Get notes, line-by-line explanation, summary, questions and answers, critical analysis, word meanings, extras, and pdf of the story “The Girl Who Can” by Ama Ata Aidoo, which is part of ICSE Class 10 English (Treasure Chest: A Collection of ICSE Poems and Short Stories). However, the notes should only be treated as references, and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.
The story is narrated by Adjoa, a young 7-year-old girl living in a village in Ghana. Adjoa struggles to express her thoughts and feelings to the adults around her, as they often dismiss or laugh at what she says. The main source of conflict is between Adjoa’s grandmother Nana and her mother. Nana frequently criticised Adjoa’s legs, saying they are too thin and long for a proper woman. In Nana’s view, a woman’s legs should be thick with muscle to support wide childbearing hips. Adjoa’s mother defends Adjoa but does not strongly contradict Nana.
Adjoa wishes she could examine other women’s legs to evaluate Nana’s statements, but is only able to see the legs of girls her own age. Nana also thinks Adjoa attending school is a waste of time, while her mother supports her education. Adjoa enjoys school and the chance to run races with her classmates. One day, Adjoa’s teachers select her to represent her school in a district sports competition. Adjoa is surprised but excited, and goes home to share the news with her family.
At first, Nana and Adjoa’s mother do not believe she will really compete. But when Nana verifies the truth, she starts treating Adjoa differently. She launders Adjoa’s school uniform herself and carefully irons it. During the week of competitions, Nana attends each day, walking behind the schoolchildren. Adjoa wins every race she enters, becoming the district junior champion.
When Adjoa returns to the village with the champion’s cup, Nana carries it proudly on her back to show Adjoa’s mother. Nana has realised that while Adjoa’s legs may be thin, they have their own strength and speed. The experience changes how Nana sees Adjoa and her abilities.
About the author
Ama Ata Aidoo is a trailblazing writer from Ghana who has shed light on the complexities African women face in pursuing identity and fulfilment within patriarchal societies. Born in 1942, Aidoo showed remarkable literary promise even as a young girl. After obtaining a college education in her home country of Ghana, she ventured to the United States for graduate studies.
In 1970, Aidoo made a splashy entrance onto the literary stage with her groundbreaking play The Dilemma of a Ghost, gaining international praise and attention. She went on to serve as Ghana’s Minister of Education, balancing her political and writing careers.
Throughout her illustrious career as a playwright, poet, novelist and short story author, Aidoo has delved into issues of gender, power dynamics and tradition in works like Anowa, Changes and No Sweetness Here. Her writing illuminates the experiences of African women and challenges the restraints placed upon them by society. Aidoo’s body of work has significantly influenced modern African literature and feminist thought. Despite facing criticism for her unflinching portrayals of ingrained patriarchy, Aidoo remains a vital voice speaking to the struggles of African women. Her vibrant stories feature determined female protagonists who take control of their destinies, inspiring women everywhere to defy unjust barriers.
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
1. Who is the author of the story ‘The Girl Who Can’?
(a) Chinua Achebe (b) Wole Soyinka (c) H. G. Wells (d) Ama Ata Aidoo
Answer: (d) Ama Ata Aidoo
2. How old is Adjoa?
(a) eight (b) nine (c) seven (d) ten
Answer: (c) seven
3. The place Adjoa hails from is
(a) barren (b) fertile (c) a plateau (d) frequented by earthquakes
Answer: (b) fertile
4. Adjoa’s Maami is
(a) dominating (c) humble and helpless (b) orthodox (d) conservative
Answer: (c) humble and helpless
5. Adjoa’s nature is described as
(a) headstrong (b) timid (c) cunning (d) analytical and sensitive
Answer: (d) analytical and sensitive
6. Who was Kaya?
(a) Nana (b) Maami (c) Adjoa’s school teacher (d) Adjoa’s nickname
Answer: (b) Maami
7. When Adjoa thinks of her legs, she is
(a) depressed (b) excited (c) analytical (d) angry with her lot
Answer: (c) analytical
8. Adjoa is selected to represent her school in
(a) state games (b) international games (c) national-level games (d) junior district games
Answer: (d) junior district games
9. How does Nana hold the cup won by Adjoa?
(a) keeps it on her head (b) holds it in her hands (c) carries it on the back (d) throws it away
Answer: (c) carries it on the back
10. In the end of the story, Nana appears as
(a) a killjoy (b) a progressive dynamic woman (c) a frustrated woman (d) making compromise with the way of the world
Answer: (b) a progressive dynamic woman
Passage 1 They say that when all of Africa is not choking under a drought, Hasodzi lies in a very fertile low land in a district known for its good soil. May be that is why anytime I don’t finish eating my food, Nana says, ‘You, Adjoa, you don’t know what life is about… you don’t know what problems there are in this life…’
(i) What contrast is made in the first sentence?
Answer: The first sentence contrasts the fertile low land of Hasodzi with the rest of Africa which is often choking under a drought.
(ii) What do you learn about the speaker from this extract?
Answer: From this extract, we learn that the speaker is a young girl named Adjoa who lives in the village of Hasodzi. She is being addressed by her grandmother Nana, who tells her that she does not know about the problems of life since she does not finish her food.
(iii) What information is given by the narrator about Nana?
Answer: The narrator informs us that Nana is her grandmother who often scolds her, saying “You, Adjoa, you don’t know what life is about… you don’t know what problems there are in this life…”
(iv) What does the narrator think about her Nana telling about problems of life?
Answer: The narrator, being just a seven-year-old girl, seems to find Nana’s remarks about the problems of life confusing and beyond her comprehension at this age.
(v) Which part of Africa is this story about? What is peculiar about it?
Answer: The story is set in the Central Region of Ghana, Africa. Peculiarly, the narrator’s village Hasodzi lies in a fertile low land and is known for its good soil, unlike other parts of Africa that often face droughts.
Passage 2 And that, I think, is a very serious problem. Because it is always difficult to decide whether to keep quite and not say any of the things that come into my head, or say them and get laughed at.
(i) Which serious problem is the narrator talking about?
Answer: The serious problem that the narrator is talking about is her inability to properly express her thoughts and ideas verbally due to her young age. She finds it difficult to decide whether to voice her thoughts or remain quiet.
(ii) What is the narrator’s dilemma?
Answer: The narrator’s dilemma is whether to keep quiet and not say the things that come into her head, or to say them and risk getting laughed at by others.
(iii) What is the general attitude of the elders to the problems of the youngsters?
Answer: The general attitude of the elders towards the problems or thoughts expressed by the youngsters seems to be dismissive. They either rebuke the youngsters for voicing certain things or laugh at them, treating their thoughts as frivolous.
(iv) Has it been easy for Adjoa to deal with Nana?
Answer: No, it has not been easy for Adjoa to deal with Nana. The passage suggests that Nana’s authoritative nature and tendency to either reprimand Adjoa or laugh at her thoughts makes it difficult for Adjoa to express herself freely.
(v) Which weakness of Adjoa is pointed out by Nana?
Answer: The passage does not explicitly mention any weakness of Adjoa pointed out by Nana. However, Nana’s criticism seems to be directed at Adjoa’s young age and perceived lack of understanding about the problems of life.
Passage 3 I find something quite confusing in all this. That is, no one ever explains to me, why sometimes I shouldn’t repeat some things I say.
(i) What is confusing to the narrator?
Answer: The narrator finds it confusing that no one ever explains to her why sometimes she should not repeat certain things she says, while at other times, some of her words are considered funny and repeated for others’ amusement.
(ii) What is the narrator forbidden to do?
Answer: The narrator is sometimes forbidden to repeat certain things that she says, without any explanation provided.
(iii) What surprising thing or habit of the elders is referred to here?
Answer: The surprising habit of the elders referred to here is their tendency to either censure the narrator for saying certain things or to find some of her words so funny that they repeat them for others’ amusement, often leading to laughter and mockery.
(iv) How do the elders behave about the follies or foibles of the youngsters?
Answer: The elders do not seem to have a consistent or constructive approach towards the follies or foibles of the youngsters. They either sternly forbid the youngsters from repeating certain things or mock them by laughing excessively at their words or actions they find amusing.
(v) What does the narrator think about the grown ups?
Answer: The narrator finds the behavior of the grown-ups confusing and perplexing. She does not understand the rationale behind their contradictory reactions to her words – sometimes censuring her and sometimes finding them hilariously funny.
Passage 4 That it did not have to be an issue for my two favourite people to fight over. But I didn’t want either to be told not to repeat that or it to be considered so funny that anyone would laught at me until they cried.
(i) Which issue does the narrator refer to here?
Answer: The narrator is referring to the issue of her thin legs, which seems to be a point of contention between her two favorite people – her grandmother Nana and her mother Maami.
(ii) Who are the two favourite people of the narrator mentioned here? Do they have the same views?
Answer: The two favorite people of the narrator mentioned here are her grandmother Nana and her mother Maami. It is evident that they do not have the same views regarding the issue of the narrator’s thin legs.
(iii) What does the narrator expect of them regarding her issue?
Answer: The narrator does not want her thin legs to become an issue over which her two favorite people, Nana and Maami, fight. She also does not want them to either forbid her from talking about it or to mock her by laughing at her until they cry.
(iv) What opinion does Nana hold about women’s ability to rear a child?
Answer: According to the passage, Nana holds the opinion that a woman must have strong legs with “meat on them” and good calves to support solid hips in order to be able to have children.
(v) How is outer world of a child as compared to the world before birth?
Answer: The passage describes the outer world that a child is born into as “the world of noise and comprehension,” in contrast to the previous state, referred to as “the land of sweet, soft silence” – presumably the mother’s womb before birth.
And you know, such things are not for talking about everyday. But if any female child decides to come into this world with legs, then they might as well be legs.
(i) Whose opinion is talked about here? How sound is it?
Answer: The opinion being talked about here is Nana’s. Her opinion that a woman must have strong, meaty legs to support solid hips for childbearing seems to be a narrow and unsound view, as the narrator later proves through her athletic achievements that even thin legs can be useful and capable.
(ii) Which are the ‘such things’ that are not meant to be talked about on a daily basis?
Answer: The ‘such things’ that are not meant to be talked about on a daily basis seem to refer to physical disabilities or deformities, as Nana mentions the rare cases of people being born without arms or legs as “a sad business” not to be discussed every day.
(iii) What kind of legs are not liked? And by whom?
Answer: Nana does not like thin, spindly legs on a woman. She believes that a woman’s legs should have “meat on them” with good calves.
(iv) With what should a female child come into the world?
Answer: According to Nana’s opinion expressed in this passage, if a female child decides to come into this world with legs, then “they might as well be legs” – implying that a woman’s legs should be strong and meaty, capable of supporting solid hips for childbearing.
(v) Does the narrator get any complex due to her so-called imperfection?
No, the passage does not suggest that the narrator, Adjoa, develops any complex due to her thin legs, which Nana considers an imperfection. Instead, Adjoa seems to be analytical and accepting of her physical condition, without being overly perturbed by Nana’s criticism.
Passage 6 How, ‘After one’s only daughter had insisted on marrying a man like that, you still have to thank your God that the biggest problem you got later was having a grand daughter with spindly legs that are too long for a woman, and too thin to be of any use.
(i) What is Nana lamenting about?
Answer: Nana is lamenting about her daughter (Adjoa’s mother) insisting on marrying a man whom Nana disapproves of, referring to him as “a man like that.”
(ii) What kind of man did Maami marry? Was it a happy marriage?
Answer: The passage implies that Maami (Adjoa’s mother) married a man whom Nana considered unworthy or unsuitable. It does not explicitly state whether their marriage was a happy one, but Nana’s disparaging tone suggests that she did not approve of her daughter’s choice of husband.
(iii) What evil of the society does the passage refer to?
Answer: The passage does not explicitly refer to any specific evil of society. However, it hints at the societal prejudices and restrictive mindsets that Nana seems to embody, particularly regarding the roles and expectations imposed on women.
(iv) Why is Nana not happy with Adjoa’s legs?
Answer: Nana is not happy with Adjoa’s legs because she considers them to be “spindly” (thin), “too long for a woman,” and “too thin to be of any use.” According to Nana’s traditional beliefs, a woman should have strong, meaty legs to support solid hips for childbearing.
(v) What is Nana’s ideal of a perfect woman?
Answer: Nana’s ideal of a perfect woman is one who has strong, meaty legs with good calves to support solid hips, capable of bearing children. She believes that a woman’s primary role is to be able to have children, and physical attributes that facilitate this are essential.
Passage 7 School is another thing Nana and my mother discussed often and appeared to have different ideas about. Nana thought it would be waste of time. I never understood what she meant.
(i) What did Nana think about the education of girls?
Answer: The passage states that Nana thought that getting education would be a waste of time for girls.
(ii) What opinion do you form of Nana?
Answer: From this passage, one forms the opinion that Nana holds a traditional and regressive view regarding the education of girls. She does not seem to value or support the idea of educating girls, considering it a waste of time.
(iii) Did Adjoa’s mother hold the same views about the education of women as her grandmother Nana?
Answer: No, the passage suggests that Adjoa’s mother (Maami or Kaya) did not hold the same views as her mother (Nana) about the education of women. It states that Nana and Adjoa’s mother “appeared to have different ideas” about this matter.
(iv) Was Adjoa’s mother educated? What was her regret?
Answer: The passage implies that Adjoa’s mother (Maami or Kaya) was not educated herself. It states that she “kept telling Nana that she, that is my mother, felt she was locked into some kind of darkness because she didn’t go to school.” Her regret seems to be her lack of education.
(v) Why did Nana not wish the girls to go to school?
The passage does not explicitly state the reasons why Nana did not wish the girls to go to school. However, it can be inferred from her traditional and regressive mindset that she likely did not see the value or necessity of educating girls, perhaps considering domestic roles to be their primary purpose.
Passage 8 You know what she did? She carried the gleaming cup on her back. Like they do with babies, and other very precious things. And this time, not taking the trouble to walk by herself.
(i) What moment of pride does the passage refer to?
Answer: The passage refers to the moment of pride when Adjoa wins the cup for being the best all-round junior athlete, representing her school in the district games.
(ii) How does Nana react at Adjoa’s achievement?
Answer: Nana reacts with great pride and joy at Adjoa’s achievement of winning the cup. She carries the gleaming cup on her back, treating it with utmost care and reverence, as one would carry a precious baby.
(iii) What change of heart and mind is seen in Nana’s personality? How does it seem different from her earlier attitude?
Answer: The passage shows a significant change of heart and mind in Nana’s personality regarding her attitude towards Adjoa’s thin legs. Earlier, Nana had consistently criticized and doubted Adjoa’s abilities due to her physical condition. However, after witnessing Adjoa’s athletic achievement, Nana seems to have undergone a transformation, realizing the potential and usefulness of Adjoa’s legs, which she had previously deemed inadequate. This marks a departure from her earlier rigid and narrow-minded views.
(iv) What does Nana begin to think about the role of women in society?
Answer: Although not explicitly stated, the passage suggests that Nana begins to reevaluate her traditional beliefs about the role of women in society. By celebrating Adjoa’s achievement, which defies her earlier notions about a woman’s physical attributes being solely tied to childbearing, Nana seems to recognize the broader potential and capabilities that women can possess beyond just being mothers.
(v) How does Adjoa show the mettle of a woman?
Answer: Adjoa shows the mettle (strength of character) of a woman by excelling as an athlete and winning the cup for the best all-round junior athlete, despite her grandmother’s constant criticism of her thin legs. Through her determination and achievement, Adjoa challenges the narrow societal expectations placed on women and proves that physical attributes need not define or limit a woman’s potential.
Additional/Extra questions and answers
1. Who are the main characters in the story?
Answer: The main characters in the story are Adjoa, her grandmother Nana, and her mother, referred to as Maami. These characters are central to the unfolding of the narrative and the themes it explores.
2. What is the relationship between Nana and Adjoa?
Answer: Nana is Adjoa’s maternal grandmother. She has a significant influence on Adjoa’s life, particularly in shaping her views on womanhood and societal expectations.
28. What is the significance of the “big brass bowl” in the story?
Answer: The big brass bowl is where Nana keeps her old clothes and serves as a symbol of tradition and the past. It represents the old ways of thinking that Nana holds, which are often in conflict with Adjoa’s more progressive views.
29. What does the story reveal about the importance of self-belief?
Answer: The story reveals that self-belief is crucial for overcoming societal expectations and achieving personal success. Adjoa’s self-belief enables her to excel in the district games, thereby changing the perceptions of those around her, including Nana.
1. Who is Adjoa’s grandmother in the story?
A. Maami B. Nana C. Aunty D. Sister
Answer: B. Nana
2. Where is the story set?
A. Accra B. Hasodzi C. Kumasi D. Lagos
Answer: B. Hasodzi
29. What does Nana think about legs that “have meat on them”?
A. They are good for running B. They are good for dancing C. They are good for childbearing D. They are good for swimming
Answer: C. They are good for childbearing
30. What is the significance of the phrase “thin legs can also be useful”?
A. It signifies the need for dieting B. It signifies the need for exercise C. It signifies the usefulness of Adjoa’s legs D. It signifies the uselessness of thick legs
Answer: C. It signifies the usefulness of Adjoa’s legs
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