The Toilet by Gcina Mhlophe

The Toilet - Gcina MhlopheIn 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.


  • 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? 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.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Firstly look at narrator’s situation (of helplessness) and explore how she overcomes personal adversity to be a more confident person.

  • What is the main role of the main character?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I think the main role for the main character is to find herself and work out who she is.

  • How relevant is the title

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would need to read the story again and at the moment I have a backlog of other stories I need to read.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The setting is Mholo’s sister’s lodgings and a public toilet. As for the beginning of the conflict. It’s been a while since I read the story so I’m not sure. I would need to read the story again.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      You might suggest that the narrator’s experiences are so unique that others may not have experienced them and as such they might take on a feeling of transcendence. Also the experience the narrator encounters is very personal and private to her. Just as one’s moment with God might be personal or private to a person.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Taking the definition of transcendent to be extraordinary or beyond human experience. You should easily be able to highlight the narrator’s experiences as being transcendence. She has very little human contact with others and is buried in her writing, exploring a world of her own. The escapism she seeks mirrors what could be described as an extraordinary experience.

  • Can you please help…

    What is the plot and sub-plot of the story

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