Weighty Words in Chenjerai Hove's Bones

Alaka Holla (English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, 1997)

Words have weight, Marita. Words from a child's mouth are like feathers, real feathers. They fall on the lips and are blown away by the wind. Words with strength do not suffer the night's dew. They remain on their legs even after a storm which has passed. Let your words be like the mountains which I found the same age when I was born and still they are full of power, standing there all the time doing the same things. Words must be like that, erect like the thing of a little boy on waking up, promising the girls that when I grow up certain things will happen which are being made now. That is what strong words are about, Marita. A stream does not flow forever, but the stream remains there. It may dry, but it remains there like the hills which I saw when I was a little boy. All those rocks, big boulders and humps. (33)

Words are weak, Marita. Very weak. They fly in the air like feathers. Feathers falling from a bird high up in the clouds. Have you not seen the hornbill fly in the wind? When the wind flows this way, the hornbill is taken from its own path in the air to another which the wind thinks is better. It is so because the hornbill has too many feathers. I hope someone plucks away some of them. It is like that with words. They float in the air like the hornbill on his journey through the path of air. (59)

Leaves fall to the ground, rot in the soil, the roots drink from the rotten leaves and feed the inside of the tree again so that the new leaves can sprout, new buds that cannot stand on their own feet until the seed decays to feed the new plants near the old mother plant. (97)

Hove uses a great deal of imagery involving strength or weakness and heaviness or weightlessness. In the first passage above words have permanence and power. "Words have weight..." In the second passage, however, words are ephemeral and manipulable. Why such a discrepancy? Why do so many images in the novel have dual values? Why are there so many shifts between hopefulness and helplessness? Does the last passage suggest that death and destruction are prerequesites for a new way of life?

Postcolonial Web Zimbabwe OV Chenjerai Hove Overview [Leading Questions]