Different Values by Barbara Makhalisa
In Different Values by Barbara Makhalisa we have the theme of patriarchy, control, connection, change, freedom, happiness and paralysis. Narrated in the first person by a woman called Liza it becomes clear to the reader after reading the story that Makhalisa may be exploring the theme of patriarchy. Liza is a maid whose entire life appears to be controlled by her employers. She is no different to other maids that she talks to on the telephone. They too appear to be unhappy in their jobs but know there is very little, if anything, they can do to change things. There is also a sense that Liza has no freedom even when she is not working. She cannot for example go into town because the police may think that she is a prostitute and hence put her in jail. This may be significant as Liza would not know when her employers might come to her aid. Which may suggest that she is easily replaced by her employers. Who may have little or no understanding of how difficult life is for Liza.
She also has the chore of looking after Popi. A dog who is overly energetic and who is allowed the freedom of the house. Creating more work for Liza. The setting of the story, a telephone conversation, may also be significant. Makhalisa may be using the setting to highlight how others are informed of Liza’s plight. It is not in person most likely because Liza has no time for herself. If anything Liza may be breaking her employer’s rules by using the telephone. Something that becomes clearer to the reader at the end of the story. When the mistress of the house gives out to Liza. Liza’s engagement with Tommy might also be important as he appears to be the only man in the story, and he is a servant, that she gets the better of.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The telephone in many ways acts as Liza’s only avenue of escape. She is able to talk about her own life and to briefly imagine the lives of others who find themselves in the same predicament as her. Though we never hear Clara’s voice the reader is near certain that Clara is also a maid who lives in a patriarchal society. There is a sense that Liza and Clara are connected to one another by way of their occupation. Both women suffer at the hands of their male employers. It is as though Liza does not have a voice though ironically for over two thirds of the story she is speaking on the telephone to Clara. The fact that Liza tells her mistress that she has trouble walking could also be symbolically important. It is possible that Makhalisa is suggesting that Liza is different or on a different path to her mistress. A path in whereby she is hindered.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader can understand why Tommy might be unhappy or angry. He has had the wool pulled over his eyes by Liza who in reality is faking the injury to her ankle. The fact that Liza is lying does not take away from her plight. She will continue to remain a maid who has harsh employers. Her voice will only be heard by other women like Clara. Who in reality cannot change Liza’s life. If anything Liza is desperate to stay in her job. Her mother and two children are relying on her for an income. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Liza is paralysed. She is going nowhere. Her life will not change in the foreseeable future. Something which Liza might be fully aware of. She is stuck in the position she finds herself in. Answerable to a domineering mistress and a patriarchal master. Is it any wonder that Liza likes to call her friends on her mistress’ telephone? Talking to women like Clara may be the only escape from reality that Liza has. She is separated from her family and doing a job in which she is not treated well. The telephone may be all that links Liza to the outside world.