Post-apartheid Literature

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What are the literal and figurative implications of death in Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying?

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Some people are more exposed to death than others, not less the people of South Africa. Zakes Mda in Ways of Dying, reveals that , for some, the death of loved ones is commonplace. In South Africa, the concept of a professional mourner, such as Toloki, would be though of as an opportunity for entrepreneurship. Many would wish they had thought of it first.

Mda does not conform to a recognized writing style but his message is clear. "Death is our own creation" obviously a contradiction and an example of antithesis and as this appears at the beginning of the novel, it sets the reader up for what is to follow - confusion, disbelief, horror and somehow relief - ready sentiments in South Africa.

Toloki, as a professional mourner, is also mourning the loss of his own future- not that he ever had one but it is significant that the death of others has provided him with a career - tragically ironic.  

Seeing marriage and death within the same context only adds to the reality of "life after death" in a figurative sense as life goes on for the rest of us. For those who have died, they are relieved of the pain of their existence as "real life" contains many brutal and unthinkable experiences - "our ways of dying are our ways of living; or should I say our ways of living are our ways of dying ?"

There is figurative significance in the occurrence of the Christmas Day funeral when Toloki and Noria meet. Toloki comments that Noria, who has lost her son, "does not carry her grief like a cross." Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ who, ultimately was to die on the cross! There are more biblical references as Toloki is the "lamb ready to take on the sins and woes of the world" and Noria and Toloki are the "creators" although nobody knows what of.

The book has been criticized as the characters are seen as somewhat unrealistic. However, a propensity for an acceptance of violence as part of everyday life and the fact that for many South Africans, there is at least one person they know who has died violently, allows Toloki and Noria to have hope and build a life out of their despair.

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