Janifa and Marita's Son

Jennifer Ellington (English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, 1997)

At the end of Chenjerai Hove's Bones at the climax of the novel, Janifa attempts to run away, to denounce and defy her mother, and she ends up in an asylum for the insane. There she has a vision of Marita's notorious son who went away to be a fighter, Janifa's childhood "lover," whom Marita left the farm to look for in the city, dying in the process.

"Marita, your son has come back. He limps when he walks, but he is here. Now that he is here, all the insects can sing their songs and run after the scent of the flowers . . . Marita, a womb is a dark place, nobody knows what will come out of it. So if it brings out something with flowers on its head, it must be kept under the armpit. It must be kept under the armpit where not many hearts know." (110)

What or who is Marita's son anyway? He plays a central role in this novel though he is present for none of it. He was borne by the woman who was accused of being barren. As Marita's runaway legacy, does he represent some kind of truth or solution? No, not solution. The son is not saving anyone in this novel, except maybe in some abstract war which is not immediately relevant to the lives of those the book is concerned with. And even that is less likely than the case that he is just dead. Unless we prescribe him some heroic quality for being a fighter, he causes a lot of problems! Marita is tortured on account of his activities, and dies searching for him. And in any case, he does not save Janifa from her insanity or imprisonment. Ineffectual!

But he comes back, if only in vision. He is not completely obliterated. Mustn't that signify something? It seems very ambiguous to me, whether that something is hopeful or very bleak. "Your son has come back. He limps when he walks, but he is here." Janifa (but I think this is really Hove) states this as if this something is better than nothing, which doesn't seem self-evident or necessary. Nature rejoices when he returns, but doesn't this seem all the more tragic when his return has no effect, rights no wrongs, resolves nothing except that a dead woman can hear the birds singing about it?

Another enigma I find regarding this is that the son (albeit in a vision) calls Janifa "Jennifer," the anglicized, written, probably original form of her name, but nonetheless different in some important sense. This can't be an accident! She hasn't been called that once before in the entire book, and now that she is imprisoned in chains in an asylum for people with "bad heads," she is Jennifer? This whole encounter seems pregnant with meaning.

Postcolonial Web Zimbabwe OV Chenjerai Hove Overview [Leading Questions] [Gender Matters]