Property by Bessie Head

In Property by Bessie Head we have the theme of control, power, anxiety, greed, independence and change. Taken from her Tales of Tenderness and Power 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 control. The husband does not really know how to control his wife. He can’t because he loves her and is relinquishing control to her. He sees his wife as being different to others and this intrigues the husband. Which will only lead to his downfall. What is also interesting is the fact that the husband changes through his inability to control his wife. She is the one throughout most of the story that has the power in the marriage. Even though she is supposed to be the husband’s slave.

If anything the husband is anxious when it comes to his wife though he is not as anxious as her family who long for more cattle. Something which highlights the greed of the wife’s family. Even though she has been beaten by her husband they consider this a good thing as it will mean that they will get more cattle as reparation for the husband’s actions. Mbuya’s arrival is important because he is more independent than his father. He is not afraid to carve out a life of his own but this only occurs when Mbuya seeks an education. This might be significant as it is possible that Head is suggesting that an education will provide a person with a degree of independence from others. Mbuya in reality is walking in his own footprints. He is not afraid of anything.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The husband’s wealth, through cattle, allows for him to attempt to control others. Likewise the wife’s good looks allow her to control her husband. Even if he is unaware of what is happening to him. At no stage in the story does the reader feel as though Mbuya is controlling anyone but himself and the direction he wants to take in his life. Possibly because he is so young and that he is not married or does not feel responsibility to others.

The end of the story is interesting as Head appears to be exploring the theme of independence. Mbuya’s paternal grandmother allows for Mbuya to think for himself. She does not try and stop her grandson from seeking an education but history will repeat itself. The mother who feels as though she is the one who is in control or has power recognises Mbuya’s smile as that of her dead husband. She knows that she will not be able to understand Mbuya’s decision to abandon the farm and educate himself. All control or power that the mother has is lost and she without knowing it has become the property of Mbuya. Even if he has no interest in her. It is he who will control and have a hand in her destiny.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Property by Bessie Head." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 5 Mar. 2022. Web.

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