Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Head’s brutal, despairing tragedy of contemporary village life in post-independent Africa grounds itself clearly in the historical and cultural background of the story. Aware of a non-African audience, she offers at once a scathing condemnation of masculine dominance and an affirming challenge to local leadership. The three phases of Dikeledi’s life parallel Head’s analysis of the evolution of Bamangwato society. In tracing the three periods of moral decay, she notes that although traditional laws may have provided discipline for society as a whole, they failed to acknowledge the individual’s needs; further, traditional society doubly compounded the error for women, regarding them as inferior to the male. In the second period, colonialism, migratory labor patterns to South African mines further eroded traditional family life. Men were forced to be absent from their families for long periods of time in order to earn enough to pay the British poll tax. With men demeaned by their racially inferior status under colonialism, the third period, independence, presented the challenge for a new order of family life, but both men and women, suffering from legacies of simplistic traditional custom and of colonial degradation, had little more than their own inner stamina to draw on in shaping that necessarily new order.

In Serowe: Village of the Rain-Wind (1981), Head describes two additional factors in the story’s central theme: “the complete...

(The entire section is 476 words.)