Death of a Son by Njabulo Ndebele
In Death of a Son by Njabulo Ndebele we have the theme of grief, resilience, loss, doubt, acceptance, responsibility and renewal. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman (mother) the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Ndebele may be exploring the theme of grief. The narrator and her husband Buntu have yet to grieve the loss and killing of their son. They have been busy trying to recover their son’s body and as such grief is coming late to them. It is also noticeable that both the narrator and Buntu are resilient when it comes to retrieving their son’s body. They will not give up even though what is happening to them may be a result of corruption within the police. A possible failure on the police’s behalf to take responsibility for killing the narrator’s son. There is also a sense that due to the circumstances that the narrator finds herself in she is reliant on others, the police, lawyers, newspaper to help her get her son back. Which again may suggest that there is a degree of corruption within the police. They are after all responsible for killing the narrator’s son. Firing randomly from the Casspirs. It may also be case that the narrator has doubts when it comes to Buntu. Some of which may have grown from the time she was assaulted on the streets and Buntu did not react apart from saying ‘the dog.’ After her son is killed the narrator distances herself somewhat from Buntu.
Whether this is because she may be in shock over the death of her son is difficult to say. It is possible that the narrator is displeased at the circumstances she finds herself in and Buntu though he is being proactive in trying to get their son’s body back is not a man of action. And it may be action that the narrator is seeking. It is as though Buntu has a responsibility to the narrator to get their son’s body back but instead of personally taking action he is looking towards others to help him. Which may be the point that Ndebele is trying to make. At the time the story was written it would appear that the levels of corruption where so high in the police that in order to get a loved one’s body back. The police had to be paid. This may seem bizarre to some readers however that may have been the state of affairs in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Where black people had no rights or where not supported by those in authority (white people).
It is also possible that Ndebele is exploring the theme of acceptance. Throughout the story there is a sense that the narrator accepts what has happened to her. Though again whether this is just shock is difficult to say. There is no anger in the narrators tone as she is telling her story which suggests that she accepts not only the death of her son but also how her son was killed. Forces that she has no control over and who appear to be unanswerable to anybody are the real cause of the narrator’s pain yet she accepts that this is what life in South Africa is (at the time the story was written). The sense of avenging herself when she was attacked three years previously is non-existent though what has happened the narrator is far worse than being pushed to the ground. Throughout the story the narrator remains calm and logical. Even though what has happened to her (and Buntu) is horrific. It might also be a case that the acceptance that the narrator has is part of her grief. She may be fully aware due to the circumstances she finds herself in that the best she can hope for is the return of her son’s body. She will not defeat the police as her voice will remain unheard. Which in many ways is ironic considering that the narrator is a journalist.
The end of the story is also interesting as Ndebele appears to be exploring the theme of renewal. As the narrator is lying on bed there is a sense that she is being to not only accept what has happened to her but that she is also looking towards the future. She knows that she has lost her first and only child however she also knows that she can have another child. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator is quickly forgetting her son it is unlikely that this is the case. Instead the narrator though still grieving the loss of her son knows that what was lost can also be gained. If anything there is a trace of optimism appearing in the narrator’s life. For the first time in the story the narrator is looking at things through a positive lens. There is nothing stopping her being a mother again. She will still carry the loss of her son but she can still have a family. Life may never be the same for the narrator but all has not been lost. The scars of what has happened may be real but they do not always have to show.