus on their roles as mothers is relatively anti-feminist. Perhaps the fact that Bolanle finds happiness in independence while Iya Tope finds happiness in dependence is Shoneyin’s way of suggesting that there isn’t a problem with a woman’s choice of either life style?

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About juliannatwiggs

I'm a sophomore at AU majoring in IS-International Development and minoring in French.

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