The Woman as Nation: Rape in Hove's Bones

Valerie Braman, English 119, Brown University (1999)

Hove's often grotesque novel, filled with violent images and their aftermath, carries the reader towards a situation which is perhaps painfully predictable to us. Janita haltingly describes the conversation and circumstances preceding her rape, and the events and reactions which transpired afterwards:

" 'Then I do not know what happened, Marita. The police came and took me to their camp, but my mother said, 'The man who did this is the child's friend. We like him, so do not put him in jail. The only problem is the child felt the first pains of pleasure. That is why she came to tell you the story. We like Chisaga very much. He eats here every day. He is not a bad man…' So the police shook their heads and went to Manyepo. Manyepo threw his hands into the air with anger. 'My cook cannot do such things. Leave him alone or I will drive him to the District Commissioner. You catch Maringi and Chatora, the bastards have given enough trouble to my workers. You catch them and bring them here. I will castrate the bloody fools in front of everybody…' That was the end Marita. That was the end of the hornbill's journey. The wind had taken the hornbill to the wrong destination. So I sit here alone with the wounds which my mother thinks will give me pleasure one day. Blood flowing all the time, hurting my inside as I think of the day they brought you, Marita, worn out with abuse, worn out like an old piece of cloth, torn inside, torn like a worthless thing that nobody cares about." Bones, Page 93

Here, in a novel that is mainly concerned with the experiences, cares, struggles, pain, and strength of women, is a woman stripped of any power, dignity, and security she might hold. Placed in the context of a "postcolonial" novel, one cannot help but draw the comparison between the woman and the country. It has been literary tradition since medieval times to use the female character as a symbol of nation: when she is strong, the nation is strong; when she is weak, the nation is weak; when she is raped, the nation, too, has been invaded and violated.

Janita has been, until this point, a character who seems a likely heir to Marita's strength and resolve. She, too, toils in the fields of Manyempo, laboring under harsh conditions in her own homeland, but on this stranger's land. She, too, exists in the world of freedom fighters, and the stigma attached to them by those in power, and she, too, is bound by strong emotional ties to Marita's lost son. She is violated and wounded by Chigasa, who is privileged enough to work in Manyepo's kitchen and receive special favors from the white boss. His proximity and relationship to Manyepo distinguish Chigasa from the other workers, place him on a higher plane, closer to the "people without knees."

It is in this way that Janita's rape mirrors Marita's "interrogation" by the government following her son's disappearance; this comparison is noted in Janita's own recollection (see above). Both of these women have been violated and abused by persons whose very nature and exsistence have been created by the process of colonialism in Zimbabwe. These power structures of near-slavery, of resistance movements, and of harsh government are directly related to the colonization done by the kneeless "white locusts" and the residual issues of regaining power after independence. Thus, as the country is figuratively raped and exploited by the men such as Manyepo, so are the structures of society broken down drastically enough that men such as Chigasa may literally and tragically rape Janita. She may be considered functional afterwards, but she is violently ravaged.

One must ask why, if after two novels in a class on postcolonial literature, we have read of two rapes, perpetrated not by the colonizers (which might somehow be simpler for the reader to digest and react to with appropriate rage and disgust) but rather, by these women's peers and countrymen, this particular crime is so identified with notions of the postcolonial.


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