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.