When Rain Clouds Gather

by Bessie Head, Bessie Amelia Emery

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How does Bessie Head depict women's oppression in When Rain Clouds Gather?

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In the novel When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head, the protagonist is a man named Makhaya. Despite the protagonist being a man, the novel makes the reader very aware of the oppression that women face in rural Botswana, where the story is set. One character that helps us understand the struggle facing women is Paulina Sebeso, the eventual love interest of Makhaya.

Paulina faces many challenges. She lives in poverty because her husband committed suicide when he was accused of embezzling. Her son herds cattle far from the family, and Paulina and her daughter struggle to make ends meet. Paulina decides that to improve her situation she has to marry, and decides she will marry Makhaya. Paulina shows the oppression of women because she is cast into poverty after the death of her husband, and decides that she must find a new husband.

However, Paulina goes on to show how women can better their situations despite oppression. She becomes very active in the building a tobacco plantation, which will help stop the desertification of the land and will provide an income for the village. When Paulina's son tragically dies, and she offends the cruel village chief by not reporting the death quickly enough. Paulina and a large group of women go to the chief's house, and he kills himself rather than face them.

Although Paulina lives in a world where it is expected that she will be dependent on men like her son and husband, and be bossed around by other men like the chief, she breaks free of this oppression and manages to find happiness with Makhaya and meaning in the work she does on the community farming collective. Paulina shows that with information, learning, and a science-backed but communal approach, even the largest obstacles can be overcome.

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