The Village Saint by Bessie Head
In The Village Saint by Bessie Head we have the theme of control, image, secrecy, power, selfishness and materialism. Taken from her The Collector of Treasures collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of control. Mma-Mompati is in control of others throughout the story. Rather than been a follower she leads. Something that is noticeable by the fact that she is the one who visits others in the hospital (on her terms) and organises all the funerals in the village. Also when she divorces Rra-Mompati, Mma-Mompati gives a speech which is favourable to herself. She controls the narrative and the reader is never told of how Rra-Mompati might feel about the divorce. If anything there is a sense that Mma-Mompati is only showing part of herself in the story. The part that she would like others to see. It may also be important that at no stage in the story is there a sense that Mma-Mompati is helping others out of selflessness rather she appears to be driven by her own ego. Which may lead some readers to suspect that Mma-Mompati is acting selfishly. If anything there is a sense that Mma-Mompati considers herself to be better than others. Though she acts with great piety (till the end of the story) Mma-Mompati’s motives are not pure. How she appears to others is more important to Mma-Mompati than whether or not she is helping an individual. Image at all times is of the utmost importance to Mma-Mompati.
Head also appears to be exploring the theme of secrecy. The meetings in Rra-Mompati’s home are shrouded in secrecy with those in the village never been told about what has occurred. It is possible that by introducing the element of secrecy into the story Head is suggesting that when it comes to an individual (either Mma-Mompati or Rra-Mompati) not everything is known. How an individual lives their life when they are at home may not necessarily be the same image that is seen when the individual is in public. On a surface level Mma-Mompati and Rra-Mompati appear to have a very loving relationship however in reality this is not the case. Both Mma-Mompati and Rra-Mompati are living their lives on a pedestal with only them knowing the truth about their relationship and how unhappy they might be. If Rra-Mompati had been happily married to Mma-Mompati he would still be married to her. If anything their marriage may have been superficial with both attempting to portray an image of contentment and happiness when the reality may have been very different.
It may also be a case that Mma-Mompati lives her life believing that she is more powerful than others. With the power being derived from the assets of Rra-Mompati and Mompati. At no stage in the story does Head mention any income that Mma-Mompati might have which is hers alone. She lives her life on the money earned by either Rra-Mompati or Mompati. If anything Mma-Mompati makes no contribution to society that is non-beneficial to either herself or the image of herself that she would like others to see. Though on the surface it might appear that Mma-Mompati is a caring and kind individual anything she does is for herself. Mma-Mompati’s main priority is again how she will appear to others. At all stages in the story she wants her actions to be seen in a positive light. Image rather than character is more important to Mma-Mompati. There is also a sense that Head is using irony when it comes to the title of the story. A Saint would generally be considered to be someone who has given their life for others. This is not the case when it comes to Mma-Mompati. She has made no sacrifices at all.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets a deeper insight into what motivates Mma-Mompati. She appears to be driven not only by ego but by materialism too. Where once it had been Rra-Mompati who could provide for her now the reader finds that Mma-Mompati is taking money from Mompati’s wages in order to live a life which will (on the surface) make her stand out from others. She appears to consider it her right to take money from Mompati which may suggest that Mma-Mompati is again putting herself ahead of others. She wants clothes in order to look good though the reality may be she does not necessarily need the clothes. Throughout the story Mma-Mompati’s main focus has been on herself and how she might appear to others. Though some critics might suggest that she has helped those who were ill it is important to remember that Mma-Mompati has helped others in order to boost her own ego. The most important person in Mma-Mompati’s life is herself and the only person that Mma-Mompati has really helped throughout the story is herself. She has acted with piety though lives her life driven by the desire to inflate her own ego.