The Toilet by Gcina Mhlophe

In The Toilet by Gcina Mhlophe we have the theme of identity, conflict, freedom, escape, change and independence. Narrated in the first person by a young girl called Mholo the reader realises after reading the story that Mhlophe may be exploring the theme of identity. The narrator is at a crossroad in her life and really doesn’t know how she should progress. Though her mother thinks that perhaps the narrator could become a teacher or nurse the narrator herself has other aspirations. She thinks that perhaps she might become an actress however she does a have a love for writing. Something which helps to not only give the narrator pleasure but also a sense of identity. It is while writing in the toilet that the narrator feels free. No longer is she restrained by the obstacles around her. She does not have to think about her living arrangements with her sister nor does she have to worry about her temporary job. The narrator’s living arrangements might be important as they are the driving factor behind the narrator’s desire to escape into writing. She is literally silenced while she is living with her sister due to her sister’s fear that the house owner will discover that the narrator is living there.

It is also possible that Mhlophe is using the silence that the narrator lives under to symbolically highlight the conditions of the time (apartheid). With black South Africans not being allowed to have their own voice. In reality there was no equality at the time. It is also possible that Mhlophe is suggesting that the narrator’s sister’s room could symbolise South Africa as a whole. It is after all controlled by the white house owner who does not afford the narrator the opportunity to wait for her sister when she is confronted by the dogs. It is as though the narrator is an unwelcome guest and as such she is not allowed to wait for her sister. What is also interesting about the story is the lack of support that the narrator receives from her sister. If anything the narrator’s sister is a realist and considers the narrator’s activities to be a waste of time. The narrator has been educated. Yet she does not know what she wants to do with her life. Which is understandable for someone as young as the narrator. She is also in a city in whereby she knows very few people and as such has very few opportunities.

In many ways there is a conflict between the narrator and her sister. Though the narrator’s sister may be considered to be doing her best for the narrator. By providing the narrator with lodgings and reading material. She still nonetheless is critical of the narrator. Which some critics might find acceptable considering that the narrator’s sister could lose her accommodation due to her actions. However the narrator appears to be sensitive to her sister’s remarks and criticisms. Which may be one of the reasons why the narrator decides to write. Rather than internalise how she is feeling the narrator is writing and expressing herself through her writing. It may also be a case that the narrator is independent of others. Perhaps not her sister who she is reliant on but her co-worker in the factory who suggests she get one of the boys who work in the factory to buy her lunch. Rather than do this the narrator prefers to keep to herself and continues with her routine of dining alone. If anything the narrator is showing her ability to think for herself. To not be dependent on other people. Though again the case is very much different when it comes to the narrator’s sister criticizing her.

The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that the narrator is finally free. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the narrator is forced to write in public when she discovers that the toilet is occupied. It is as though the narrator’s identity has been settled and she is not concerned about others seeing her writing. For the narrator the most important thing to do is to write. The location where she writes is no longer important to the narrator. Where once she craved the privacy of the toilet. This is no longer the case. If anything Mhlophe might be suggesting that the narrator has not only found her identity but she has also matured as a person. However it is noticeable that the narrator’s living arrangements with her sister remain the same. That there has been no change there. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Mhlophe is highlighting the continuance of of the status quo politically. However on a personal level everything has changed for the narrator. She may live under a regime that is unfair but she still nonetheless has the abilities to escape from her environment through her writing.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Toilet by Gcina Mhlophe." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 15 Jun. 2018. Web.

95 comments

  • can you help me with these questions about this short story(the toilet) please,i am supposed to write it as a one page essay

    1.what is significant about the one place where the young narrator could read,think,daydream and write her stories?

    2.what does the place reveal about society and what does it reveal about the narrator?

    3.why do you think the narrator does not mention she was not allowed to use the toilet?

    4.at the end of the story what does the narrator lose and what does she achieve?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I won’t be able to write a one page essay for you but I can give you some points you can work on.

      1. The toilet is significant as it allows the narrator to be free. It is the only place. Though it is ironically a confined space. In which she feels free to write and daydream.

      2. I’m not sure about this question. With regard to society it may suggest that society is not allowing for others (like the narrator) to be free or to think for themselves and act as they feel they should. As for the narrator it highlights that she is uncaring as to where she may do her work. It does not bother her that it is a public toilet. She is relaxed about it. Her freedom is not stifled by the toilet’s location.

      3. Perhaps the narrator does not see the limits that others have imposed on her.

      4. She loses use of the toilet though that may not harm the narrator as she achieves independence from others. You might like to recheck this answer for yourself.

    • Can you tell me the cliamx and the resolution of it please

  • May you can help me. So what’s the summary of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      A young girl struggles to find her place in the world. She eventually finds solace in a toilet and finds not only herself but a connection with the world.

  • Can you please help me if they said i should write an essay decribing the main character and how does the main character contribute to the theme of the story? Im supposed to write 1 and half page

  • What is the main role of the main character?

  • How relevant is the title

  • can somebody help summarize the whole story in one page?

  • what is the setting of the story and when does conflict start?

  • What would be the conclusion of the story?

  • a little help please, why do you think the narrator does not mention she was not allowed to use the toilet?

  • What is the message of the story

  • “The floor was painted red and the walls were cream white” explain the relevance of the toilet’s renovation in the context of the story

  • What can i say if a question asks the theme of transcendence in essay form?

  • Can you please help…

    What is the plot and sub-plot of the story

  • why does the story have such an unusual title?

  • Why does the story have such an unusual title

  • Why do you think the narrator does not mention that she was not allowed to use the toilet

  • So what you mean is that the toilet that the narrator was using was for the whites only and please quote from the story

  • How is the narrator being oppressed by her sister’s madam?

  • Describe how the narrater Mholo is oppressed by her mother her sister her sisters madam Gwendolene

  • what is the main characters most powerful responses to the crisis she is facing

  • explain how this response empowers her

  • explain how her self empowerment skills may empower people today in crisis like gender base violence and corona virus

  • Identify what you think is the narrator and main character’s most powerful response to her crises .

  • thank you

  • Identify the narrator, what do they mean pick out features of the narrator?

  • May you please help
    1. Identify what do you think us the narrator and main character’s most powerful response to her crisis

  • Please help me explain how reading and writing empowers the main character.

  • What does the toilet play on the protagonist?

  • IS THIS SHORT STORY INCLUDED IN “RECOGNITION :anthology of SA SHORT STORIES”

  • Can you please help me with these questions about this short story (the toilet)
    1.What role does the toilet play on the protagonut.?
    2.in what way are both sisters affected by the political situation that was in place during this era.?
    3. Comment on the elder sisters attitude towards the narrator.?
    4.how does the elder sister positively contributed to the narrators future carrer?

  • Can you please help. I need points from the story that proves that the narrator was struggling to find her own identity

  • How does the narrator spend her time in the toilet and what does this reveal about her??

  • Who is the narrator of the story? And how does this affect the point of view of the story?

  • Help please….How does the narrator role affect the point of view of the story?

  • Sorry….but help
    write down the following words and,next to each word ,write the part of the story that applies to it.
    1. exposition
    2. rising action
    3. conflict
    4. climax
    5. dénouement/resolution

  • Life saver…thanks

  • From the extract of the story as a whole describe the madam’s lifestyle

  • plz help me here .Imagine you are Mholo when you find the toilet locked .Write your thoughts

  • So I’m confused what the tone and mood of the story would be.

  • Please help,what is the logical and chronological order in the short story?

  • Where is the story set

  • 1) what led the narrator to seek comfort in the toilet?

    2) who is the “I” in the passage

    3) Describe the condition of the toilet?

    4) The word ” Non-European represented particular race groups in the history of South Africa . Mention any race it represented

    5) Why was the narrator not allowed to stay with her sister

  • What are the skills that the narrator display and how they impact her life?

  • Francine Miller

    I need help with these questions.

    1) What happens in the text when the two cultures clash, when one sees itself superior to another?
    2) Describe the two or more cultures exhibited in the text. What does each value? What does each reject?
    3) Who in the text is considered the “Other”?
    4) Demonstrate how the superior culture’s dominance affects the colonized culture.
    5) How do the colonized people view themselves? Is there any change in this view by the end of the text?
    6) Cite the various ways that the oppressed culture is silenced.

  • Gcina Mhlophe ‘”the toilet” briefly identify the various skills that the narrator displays and indicate how they impact on her life

  • andiswa nkwanyana

    what are the various skills that narrator displays and indicate how they impact on her life

  • Nothando Myeni

    briefly describe the various skills the narrator displays and indicate how they impact her life
    2.

  • Which are the skills of the narrator

  • Skills of the narrator

  • goodnight ,please help with these questions

    briefly identify various skills that the narrator displays and indicate how they impact her life
    identify the narrator’s most significant skill
    how does the narrator develops her most significant skill?? analyse its impact on her life

  • how the narrator develops her most significant skills

  • Afternoon please help me with this question
    Based on the story as a whole, identify the narrators most significant skills and provide a brief evidence for your answer

  • Andiswa Mbanda

    Kindly briefly identify various skills that the narrator displays, and indicate how they impact on her life

  • 1. identify various skills that the narrator displays, and indicate how they impact on her life.

    2. Based on the story as a whole, identify the narrator’s most significant skill

    3. Analyse how the narrator develops her most significant skill

  • which skills did the narrator display and how did they impact on her life?

  • What is the exposition for the story?

  • Hi please help me.
    1. the narrator was breaking the law by living wit her sister. True or false, provide a reason
    2. Describe the madman’s lifestyle
    3. How the narrator’s attitude differs from her sister’s?
    4. Why the toilet was ultimately locked?
    5. Why narrator chooses to spend time in toilet?

  • Can someone help me with this “imagine you are the narrator write a letter to you more telling her about painful experiences of staying in Johannesburg” help me guys please

  • The narrator’s attitude towards life ?

  • I need help by summarizing the story.

  • What other genres that influence the short story ?

  • What is the conflict of the story

  • Hey can you help me I’m supposed to write an essay exploring how her Courage and determination should serve as an inspiration idk if you can help?

  • hey can you help me , I’m supposed to write an essay on what happened after the toilet has been locked. I don’t know where to start or what to write

    and my essay is due on friday

  • Who are the madam and Irene and what is their relationships

  • How is the toilet so significant to the speaker?

  • What is the setting of the story?

  • Can you help me what is the resolution of the story

  • Hi can u plz help with, what is the escape of the story

  • Hi can u please help me whats the point of view

  • What is the setting of the story

  • Can u help me with the importance of the toilet in a comic strip

  • Hi please help me analyse the role of the setting ……..i’m expected to write an essay of about 300 words please help

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