Bessie Head Long Fiction Analysis
Bessie Head’s writing occupies a transitional place in African literature between the domestic, village-centered writing of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the more overtly political and urban writing—much of it written by exiles in Europe and in North AmericA&Mdash;that came later. Unlike many of her contemporaries who fled South Africa and apartheid, including Es’kia Mphahlele and Lewis Nkosi, Head traveled only as far as Botswana. Her writing focused on life there instead of on the life of problems she had left behind in South Africa.
In addition to village life, Head’s great subject was her own life, and the struggle to find a home. She was always “out of place,” being a woman in a patriarchal world, a person of mixed race in a racially stratified culture, and a resident of a country that refused to grant her citizenship for fifteen years; she was an exile from a country that would not allow her to return. Her novels and short stories are filled with characters trying to make new homes, trying to fit in, trying to establish community. Frequently, as in When Rain Clouds Gather, Maru, and shorter works, racism is denounced and harmony is achieved. In addition, she was concerned about the role of capitalism in traditional African agriculture, and a utopian view of communal farming recurs in her work.
Head’s fiction, especially When Rain Clouds Gather and some of the short stories, is widely read in high school and college classrooms. The qualities that make her work popular with young readers and their teachers—her simple settings and dramatic plots, her optimism, her vivid and sympathetic depictions of African life—have led some critics to call her work immature and naïve. However, her insights into the status of women in African society have made her an important and inspiring early figure in African women’s literature.
When Rain Clouds Gather
When Rain Clouds Gather, Head’s first and best-known novel, is based in part on the author’s own life. It is the story of Makhaya Maseko, a black antiapartheid activist who leaves urban Johannesburg for the small rural village of Golema Mmidi in Botswana...
(The entire section is 903 words.)