Snowball by Bessie Head
In Snowball by Bessie Head we have the theme of friendship, control, dependency, confusion, acceptance, religion, identity and open-mindness. Taken from her Tales of Tenderness and Power collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed female narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Head may be exploring the theme of friendship. The narrator knows that people will come into her life for a day, a season or a lifetime but she doesn’t know why. Her friendship with Snowball is based on both characters being open-minded. Despite Snowball being religious and dutifully reading the bible each night. He also is open-minded enough to look at other pamphlets or material which may contradict the bible. Something that the narrator finds fascinating and admirable. Snowball has the ability to absorb information even when it might be contradictory to what he believes in. In fact Snowball is the only character in the story who is able to do this. The narrator is very set in her ways and is not able to forgive others easily. Yet the reader believes that Snowball, through his educating of himself, is able to forgive others.
The theme of control is self-evident in the story. The narrator’s landlord and landlady control the narrator’s environment. Though they may be generous at times. For the majority they apply pressure, which is unneeded, on their tenants. Snowball’s cousin also exerts a degree of control over him by taking three quarters of Snowball’s income. His reasoning being that he paid for Snowball’s dingy. There are also appears to be a degree of dependency in the story. The narrator is dependent on keeping her landlady sweet. While if Snowball’s cousin is to be believed. Snowball has become dependent on him. However as readers we are not so sure as to believe the cousin.
There might also be some symbolism in the story which may be important. The narrator’s lodgings, though meagre, may be symbolic of control itself. She is reliant on the landlord and landlady, lacking any type of independence from others. Snowball’s dingy though it should be a symbol of independence, it isn’t. As mentioned Snowball is dependent on his cousin to help him. It is also interesting that the narrator’s husband remains relatively quiet throughout the story. This could suggest that he is accepting of the circumstances that he finds himself in. As too is Snowball when it comes to how he is treated by the landlady. The narrator also accepts the way that Snowball is treated by the landlady. Though she spoke up for Snowball on one occasion. She has learnt to accept the conditions that Snowball finds himself in. If anything Snowball has lived a hard life. He has spent eight years in prison for theft and his life is made nearly impossible by the landlady. Even though Snowball has turned his life around. He remains to be fodder for the landlady.
The end of the story is interesting as the narrator remains confused about her friendship with not only Snowball but with others too. She simply can’t figure out why people are a friend for a day or a season or a lifetime. Though confused it is noticeable that the narrator accepts Snowball’s death. It is not something that confuses the narrator. She is glad that Snowball had been her friend. It may also be significant that the narrator does not become sentimental about Snowball or his death. She is brutally honest throughout the story. Particularly when it comes to her religious beliefs. There too the narrator has acceptance for the position she finds herself in. She never queries her beliefs. When she is able to formulate an opinion on them. She has a sufficient knowledge of religion that leaves her satisfied with what she knows. She does not need to explore religion as Snowball does. The only real confusion for the narrator is why people are in her life. Her husband she understands why he is in her life but when it comes to others. She cannot figure out why they might be in her life. In some way some critics might suggest that the narrator is questioning her identity, who she is and who others may be.