Bessie Head’s novel A Question of Power isn’t organized by chapters. It’s divided into two parts. Part 1 is called “Sello.” Part 2 is called “Dan.” The parts do have breaks. However, these breaks aren’t marked by chapters, but by a chunk of blank space between the applicable paragraphs.
Although there aren’t chapters to summarize, I can summarize the parts for you.
Part 1: Sello
In the first part, the reader is introduced to Elizabeth. She’s the main character. She’s just moved to a new village in Botswana. Her psyche is quite fragile, and she appears to be tormented by a monkish man in a white robe. This man seems to be Sello. It can be kind of confusing. Elizabeth’s mind is quite chaotic and rather unhinged.
At night, this monk, as well as a host of other phantoms and spirits, bring Elizabeth constant distress and affliction. Some of the ghostly figures might seem familiar to you. One of them is Medusa. Medusa seems to have more power than the man that’s most likely Sello. She taunts Elizabeth with her sexuality and with threats of death.
Elizabeth has a son and a job at a school. She quits her job after they ask her to obtain a certificate stating that she’s sane enough to teach.
Jobless, Elizabeth starts to work on a vegetable farm run by Danish people. Elizabeth is fond of some of the people and critical of others. She calls one white woman, Camilla, a “racialist.”
Part 2: Dan
In part 2, Dan seems to replace Sello as her main tormentor. Dan possesses an extensive harem and has sex with the girls in front of Elizabeth. Sexuality seems to be Dan’s main way of tormenting Elizabeth. He boasts about his stamina and how it led to the death of one girl.
There’s also an American named Tom. Tom is a member of the peace corps. He’s critical of the United States. He criticizes the Vietnam War and praises the Black Power movement. Elizabeth is critical of the Black Power movement. She says,
I’ve got my concentration elsewhere. It’s on mankind in general, and black people fit in there, not as special freaks and oddities outside the scheme of things, with labels like Black Power or any other rubbish of that kind.
Despite their disagreements, Tom sticks by Elizabeth. When Elizabeth winds up in a mental hospital, Tom tries to visit her. After she gets out, Tom and Elizabeth reconnect. Elizabeth tells Tom she loves him.
Near the end, Sello returns and tries to explain why he put Elizabeth through such a hellish nightmare. Elizabeth likens her tribulations to the trauma depicted in the Nazi concentration camps.
Overall, things seem to be less frightening for Elizabeth. She starts to write poetry. Her son writes poetry as well and shares one of his poems with her.