Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Far more than an African love story, Head’s novel is a statement on racial and tribal prejudice. Margaret represents a group of people reduced through discrimination to nonhuman status. The white man looks down upon others who are different from him, but the chain of discrimination reaches far beyond that: “And if the white man thought that Asians were a low, filthy nation, Asians could still smile with relief—at least they were not Africans. And if the white man thought Africans were a low, filthy nation, Africans in Southern Africa could still smile—at least they were not Bushmen.” As Head observes, there is no one to whom the Bushman can turn and say, “At least I am not a-———.”

The older Margaret Cadmore is appalled by the treatment of the body of young Margaret’s Masarwa mother, yet she leaves Africa without taking Margaret with her to England, where Margaret could have passed as coloured and at least have had the assistance of her white protector. Mrs. Cadmore writes back from England that she left her behind for the good of her people, the Bushmen. Indeed, Margaret does become an agent of change for her tribe, as do Dikeledi, Moleka, and Maru.

Dikeledi is the young radical who goes to England for an education and returns to Dilepe to put it to use rather than simply resting content with her own high social position. She risks social status by befriending her Masarwa colleague (perhaps because she is secure enough in her family’s power to take the chance). Moleka, like Dikeledi, is ready to see his people grow out of their deep-rooted prejudices. There is a...

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