Variations on a Theme in Mungoshi's Coming of the Dry Season

Valerie Braman, Class of 2000.5, EL 119, Brown University

Charles Mungoshi's collection of short stories presents somewhat of a puzzle to the reader: are these stories meant to be taken in separately, as independent vignettes depicting life in Rhodesia, or are they rather facets of the same story, meant to be absorbed and understood as a whole? (For further discussion of this question, see Antwan Jefferson's essay, "The Continuity of Charles Mungoshi's Coming of the Dry Season.") The fact that the author chose to use the title of one of the collection's works as the title for the entire text as well begs the question of whether the clue to the thread that ties these short stories together lies somewhere within "Coming of the Dry Season."

One of the most striking elements of this particular story occurs as Moab Gwati walks home from the train station on the morning after his night of indulgence with Chipo. We are told that "The black mood was on him," and that "When he felt this way Moab would walk for miles completely blind" (p. 45). He encounters an old, obviously starving and destitute woman whose words and image form a lasting and disturbing impression in his mind:

He would hear over and over the small mousy voice that was full of tears and self-pity, the voice that was a protest: 'Zindoga mwana'ngu, remember where you come from.' A warning, a remonstrance, a curse and an epitaph. With it, he could never have a good time in peace. Guilt, frustration and fury ate at his nerves.

This passage seems to strike at the root and nature of not only Moab's suffering, but also that of the other the reader encounters in Mungoshi's work. Throughout the stories, there seems to exist a repetition of the same sort of black mood, blind walking, and inability to release oneself from the warnings and remonstrances of one's experience as we see illustrated so explicitly in this story. The child in "Shadows on the Wall" lives in a world punctuated by absence, shadow, and silence, urged by his father to forget his mother and call the new wife by that dear name could indeed identify with the issue of either forgetting or remembering where he has come from. His life and the attitude he will carry with him throughout it strike the reader as anything but peaceful.

The narrator of "The Crow," along with his companion Chiko, also falls into a kind of blindness as they chase after their goal. They are driven by fears and motivations which are almost unrecognizable to them, unable to literally see the crow they seek to kill or to figuratively see the implications of their actions. The narrator comments that the way he felt at the end of this day was "the way [he feels] when everything goes wrong and [he is] afraid," (p. 12) a comment which is similar in nature to the above-mentioned observation about Moab's behavior when in one of his black moods.

Julius, in "The Hero" strikes the reader as blind as well, deluding himself as to the nature of his outburst and its consequences among both his peers and his school administrators, and later suffering the pain and humiliation of the idea that his original conceptions of himself might be quite mistaken. Certainly, remembering what he has done serves as a sever remonstrance to this character. Remembering where he is from holds significance for him as well, albeit unpleasant, as, on his walk home, "Already he could hear his stepmother's bick-bickering voice…."(p. 26) Indeed, here is another character whose memories and awareness will serve as a sort of curse.

Throughout this text, characters and plot lines echo the themes of remembering or remaining blind to where one comes from and the painful implications of carrying these memories with oneself. Old Musoni of "The Setting Sun and the Rolling World" asks his son to remember his family and the land to which they are tied, as Nhamo insists that it is only in looking past these things that he will be able to forge a future for himself. "S.O.S. From the Past" focuses on the tie that Mari has to Kasamba simply because they come from the same place, despite the fact that Mari would rather resist this link. As the stories layer themselves on one another, they come together in the form of a musical work, creating variations with different colors and tactics, but on the same essential themes. What might motivate Mungoshi to tell his story in this format, as opposed to presenting the reader with a novel centering on one set of characters? Might the author's choice present a parallel to the issues of hybridization and fragmentation of experience of the colonial and postcolonial individual in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe?


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