Out of the Iron House: Deconstructing Gender and Sexuality in Mozambican Literature

  • Eleanor Jones

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the roles of gender, sexuality, and the body in the works of six Mozambican authors: poets José Craveirinha (1922-2003) and Noémia de Sousa (1926-2002), and prose fiction writers Lília Momplé (1935-), Paulina Chiziane (1955-), Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa (1955-), and Suleiman Cassamo (1962-). Building primarily on the critical precedents set by Hilary Owen, Phillip Rothwell, and Ana Margarida Martins, the study aims to make an original contribution to the field of Mozambican cultural studies by proposing that the gendered body has a unique capacity for reappropriation as a means of resistance to oppressive power mechanisms, thanks to its consistently central position in Portuguese imperial and Mozambican postindependence discourses of nationhood. In addition, the thesis seeks to illustrate the value of intergenerational, inter-gendered, and inter-aesthetic author comparison, and an eclectic 'toolbox' approach to critical theory, for the production of innovative new perspectives on Mozambican literary output. Following the contextual scene-setting laid out in the Introduction, Chapter 1 explores constructs of masculinity in a selection of poems from José Craveirinha's first published collection, Xigubo (1964), and compares them with Paulina Chiziane's third novel O Sétimo Juramento (2000), using Judith Butler's theories of compulsory heterosexuality and gender subversion (1990 and 1993). While Craveirinha's work is posited as a counternarrative to Portuguese imperial emasculation of the black male subject that ultimately reproduces colonial gender structures, Chiziane's novel is shown to engage with strategies of parody and realism in order to challenge such reproductions. Chapter 2 makes use of the concept of 'disidentification,' developed in the late twentieth century by U.S. feminists and queer theorists of colour, to compare selected poems from Noémia de Sousa's Sangue Negro (1948-51) with prose fiction by Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa (1987 and 1990). Despite the authors' aesthetic dissimilarities, their work is shown to share a successful commitment to the rejection of imposed femininities. Whereas de Sousa articulates this refusal via a ludic use of language, Khosa roots his narratives of disidentification in grotesque gendered corporealities. Chapter 3 compares novellas and short stories by Lília Momplé (1988, 1995, and 1997) and Suleiman Cassamo (1989 and 2000), examining the authors' uses of the (dis)embodied states of suicidality, hunger, and ghostliness. Making use of Achille Mbembe's (2001 and 2003) postcolonial reworkings of Michel Foucault's concept of biopolitics (1976), this final chapter seeks to understand the ways in which the authors exploit imperial and postindependence instrumentalisations of the Mozambican body as a means of reasserting subjectivity and selfhood in the face of massification. Throughout the study, emphasis is placed on the often concealed and latent nature of gendered resistance, which remains a persistent feature of Mozambican literary output despite the relative intransigence of sexual politics in the country. By centring the body in their aesthetically diverse works, writers from Mozambique demonstrate the value of gendered resistance not only as an end in itself, but also as a means of accessing wider subversive discourses and gestures.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHilary Owen (Supervisor) & Lucia Sa (Supervisor)


  • Power
  • Body
  • Race
  • Corporeality
  • Gender
  • Mozambique
  • Sexuality

Cite this