Doctoral Thesis Defence Abstract for Alice Jossy Kyobutungi

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The study investigated how young adults are represented in Ugandan literature by selected women writers – Barbara Kimenye (Beauty Queen, Prettyboy, Beware, Moses, Moses in Trouble, and Moses in a Muddle), Glaydah Namukasa (Voice of a Dream, “The Pact” and “Girlie Surprise”, and Mary Okurut’s (Child of a Delegate, “A Virgin for the King” and “Letter of a Daughter to Her Mother”). Its justification was that although young adults are pervasively featured in Ugandan literature, there are no critical studies on how they are depicted. It was guided by three objectives: investigating the selected writers’ construction of young adulthood as a specific demographic category distinct from other categories, with specific attention to the depiction of young adult identity or identities; examining the portrayal of young adult characters’ vulnerability in an adult-dominated world and how these characters navigate it in the selected texts; and exploring the depiction of power dynamics in the selected literary texts, as the young adult characters seek power and autonomy.

The study adopted a descriptive research design in order to explain how young adult characters are represented in Ugandan fiction by selected women writers. The subject matter of each text was described, as well as the character traits of the protagonists, and the different narrative techniques each writer uses to portray particular issues that this study explores, viz., the construction of young adult identity; young adults’ vulnerability; and the power dynamics depicted in the selected works.

Data was collected mostly through close reading of the texts, with the researcher paying particular attention to various aspects like the actions of the characters in the texts, be it verbal, non-verbal, emotional or mental, and the attributes or traits these characters have; the narrative techniques the authors deploy in their work, and how they enable the text to generate its meanings and effects; and the secondary sources – both print and electronic – written on the texts, and on other subjects that are related to this study, for instance identity, subjectivity, power, and sexuality – to mention but a few. In a few cases, I conducted interviews with one of the authors I focus on (Glaydah Namukasa) and one of the experts on children and young adult fiction (Dr Aaron Mushengyezi). To interpret the selected texts, I employed three inter-related theories: postcolonial theory, feminist literary theory, and sociological literary theory, all of which are invested in understanding and appreciating the social, cultural and political contexts in which debates on power, identity and gender/feminism take place.

The study established that the young adult, as portrayed in Ugandan texts by selected women writers, is vulnerable to a number of dangers that impede his and her full enjoyment of young adulthood. These dangers include abduction by rebel forces, authoritarian leadership in homes and schools, sexual abuse, and child prostitution, among others. Even as the young adult struggles to fight off these burdens, there are several obstacles that make the struggle difficult, given the fact that he or she is considered a marginal entity to what happens in society, thanks to the adults who consider him a danger and a rebel to the order of things.

The study concludes with a number of recommendations aimed at provoking governmental bodies and non-governmental agencies into concrete empirical actions that can improve the lives of young adults.