When Rain Clouds Gather

by Bessie Head, Bessie Amelia Emery

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Discuss how When Rain Clouds Gather depicts the divergence from racial conflict as well as the stereotype of women being oppressed by men.

A divergence from racial conflict in When Rain Clouds Gather can be seen in the positive relationship that Gilbert has with various members of the local community in Botswana. The stereotype of women being oppressed can be seen in Matenge's desire to punish Paulina for not having reported her son's death.

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This novel depicts a clear divergence from racial conflict due to the relationship between Dinorego and Gilbert, who is a British agricultural specialist. Gilbert has truly made himself part of the local community in Botswana, to the point that Dinorego calls Gilbert his son. Gilbert even eats the foot that the impoverished local community eats and immediately extends a hand of friendship to Makhaya.

Rather than considering himself superior to Black people, Gilbert has spent three years working on a project that will benefit the entire community. I would argue that the main conflict in this story takes place not just between Chief Matenge and Gilbert, but between Matenge and all the local people who Gilbert is trying to help. This conflict therefore diverges from being a racial conflict and becomes a struggle between those who are content with the status quo and those who want change.

The oppression of women by men is illustrated when Paulina is hauled over the coals by the chief for not reporting her son's death. However, the community stands by her. And rather than stand up to the crowd who have gathered outside his home, the chief kills himself.

Makhaya, however, subverts the trend of oppressive men, using his ability to bridge the language barrier to teach women about farming.

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The primary conflicts in the novel are between people who have national and ethnic differences rather than racial differences. Makhaya Maseko, the protagonist, is a black African man who escapes into Botswana from South Africa. In Botswana, he comes into conflict with Chief Matenge, who is also a black African man. In the village of Golema Mmidi, Makhaya goes to work with Gilbert, a white European, on an agricultural development project. Progressive ideas about infrastructural improvements support the positive values of the project. Gilbert is impressed with Makhaya and assigns him increasingly responsible positions. While the projects that these men carry out together are apparently meant to benefit the black community members, and their working together seems to indicate that their relationship transcends racial limits, it is generally the case that Gilbert is leading and Makhaya follows him—a fundamental colonized relationship.

The relationship between Pauline Sebeso and Makhaya largely works against gendered stereotypes, as Pauline is almost equally a protagonist. Their growing relationship is developed as one of mutual respect and understanding rather than the man's domineering position over the woman. Pauline is a single mother who feels compelled to put her underage son into the labor force; the eight-year-old is a cattle rancher’s assistant. When he does not return from his assigned period of work and instead goes missing, Pauline takes an assertive stance in solving the mystery of his disappearance. Together, Pauline and Makhaya search for her son in the bush; sadly, they find his dead body. When she brings him back and holds a funeral for him, she decides to challenge the authority of the Chief Matenge. Rather than applying themselves to their agricultural work, the other villagers support Pauline and decide to confront the chief together. However, Matenge takes his own life. The implication is that Pauline’s actions, along with the villagers’ support, contribute to Matenge growing fearful and losing confidence in his own authority.

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