The Bird with the Broken Wing

Maureen Grundy, EL119 Brown University, 1999

What is the significance of "the bird" to which Hove so often refers? Why is it such an important part of the story and what are the different ways in which Hove uses the "bird" to represent the characters of the book or Zimbabweans overall?

"Many bad things happen on this farm. Bad things even the ears of the deaf would not regret missing. You know how we wish we had wings when we see a bird flying in the air above the hills. But we never wish we had wings when we see a bird with a broken wing. It is the same, Marita." (p.25)

"Mother does not know the type of worm which has entered me since you flew away like a bird with a broken wing." (p.89)

"Sometimes you meet a bird with broken wings. A bird which nobody wishes were their own bird. Then the sun rises and sets, flowers bloom and die, birds sing and feed their little ones, wives give birth and listen to the voices of the new children crying on their breasts before they name them Tapiwa, Marita, Tatenda, Mudiwa. They will give a name that tells many stories, many paths that have been walked with bare feet." (p.105)

Hove fills his entire novel, Bones, with extremely rich metaphors that not only engage the reader, but also connects the story of Marita and other Zimbabwean people to nature and the cycles of the earth. We see throughout the story how every emotion is equated to a force of nature, fire, water, earth, and sky. Hove also depicts many of the characters or qualities found within characters by relating them to an animal or animal-like characteristics. One of the most interesting depictions to examine is that of the main character, Marita, where Hove often relates her story to that of a bird with a broken wing."

Janifa often makes the reference to the "bird with the broken wingä, as she talks to the spirit of Marita. The bird is an effective metaphor for Marita because it can represent so many different stages of Marita's story and also other people's perceptions of this woman who fought oppression in the pursuit of liberation. In the most obvious sense of the metaphor, Marita has taken flight much like the bird. To Janifa and to other women on the farm, she appears to be free in her thinking, in her blunt manner of speaking to Manyepo, in her manipulation of Chisaga, in her escape from the cruelty of the farm, and in her determined pursuit of the one thing in her life she holds so sacred. In many ways, she is the one that people, particularly Janifa, seem to turn their heads up to the sky to see when they are laboring in the fields. To them, she represents the pursuit of freedom.

Yet, although Janifa sees Marita in the same way she sees the bird, a broken wing inhibits the bird's flight. While Janifa first alludes to the broken winged bird, she does not directly identify the bird with Marita. In this first passage, on page 25, Janifa seems to be talking about people, Zimbabweans, who desire to be a flying bird, until they see a bird with a broken wing. The birds with a broken wing in this passage seems to be those people who have been who have suffered at the hands of Manyepo. And those workers who were once admired and envied are no longer envied once their wing has been broken, once they have been knocked down by the white man.

What is most interesting to explore is the way in Marita is specifically identified with the bird by the end of the book. In the passage on page 89, she very blatantly refers to Marita as the bird with broken wings. At the end of the book, I think that this last passage about the bird with no wings represents Marita and her struggle to find freedom for herself. She is a bird with broken wings because to many, at first glance, she seems to have fallen from the sky. She left the farm in pursuit of her son, only to meet her own death. To many, she may seem like a bird that failed to fly, to truly achieve liberation. Yet the lines that follow indicate a different interpretation of the "bird with the broken wing." Marita becomes a part of the earth's cycle, part of the rejuvenation of a people and a place. At her death, she is seen as a bird that no one will claim, which no one wants. But "then the sun rises and sets!" The earth's cycle begins again, but this time, Marita lives on in the names of children to come, in the stories to be told about her, and in the paths she has walked. This legacy is what seems to make Marita the bird, her spirit soaring free in the sky.


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