The Last Breath by Sam Kahiga
In The Last Breath by Sam Kahiga we have the theme of conflict, control, selflessness, sacrifice, love, gratitude and change. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Kahiga might be exploring the theme of conflict and love. The narrator is very much in love with Eva however his father does not agree with the romance due to the fact that Eva is blind. If anything it is the father who is blind as he cannot see it in himself to look beyond Eva’s disability. He is stuck in his ways and adamant that the narrator will not marry Eva. It may also be important that in the first three sentences of the story Kahiga makes reference to eyes and sight. It is possible that Kahiga is using irony, particularly when it comes to the narrator’s father. There is also a sense that the narrator’s life is being controlled by his father. Not only when it comes to his relationship with Eva but his job choice was a decision made for him by his father. It is as though the narrator is not allowed to follow the path he wishes to follow due to the input of his father. The father is the one who is gauging for the narrator what is suitable and what will make the narrator happy. In reality the narrator’s father is controlling him and the narrator is acutely aware of this. Rather than being happy with the choices his father has made for him the narrator is sad and bitter about the circumstances he finds himself in.
The narrator’s mother also plays a significant role in the story and is more understanding of how the narrator feels about Eva. However it is interesting that she like her husband does not think that it is a good idea for the narrator to marry Eva. The mother’s role is more of a peacemaker between father and son. It may also be significant that Kahiga tells the reader that the sunshine has left the narrator’s mother. It is possible that she is symbolically as much in the dark as her husband is when it comes to the narrator wanting to marry Eva. There is also no doubting that the friction between father and son has taken an effect on the narrator now that he knows his father is dying of cancer. He does not wish his father to be dead rather he silently loves him and begins to possibly accept his father for who he is. The battles that they have fought over Eva do not appear to take on the same significance. The engagement ring also plays a significant role in the story. Though it has the outward appearance of being something cheap it’s deeper meaning and importance cannot be underestimated. It is a symbol again no matter how cheap it may look of the narrator’s love for Eva.
The fact that the narrator’s father also donates his cornea to Eva shows a redemptive quality within the father. His stance on Eva has changed dramatically as too has his view of the narrator’s relationship with Eva. With his pending death he appears to have an epiphany or moment of realisation and for the first time is sacrificing something of himself in order to help the narrator and Eva. If anything Kahiga could be suggesting that the narrator’s father with his last breath before he died decided upon donating his cornea to Eva. Where previously the narrator’s father had scorned upon the idea of the narrator marrying Eva his act of generosity in giving Eva sight suggests that the narrator’s father for the first time in the story understands his son and acknowledges that he is in love with Eva. The narrator’s father is making sacrifices which will benefit not only the narrator but Eva too. In what can only be described as an act of altruism. If anything the narrator’s father is setting aside his own feelings and acting selflessly. Where many would focus on themselves at the time of their death the narrator’s father doesn’t. He thinks of his son and Eva.
The end of the story is also interesting as Kahiga appears to be exploring the theme of gratitude. The narrator while he is standing by his father’s grave thanks his father for his kindness. Even though he suspects that his father can’t hear him (mute grave). He is still none the less grateful for his father’s actions despite the fact that his father was ill and dying when he decided to donate his cornea to Eva. Again the narrator’s father was acting selflessly and for the benefit of another human being. The reader is also left to assume that Eva and the narrator have gotten married as Eva is waiting for the narrator at the end of the story in the narrator’s home. Not only is there a sense of gratitude from the narrator but he appears to be happy too. His father’s donation has given the woman he loves sight. Where at the start of the story there was conflict at the end there is resolution and happiness. The narrator being able for the first time to live his life as he wants to live it and not how others might want him to live which had previously been the case in the story when the narrator’s father attempted successfully to control the narrator’s life.