The Sexual Imagery in Imitation

One thing I noticed when we were discussing “Imitation” from The Thing Around Your Neck, is the heavy usage of sexual imagery. This sexual imagery is predominately used by Nkem and it lends insight into her character. The first real instance of her using any sexual imagery is early in the novel  when she thinks about the Benin people carving masks.

Nkem imagines the proud young men, muscled, brown skin gleaming with palm kernel oil, graceful loincloths on their waists.

This shows the reader Nkem’s inner fantasy of strong oily tribal men. This contrasts to later in the novel when she observers Obiora in their bedroom,

His belly looks different. Rounder and riper. She wonders how girls in their twenties can stand that blatant sign of self-indulgent middle age. She tries to remember the married men she had dated. Had they ripe bellies like Obiora

In this section, the reader can see her questioning her attraction to Obiora by noticing his belly. Even the word usage is different. Gleaming vs Self-indulgent.

We also see this sexual imagery again when she planned to “wax her pubic hair into a thin line, the way Obiora likes.” Here the reader can tell that Nkem is excited to see her husband by planning to arrange herself to his liking. This also symbolizes her past willingness to please her husband sexually. As she says later,

In the early years, she would shower with him, sink down to “her knees and take him in her mouth, excited by him and by the steam enclosing them.

This contrasts with her feelings now. She decides not to wax which shows the reader that she is clearly not in the mood for Obiora. Even later when he wants to shower with her, she is very hesitant and needs cajoling. To me I read that as her almost using this as a strategical move in order to get him in a vulnerable state so she can ask him to move back. Thoughts?

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Posted on November 20, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. When Nkem learns of Obiora’s infidelity, she stops pretending. She stops pretending that her marriage is perfect and she is the perfect wife who conforms to idea of the female submissiveness. While she was living an imitation of a perfect marriage, she would put effort into the upkeep of this ruse, because it was this ruse that she was guaranteed a comfortable life. This included being submissive sexually, arranging herself to her husband’s preferences, and ignoring his flaws. After she drops the facade however, she is able to look with new eyes upon her aging husband and see his flaws both physical and non-physical. In response to this she begins to demand some semblance of self-authority, which she enacts by cutting her hair and not waxing. Although she decides to stay with him, there is no doubt that the nature of their marriage has changed, and her sense of self-worth has come to support her where her husband’s fidelity failed.

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