Issues with Independence

John Yang, English 119, Brown University (1999)

"Yes, child, but it is better to let that tongue kill itself than to help it kill itself. The white man thinks we are children, that is why his tongue is loose. The day he learns that we are also grown-ups, he will learn to tighten his tongue. He was brought up like that. You do not expect him to think differently from what his mother told him. Do you think all of us here went to school where the white man is called baas: we were brought up like that. So it is not our fault. One day we will also learn that the white man is like us, if you prick him with a thorn in his buttocks, he will cry for his mother like anybody else." (63)

Marita is an intense and interesting character, one who is constantly confronted with issues of race and gender. She envisions a day when the white people and Zimbabwean people will look at each other like equals. Although Marita could easily have the freedom fighters kill Manyepo, she preserves her honor by "letting" him live. When questioned about her lack of action, Marita states that she does not want Manyepo's mother to know that a woman sent her son to her death. Despite the oppression of her farm, Marita still maintains her strong will and determination to find her lost son and bring him back.

Marita represents the one side of an independent Zimbabwean people. Her motivation to find her son symbolizes the drive these people have to take control of "their" country. The white man has oppressed them for many years, and soon he will learn that the Zimbabwean people are his equals, possessing the same strengths and prone to the same weaknesses.

Hove also presents the other side of an independent Zimbabwean people, those who lack direction and were comfortable with the status quo. One such person is Chisaga. Chisaga's subservience to Manyepo keeps him living comfortably as opposed to the rest of the other workers on the farm. He hides behind the white man for protection without having any sympathy for his people. The mindset of this side is best represented by an observation on the unknown woman who wishes to bury Marita's body properly:

"It is strange what this independence of ours has brought into some people's heads. This stubbornness couldn't have been heard during the time of the white man's rule; the woman would be sitting in prison now, waiting for tomorrow morning." (79)

Ultimately, those characters who acquiesce to the power of the white man, although negatively portrayed, end up the victor in Hove's novel. What does this say about Hove's views on independence and freedom, when Marita is dead, Janifa's sexual assault claims are ignored, and Chisaga and Manyepo still receive the fruits of other people's toils? Is this a novel of promise, or is this somewhat of a deterministic portrayal of Zimbabwean people?

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