"The Crow": A Response to John Yang's Essay

Maureen Grundy, Class of 2000, EL119

In Chalres Mungoshi's short piece entitled, The Crow, two young boys find themselves overcome by fear and obsession as they try to kill the black crow. Their actions disturb and intrigue Mungoshi's readers, who try to decipher the intended message of such a powerful story. By the end, we are left with two frightened, crying boys and an injured crow, whose fate is unknown , yet several questions remain unanswered. A related piece by John Yang draws our attention to these questions. What does the crow symbolize? What is the significance of the boys' obsessive, violent actions? And how, if at all, can this story translate into a larger message about Zimbabwe or about the human race?

Early on in the story, Mungoshi establishes the perception these boys hold of the crow. "We do not eat crows, and birds or animals that people do not eat are associated with the night and witchcraft in our country. The crow is very greedy . . . we could have killed it because it is a thief, but its color- black- is always frightening and it was safer to leave it alone."(p. 7) Here, Mungoshi has set a tone of suspicion. He depicts the crow as a suspicious, threatening, and frightening animal. Furthermore, the crow represents an animal very different and disassociated from other animals to which Zimbabweans may feel more of a connection. The crow symbolizes a lurking unknown to the boys, a potential danger which one senses from witchcraft and the darkness of the night.

Pursuing the crow begins as a thrill-seeking adventure but turns into an intense mission. When the childish game turns to obsession, Mungoshi forces his readers to wonder what this transition says about Zimbabweans or about people in general. In one sense, these boys could symbolize the entire human race and instincts people follow without really knowing why. As illustrated in the story, following these instincts often turns into fighting a battle that one does not totally understand. The actions quickly and suddenly become much bigger than the person and the person then acts out on obsession and fear of an unknown. "We were angry and a newer fear had just come into us. It seemed as if we had started something that was beyond us."

Yang points out in his essay the emotional strain and frustration the boys face here and how this emotional distress emerges from oppression. In this respect, perhaps the boys specifically represent what colonialism has psychologically done to Zimbabweans. This idea that colonialism changes the psyche of the Zimbabwean people is similarly played out in Hoves' Bones. In Bones, Hove depicts the way in which colonialists destroy the mind and culture of the African people to such an extent that they no longer know how to act within this new destabilized system. We see that both of these examples of oppression and destabilization of mind and culture lead to violent acts of desperation.

Furthermore, the boys actions against the suspicious and frightening crow can be likened to the actions of white oppressors against Zimbabweans. That is not to say here, that the two boys represent the white settlers, but rather to re-iterate the idea of the oppressed repeating the actions of their oppressors when faced with fear and a threatening unknown. As the colonizers grow obsessed with silencing the black Zimbabwean, so do the boys fear and grow obsessed with the killing the crow. Yet, neither the African nor the crow can ultimately be defeated and the oppressors end up feeling even more fear toward the resistant party. By drawing this parallel, can one say that these ways of handling fear are passed along from oppressor to the oppressed, as the oppressed person's world gets turned upside down. Or is this way of acting out obsession and fears instinctual for the entire human race?

Postcolonial Web Zimbabwe OV Charles Mungoshi Overview