Witchcraft by Bessie Head
In Witchcraft by Bessie Head we have the theme of destruction, jealousy, fear, inequality, poverty, resilience and patriarchy. Taken from her The Collector of Treasures collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Head may be exploring the theme of destruction. According to the narrator everybody in the village or in society in general thinks that there are destructive forces which can take control of their lives. It seems to be a case that this may be driven by the fact that people are jealous of a person’s prosperity. Often going to a witch doctor in order for them to cast a bad spell on the individual. Even though Christianity has arrived in the village people still fear what a witch doctor can do. This may be important as Head may be suggesting that so indoctrinated are people in the power of witchcraft over the individual that they believe there is animosity towards them by others.
The theme of inequality is also evident in the story. Mma-Mabele has no partner as she has been abandoned by the father of her daughter, Virginiah. It is inconceivable for others in the village to understand that a woman may not necessarily have to be in a relationship with a man in order to live their life. However this comes at a cost due to the narrow mindedness of others. Which leaves the woman to be ostracized and treated as an unequal to men. The men in the story have also targeted Mma-Mabele because she will not sleep with them and they have started a rumour that Mma-Mabele has both female and male gentiles. The fact that the men think that Mma-Mabele is only good for sex is interesting as it further suggests that the role women play in the village is one of provider to men. Women at no time are treated as equals to men.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The half bag of corn and the oil that Mma-Mabele wants to buy serves to highlight how poor Mma-Mabele is. Though she thinks she is wealthy to be buying two months’ supply of corn the reality is she cannot afford a proper diet. Something which causes Mma-Mabele headaches. The abandonment of Virginiah’s father suggests that women are used by men. As mentioned they are not treated as equals. The introduction of Lekena also suggests that some witch doctors, for those who believe in witchcraft, are opportunists. Lekena only gets involved with Mma-Mabele when he sees the opportunity to get money from her.
The end of the story is interesting as Mma-Mabele overcomes her headache and strives to continue with her life. She is resilient not only when it comes to Lekena but she is also strong-willed enough to realize that she is the only one who will provide for her family. No one else will bring a wage into the household. If anything Mma-Mabele is being rational and knows that she is the only one who can provide for her family. She is wise enough to know that she is alone when it comes to providing for her family. Life must go on regardless of how Mma-Mabele is feeling. Which may highlight to some readers the strong nature of Mma-Mabele who throughout the story has represented the female in a male dominated world. At no time in the story have the men in the village or Lekena treated Mma-Mabele as an intelligent woman who lives her life the way she sees fit after the abandonment by her partner.