Life by Bessie Head

In Life by Bessie Head we have the theme of optimism, freedom, passion, control, murder, patriarchy, pride and independence. Taken from her The Collector of Treasures collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of optimism. The women in the village consider Life to be a good luck charm in such a manner that things will get better for them. She is different to the other women in the village and has large amounts of money that they themselves do not have. If anything Life through having money is able to get things done. Her yard and hut being an example. What is also interesting is the patriarchal nature of the village. Men rule the roost and are not shy in letting the women know this. Lesego is a prime example. He controls Life and tells her that there are three things he will not abide by. These three things frighten Life and she realises that marriage is not something she wants to commit to. Prior to marrying Lesego, Life had freedom. Though some critics might not necessarily agree with how Life achieved freedom and independence.

Morally many might see Life as being corrupt. Whether she is or isn’t is not really relevant. She didn’t deserve to die. If anything married life was not suitable for Life. She felt alienated and isolated from others. Something that would have been hard for someone with a gregarious personality. Whereas Lesego appears to want to be in control of not only Life’s life but every aspect of village life. People respect Lesego for his wisdom. Yet he has shown no wisdom when it comes to the matter of killing Life. Though it is noticeable that the judge considers what Lesego has done to be a crime of passion. Which in many ways allows Lesego to serve a shorter prison sentence. At no stage in the story does the judge or anybody else consider that Lesego’s actions were calculated. His ability to control Life had been lost and as such she had to be killed.

Lesego’s pride may very well have been wounded by Life’s actions. However he had the chance to walk away and choose not to. He was determined that he would not be beaten by Life and the only way he felt he could achieve this was by killing Life. If anything there is logic in Lesego’s thinking. As mentioned he killed Life in a calculated manner. If he could no longer trust her. Rather than leave her. He would end her life. It may also be significant that Lesego acted so casual in his actions. If it really was a crime of passion one would expect Lesego to have at least lost his temper. This never happens. Lesego is calm all the time. So calm in fact that the police are annoyed. What has happened is like water of a ducks back for Lesego. He does not deny what he has done. He does not ask for the courts to show him mercy. He straightforwardly explains himself to the judge who sympathizes with Lesego.

The sentence of five years that Lesego received is also very lenient. He has after all murdered his wife. Though the sentence might be a metaphor for the male-dominated society that exists in the village. The judge after all is a man and he has judged Life rather than correctly judging Lesego. Life did not deserve to die and she only died because Lesego lost control over her. Throughout the story everybody has judged Life for her promiscuity or rather they have judged a woman because of her role in society. When the spotlight should be placed on the patriarchal system that is in operation in the village. Women have their place and that place is beneath men. There is no sense of equality between the sexes and Life lost her life because she wished to to be free to live her life as she deemed fit. She was trapped in a relationship she didn’t want to be in and as such did what she knew best. Living her life freely. If it were not for Lesego’s rules Life would still be alive. She would be living her life as she saw fit without being concerned about the burden that has been a marriage to Lesego.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Life by Bessie Head." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 31 Dec. 2019. Web.


  • Life and Lesego seem to be mad for each other.To what extent is this true considering that they both act in stereotyped and mindless ways towards each other?

  • what does the simile “like a quiet second skin” suggest ?

  • The title ‘Life’ alerts the reader to which key issues in the story? To what extent is the title ironic? Explain why.

  • Explain how the personality and choices of Life and Lesego impact on the outcome (the plot) of the story.

  • Hi may you please help me in this question How do Life and lesego let themselves and each other down by acting in thoughtless and stereotyped ways. Tackle one character at a time.

  • Please help me in this question Identify other characters displaying better behaviour and indicate what that is

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