Though the charismatic and exemplary union spokesman, Ibrahima Bakayoko, is the protagonist in the story, the novel has no true hero except the community itself. Men and women both get caught up by the forces of history and circumstances of their physical and social environment, getting transformed in the process. As a result, they are bound together by a common fate in the face of hardship and oppression to assert their rights. Ousmane portrays the strike from all possible angles and in that respect the novel is often compared to mile Zola's masterpiece, Germinal.
In God's Bits of Wood, the strike causes an evolution in the self-perceptions of the Africans themselves, both men and women. This is most evident in the women characters-Bamako, Thies, and Dakar. These women go from mutely standing behind the men in their lives, to walking alongside them and eventually marching ahead of them. In the course of the novel, they undergo a metamorphosis in terms of initiative and expression. Ousmane establishes the central issue in the opening pages of the novel through the musings of Niakoro, an aged woman of the community. When the men are able to work the jobs that the train factory provides them, the women are responsible for running the markets, preparing the food, and rearing the children. However with the onset of the strike, the role of bread-winner or perhaps more precisely bread scavenger, shifts to the women. Women go from supporting the strike to actively participating in the strike. Eventually, it is the women that march on foot, over four days from Thies to Dakar. Many of the men originally oppose this women's march, but it is precisely this show of determination from the women whom the French had dismissed as merely 'concubines' that makes clear the strikers' relentlessness. The women's march causes the French to understand the nature of the willpower faced by them, and shortly after the French agree to the demands of the strikers. So in effect, the revolt of the meekest and the weakest section of the colonised open the eyes of the colonizers. The book also highlights the oppression faced by women in the pre-colonial era. They were deprived of expressing themselves and speaking about their lives in particular and the society in general. Ousmane, however, tries to raise women to a higher spectrum by considering them as equally important in any social movement.
Women in Other Contemporary Novels by African Writers
Here I would like to bring into our discussion, Chinua Achebe's seminal African novel in English Things Fall Apart, published in 1958 and examine and compare the portrayal of women in the novel. Things Fall Apart portrays Africa, particularly the Ibo society, right before the arrival of the white man, analyzing the destruction of African culture by the appearance of the white man in terms of the destruction of the bonds between individuals and their society. Achebe, who teaches us a great deal about Ibo society and translates Ibo myth and proverbs, also explains the role of women in pre-colonial Africa. 'his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness (16)' describe in a nutshell the worldview of Okonkwo, a tragic hero.