Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Looking for a Rain God” deals with survival and desperation. The act of ritual murder must be understood in the context of the harsh conditions that the villagers of Serowe live under, in terms of both the landscape, which is arbitrary in the suffering it assigns, and the government laws that punish ritual murder with the death penalty without regard to the circumstances that produced it.

The title points to how rain is crucial to the villagers’ survival and to the ongoing, futile effort to bring rain to the dry lands. Although the land is edenic, it is also lonely. The drought brings about an unexpected fall from grace. The flight of the rain clouds and the oppressive presence of the sun suggest that nature and life themselves are faithless and arbitrarily cruel, even to the hardworking, patient villagers who have given up many customs and already survived many years of starvation.

Desperation is the product of a cycle of anticipation and frustration. The village is tantalized by the promise of rain, and Mokgobja’s family works hard to ensure the crops’ success but to no avail; the only people who thrive are those who lack virtue. The desperation of the people is pronounced in the suicides that precede the first rain, forecasting the ensuing tragedy.

It is desperation that awakens the buried memory in Mokgobja, but only after the two women break down completely. Blame for the men’s act of ritual murder is assigned to the two women, suggesting that in this society, they are culpable, if not guilty. Likewise, the two small girls, whose talk foreshadows their demise, are the victims of the family’s despair; they are a subset of the villagers, suffering under the family as the villagers suffer under the oppressive landscape.

The conclusion, that the villagers understand the act of ritual murder in this circumstance because they might do the same in the family’s place, implies that outsiders would be unable to judge the act fairly as they have not lived through the harsh drought conditions that exist in this region and therefore are unable to understand the family’s desperation.