The Woman from America by Bessie Head
In The Woman from America by Bessie Head we have the theme of fear, authority, control, male dominance, corruption, poverty and freedom. Taken from her Tales of Tenderness and Power collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of fear. Those who live in the village, with the exception of the American woman, live their lives in fear. Fear of new things like modernity. Something to which the American woman finds hard to understand. She has an alternatively different life in Botswana to the life she lived in America. It is as though the poverty that exists in the village dictates the course of the American woman’s life. She runs out of food quite often and needs help with the minding of her children. Though the American woman might live in poverty she is actually very generous to the narrator’s children. Giving one of her children a puppy. This sign of friendship may be important as there is a sense that the narrator is full of admiration for the American woman. It is as though she may envy the stance the American woman takes when it comes to those in authority.
The narrator herself is afraid to question authority. Which may lead some readers to suggest that the narrator is easily controlled by the environment around her (male dominated). She does not express the same enthusiasm as the American woman when it comes to the idea of being free. Though the American woman is rooted at home. She still nonetheless never loses her independent voice and is able to stand up for herself. It may also be significant that the narrator forms a friendship with the American woman. It is possible that the American woman is lending her voice to the narrator. Showing her the way forward. Though she may not necessarily know every tweak and turn in the village. If anything the American woman’s freedom may be envied by the narrator. Who at no stage in the story appears to leave her hut? She is confined to the house. Something which would further suggest a male dominance in the village.
There is also a sense of naivety when it comes to the narrator’s opinion of those from the State Department. She does not understand why the state officials do not wish to discuss the inadequacies when it comes to government. It does not appear to be a case that the narrator can see how such involvement would lead to the the state officials being ostracized by those in power. No longer would the state officials have free reign to talk to those in the village. Though naïve the narrator does know that a lot of her and the other villager’s problems are due to government corruption. She knows that the real problem lies with those who exert power over the villagers. Not just the fact that their society is male dominated but because those on the outside are dictating what happens in the village.
There is also a sense that the American woman gives hope to the narrator. Hope for the future. Though this appears to be short lived due to the state officials’ inability to really help those in the village. Something that the reader will discover when reading the last two paragraphs of the story. The narrator may feel like nothing will change but we are left in little doubt that the narrator might still look favourably on what she can learn from the American woman. The notes in the narrator’s hut being an example. The narrator keeps every note as though there is something to be learnt from them. She awaits and is enthralled by every word that the American woman might write down. It is this thirst for knowledge which leaves the reader hopeful for the narrator’s future. She has an ability to learn from the American woman. Learning possibly that she too can feel free. Free from the government and from male dominance. There is a bright future for the narrator if others too might not be afraid of the American woman.