The father's failure

Antwan Jefferson

"'If I had your brains," my father used to say to Nhamo by way of encouragement during my brother's early school years, "I would have been a teacher by now. Or maybe even a doctor. Ya! Maybe even a doctor. Do you think we would be living the way we are? No! In a brick house with running water, hot and cold, and lights, just like Mukoma. It would have been good, if only I had the brains.' Nhamo, who believed in filial obedience, used to agree with my father that indeed it would have been good and to reassure my father that the intelligence he had been blessed with would not be abused. I was different. I wanted to find out the truth. Did my father mean that Babamukuru was sharp at his lessons? I asked one day, overhearing one of these conversations." [p. 5]

"Babamukuru says I am so bright I must be taken away to a good school and be given a chance in life. So I shall go and live with Babamukuru at the mission. I shall no longer be Jeremiah's son," he boasted, speaking my father's name in such derogatory tones that for once I was up in arms on my father's behalf. "I shall wear shoes and socks, and shorts with no holes in them, all brand new, bought for me by Babamukuru. He has the money. I will even have underwear -- a vest and pants. I shall have a jersey in winter, and probably a blazer too. I will stop using my hands to eat. I will use a knife and fork." [p. 48]

Throughout the novel's first half, the reader is taken deep into the mind and life of a young girl, Tambudzai. We are invited to accompany her as she fights against her brother, stands stern against her father, and holds high regard for her mother ["My mother was too old to be disturbed by my childish nonsense." (p. 16)]. She laughs, she plays, she reminisces. She is the protagonist. Dangarembga paints a youthfully vivid life through the memory of this young girl. However, there are darker memories as well.

Not only does the reader have the opportunity to see individual family members interact, but the minds of those same relatives are exposed in this young character as well. What is more, though, is the patriarchal notion of accomplishment and failure as seen in the novel. A father of four children, Jeremiah is unable to appreciate a standard of life that has not been accomplished by his elder, more "successful" brother. He has become so settled with his inevitable, accursed lack, that his children, especially Nhamo, have a similar attitude toward life garnishing a similar definition of success, and developing a similar attitude toward Jeremiah.

Throughout the novel, Dangarembga develops Jeremiah as a failure. He is unable to pay for his children's education more than once, he worships the ground that his older brother walks on because the man has been delivered from a generational curse, and he resents the attempts of his daughter to fund her education. As Sigauke is the eldest, and therefore head of the family, Jeremiah understandably respects his brother. However, the notion of fatherhood is made uncertain, especially when Sigauke speaks to Tamubudzai:

"I felt it necessary, as your father, to take some time off from my work to speak to you as a father should speak to a child." [p. 87]

Does the title "father" change along with context? Or, is the reader to assume that Sigauke's familial position makes him father of all? Nhamo states within a context that the title is to change. Yet it is not certain whether Jeremiah's failure makes his status dependent upon proximal distance, or if it is a relegated to the one who heads the household within which the child is living.


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