The Notion of a Heavy Burden in Yvonne Vera's Without a Name and Bernard Takawira's "Reclining Lady"

Antwan Jeffreson, EL119, Brown University

"Mazvita felt the intense heat which encircled her with the simmering voices and brought the red glow of the but to her face. The ominous hue spread down her arms, and sought her fingers. She stood still. She stood near the bus shelter, but not beneath it, a metal roof held up by four high wooden poles. She stood still. She stood next to one of the poles, on the outside. She stood on the outside. She stood still." (p. 2)

"She could not afford to be unwary, to pause. There was such tension below her temples, such a confusion of racing footsteps. She had had to run when she thought she saw all traces of her world vanish. She hated the sound of her own footsteps because they grew upon each other, and she heard the footsteps when she ran this morning, and then she ran again away from them, into another chaotic pattering. There was so little space insider her, nowhere for the sound of her feet to vanish. She stood still whenever she could. She grew stiff." (p. 68)

For much of the novel Without A Name, Yvonne Vera brings us into the world of Mazvita, a young, and sometimes old, Zimbabwean woman struggling to make it into a world of stability, comfort and peace. Many scenes of the text become surrounded by references to Mazvita's position, standing, waiting, or moving. Yet, it does not become clear that Mazvita is able to move from under the obstacles that weigh her down so heavily.

In her relationship with Joel, Mazvita finds a temporary permanence that brings more burden upon her than the freedom which she originally sought. Expecting a child bore the prospect of a new burden, disheartening Mazvita and causing Joel to send her and the newborn away. Bearing the child introduced an opportunity for Mazvita to eliminate some of the burdens that hindered her search for freedom and unconditional acceptance. So she broke the neck of the child and killed it, finding that she was not able to relieve herself of motherhood. She carried the dead child upon her back, hiding it, but unable to remove it from her.

Bernard Takawira's sculpture Reclining Lady, bears a significant resemblance to Mazvita's struggle. Takawira brings into being a woman who believes that she is reclining. However, the burdens of life weigh her down and disfigure her form.

In Vera's novel, Mazvita believes that she is in a place (Harari) that will bring relief to her worn body, but finds that she is unable to recline. Rather, she finds herself limited to a particular lot in life, much like the base of the Reclining Lady, that is neither maleable nor transportable.

In Vera's novel, Mazvita believes that breaking the neck of her child will free her up so that she is able to stand upright and search for a release from her predetermined and unalienable position. In much the same way as the Reclining Lady carries a weight upon her left shoulder that prevents her from becoming upright and mobile in life, Mazvita carries a dead child upon her back, hindering her freedom, eliminating her chance to recline.

Other Discussions of Zimbabwean literature and sculpture.

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