Benched by Santilla Chingaipe
In Benched by Santilla Chingaipe we have the theme of connection, identity, authority, power, independence and pride. Narrated in the first person by Chingaipe herself the reader realizes after reading the story that Chingaipe may be exploring the theme of connection. Chingaipe’s parents want her to participate in team sports as they feel it will help Chingaipe fit in or connect with other students. This may be significant as Chingaipe’s family is the only black African family in the neighbourhood and Chingaipe and her siblings may be the only black African children in the school. However Chingaipe is adverse or does not like team sports. She feels most comfortable in track and field events when she feels like she is in control or in authority. Hence her becoming a prefect, because it means she doesn’t have to participate in team sports. If anything the theme of identity is evident and Chingaipe is being taken out of her comfort zone by playing AFL. It is though she needs to learn the importance of team work and how it can be beneficial to a person’s identity.
However another way to look at it is through an independent lens. Chingaipe might like to be independent of others, hence her getting the role of a prefect. A role that Chingaipe does take graces with. Scolding kids her own age who do the smallest of things wrong. It is as though Chingaipe forgets why she originally took the role of prefect or head of her class. Originally she did so in order to avoid team sports but may be allowing for the little bit of power she has to go to her head. Though this does not necessarily have an adverse effect on Chingaipe’s relationship with others.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The AFL games on TV serve to highlight that Chingaipe’s father is there for her, to support her. However Chingaipe feels that he father is looking at the games on TV in order to have something to say to his work colleagues. Mrs Treasurer, though only briefly mentioned, plays a significant role in the story. She is the barrier that forces Chingaipe to change the direction she is taking and is the inspiration behind Chingaipe’s decision to become a prefect and eventual head. If anything it suggests that Chingaipe knows that the only way to change something is to take on an authoritarian role. The theme of pride is also symbolically shown through Chingaipe’s mother. Who is proud that Chingaipe is a prefect and head. Just as she was.
The end of the story is interesting as Chingaipe receives a reality check when she is called upon by the coach to play her first game. Rather than having the ending that Chingaipe wants, it dawns on the coach the Chingaipe is not suited to AFL. She is not after all a team player and is benched for the remainder of the season, never to play AFL again. This doesn’t necessarily disturb Chingaipe who may be happy that she has been benched. She after all has never gotten to grips with the idea of a team sport. Preferring in childhood and adulthood to remain independent of others and to discover things for herself rather than by participating with others in team sports.