Village People by Bessie Head

In Village People by Bessie Head we have the theme of poverty, conflict, kindness, struggle, acceptance, desperation and connection. Taken from her Tales of Tenderness and Power collection the story is narrated by several different narrators and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of poverty and acceptance. It is obvious that the village is ravaged with poverty an example of which is the fact that many of the village’s babies die of malnutrition which would suggest that there is very little or no money to feed those who are most in need of nutrition. However it is interesting that there also appears to be an acceptance among those in the village of the circumstances that they find themselves in. It is as though they have accepted life on life’s terms without the possibility of change due to the limitations that are beset on those in the village. It is also interesting that the village is isolated with most communication being done by ox cart or sledge. This may be important as it is possible that Head is suggesting that throughout Africa (at the time the story was written) there were other villages that may have also lived in isolation. Africa may not necessarily have been fully developed or united unlike other counties in the western world. The situation that exists in Africa may have been unique with the continent being under developed.

Head’s description of the old woman may also be important particularly the words that she uses when describing the woman. By describing the woman and her situation as being ‘retched’ Head may be explicitly trying to highlight to the reader the desperation that exists for some in Africa. It may also be symbolically significant that the woman is wearing each of her shoes on the wrong foot as this may suggest at least symbolically that the woman is going in the wrong direction or at least her circumstances are heading in the wrong direction. The difficulties that she is incurring (hunger) may not necessarily need to exist. Though she looks amusing to others there is a far more serious matter at hand. The old woman is desperate for food with her only goal being the will to want to survive by getting food. The young woman’s kindness is also important as it highlights the fact that there is still a level of humanity in Africa. Despite the difficulties that the old woman has incurred the young woman (old woman’s daughter) is able to display gratitude through the act of kindness and bringing the pail of water to the village. In many ways the pail of water connects the old woman, young woman and those in the village.

The theme of acceptance is further explored in the Summer Sun section of the story when the young girl is waiting for the rain to fall. Though she doesn’t understand why her family must wait all day under the sun for the rain she still nonetheless accepts that this is the way of the village. It may also be important that the young girl wishes to learn, to further her education as this might suggest that the girl like the land around her has a fertile mind. Symbolically without her knowing it the girl is connected to the land. Just as the rest of her family are. It is also interesting that the girl describes the possible arrival of a child as being illegitimate as this would suggest that the girl may be aware that there is a tradition which is broken and she is not following it (getting married before having children). Though it is probably deliberate that Head mentions that the girl’s sister has also had an illegitimate child as this would further connect the girl to her sister. Whether she wants to or not the girl is following the path her sister has traveled.

There is also a sense of struggle throughout the story particularly when Head is describing the green tree. By telling that reader that everything is ‘jealously guarded’ Head many be suggesting that very little is given away by nature which in turn may suggest that life is a struggle for those who live in the village. Though they are reliant on the rain in order for their crops to grow nothing is given. There is no rain which in turn leads to the increased poverty that exists in the village. It may also be significant that the Head mentions that those who have traveled from the South due to political oppression do not stay in the village for long as this would further highlight just how difficult things are for those in the village. The land is barren. However there still remains a generosity towards those who are passing through the village which suggests that despite the circumstances the people in the village find themselves in. They are still able to not only show kindness towards others but also have an ability to connect with them. Despite being disadvantaged by nature those who live in the village still remain able to adapt to their circumstances and live their lives to the best of their ability. It is as though Head is suggesting that those in the village will not be beaten by their circumstances.

Head also appears to be exploring the theme of conflict. Particularly the conflict that an individual can feel within themselves. A conflict that may be caused by others (British imperialism). Unlike the other countries in Africa that have fought for independence the narrator (Lorato) in the Tao section of the story openly admits that his country rather than fighting the thorn that was imperialism or colonialism not only accepts imperialism but defends it too. He also appears to be in conflict with wanting to live in a larger more settled village or town where the difficulties of his own village are not found. If anything there is a conflict within Lorato similar to the conflict that existed in Africa while under British or colonial rule. The end of the story is also interesting as Head does not allow Lorato the satisfaction of any type of resolution. When asked by Kate who he will vote for Lorato tells Kate that he will not be voting at all as he is unsure of who to vote for. This may be important as it further suggests that Lorato like the other characters in the story are living in conflict within themselves.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Village People by Bessie Head." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 4 Mar. 2017. Web.

41 comments

  • Thank you I learn more and I also now know the short story.

  • The summary is of utmost help. Cleared some confusion I experienced when I first read the story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Boitumelo. It’s great to know that you found the post of some benefit.

  • Great summary.

  • Can you explain “like a quiet second skin” for me please…

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Hlalanathi. The term second skin would refer to a state of comfortability. Just as someone might feel comfortable in their own skin, likewise a person’s second skin would similarly be as comfortable.

  • I love the summary. Please explain what the narrator meant when she said “should give us credit”.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Luvhengo. Usually when that phrase is used it means that an individual should be recognized for their achievements.

  • What is it that the narrator is trying to improve in her life?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Munyai. There are several narrators and sections in the story. If you are referring to the young girl in the Summer Sun section of the story. She is trying to use education to advance her life so that she doesn’t have to work the land with her family.

  • Explain the major problem in the second story,’Summer sun’.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Thando. There are several major problems in the Summer Sun section. Firstly the land is difficult to farm which causes problems for the narrator and her family. Also the narrator wants to abandon the land and further her education but may not get the opportunity to do so. So strong is the pull of the land her family may force her to continue to work it. The narrator is also pregnant or at least may be pregnant which will cause problems for the narrator. She is breaking the tradition of getting married first.

      • Why does the old woman collapse?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Tshikondela. The old woman collapses because she is hungry.

          • What is the relationship between the old woman and the visitor? Thanks for an answer.

            • Dermot (Post Author)

              As far as I know they are mother and daughter. The visitor brought a pail of water to the village as a thank you for those in the village who helped the old woman.

  • Who does ‘she’ in the line ‘she returned the greeting…and carefully averted…’ What does this refer to?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      What section are you quoting from and what is the full quote?

      • Dermot (Post Author)

        Found it. The visitor (or daughter) is returning the greeting to the person who helped her mother. She also appears to be somewhat embarrassed and that might be why she averted her face (looked away).

  • OK thank u

  • What does the narrator learn from the geography book?

  • Explain the major problems in the second story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There are several major problems in the Summer Sun section. Firstly the land is difficult to farm which causes problems for the narrator and her family. Also the narrator wants to abandon the land and further her education but may not get the opportunity to do so. So strong is the pull of the land her family may force her to continue to work it. The narrator is also pregnant or at least may be pregnant which will cause problems for the narrator. She is breaking the tradition of getting married first.

  • Explain how the theme of suffering is explored in two stories?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      In the Old Woman section the old woman is suffering because she is hungry. Also in the Summer Sun section the young narrator is forced to work the land when she wants to educate herself instead. Her life is one of hardship.

  • Can you please summarize what happens in the summer sun plz.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Njabulo. Basically the narrator informs the reader of the struggles that she faces on a daily basis. From the difficulties she encounters while working the land with her family to her concerns that she may be pregnant. She also longs to further her education. Something that is noticeable by her interest in the Geography book her cousin gives her. She sees education as a way out or an escape from having to work the land with her family and as an opportunity to improve her life.

  • Thanks for responding

  • What are the figurative used in story please help

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m assuming you mean figurative language. Some examples include ‘like a thin stalk of corn in the wind,’ in The Old woman section. In the green tree section when the narrator is talking about his craving for something he fears to possess you have ‘like the depths of night when the moon brings the pale light of heaven to earth….’

  • A great analysis indeed.Who is the narrator in Old woman’s story? Where in the story is the sentence that specifically tells / show us that the girl is the daughter of the old woman?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ntsindi. The narrator in the Old woman’s section is unnamed. We do not know who they are. It is also an assumption that the old woman’s daughter brings the pail of water to the village. We can’t say for certain that it is her daughter. However it is most likely someone who is close to the old woman and who is expressing gratitude for the kindness shown to the old woman.

  • Thank you so much.

  • Thank you very much for this valuable information.

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