Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The two novels by Bessie Head that preceded A Question of Power, When Rain Clouds Gather (1969) and Maru (1971), are also set in Botswana, where Head herself was a primary-school teacher. All three deal with color barriers, and all three illustrate an inner struggle even more intense than the characters’ outward struggle against discrimination. Margaret in Maru is an outcast in her own country because she is of the Bushman tribe. Makhaya in When Rain Clouds Gather and Elizabeth in A Question of Power are both exiles from South Africa. These last two novels are both excursions into the nature of man’s spiritual resources. The reader of A Question of Power, however, must endure a much more tortuous journey to reach, with Elizabeth, insight into the nature of the soul and how the natural equality of the soul should break down the unnatural racial barriers set up by man. Elizabeth does not advocate a display of power as the way to shape the future of Africa. Instead, she encourages her people to be ordinary, not great, for in power-worship lies the roots of destruction.

Head’s works also include a compilation of oral African folktales, The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales (1977), and A Bewitched Crossroad: An African Saga (1984).