Full Project – Thematic analysis of Besie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather

Full Project – Thematic analysis of Besie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather

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1.1 Background to Study

Literature is the mirror of life or a reflection of life’s experiences generally. Apart from assuming this and many more duties, literature continues to perform the task of aiding the reconstruction of identities lost in different perspectives from different circumstances. This is the case with literatures from South African where experiences of apartheid — the policy of racial segregation prevailed until the nineties in South Africa. The major thematic preoccupation of most South African writers is that of racism and racial segregation which have so much bedeviled the nation’s socio-political environment.

The word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language and it describes the rigid racial division between the governing white minority population and the non-white majority population. The apartheid laws classified people according to racial groups – whites, or blacks and considered others as coloured, or people of mixed descent. The National Party of South Africa introduced apartheid as part of their campaign in the 1948 elections, and with the National Party victory, apartheid became the governing political policy for South Africa until the early 1990s.

These devastating effects have prompted writers like Nadine Gordimer, Alex La Guma, Can Themba, Es‟kia Mphahlele, Dennis Brutus, Bessie Head and others to protest against the oppressions and dehumanising experiences meted against the people of South Africa, show a quest for survival and suggest a suitable identity for themselves through their writings. Bayo Ogunjimi states that “…protest, conflict, deviance, exile and struggle have been the major preoccupations of South African literature. These … contradictions provide the search-lights for an egalitarian society devoid of racial segregation” (94). This affirms the fact that South African literature has mostly contained issues of resistance and great efforts towards identity realisation. This is occasioned by the fact that the writers are eager to draw up a new, unique, peaceful and positive personality where equality, brotherly love and an enterprising future are assured.

This research work examines how Head uses her South African experiences to create an imaginary identity for herself through her characters in When Rain Clouds Gather. Apartheid changed the socio-cultural identity of the blacks in South Africa and the neighbouring countries. Under this policy, they had suffered a lot and had lost all their belongings and finally were exiled to the nearby places. Bessie Head, being a victim of this policy reveals her inner experiences through her famous novel When Rain Clouds Gather. The novel deals with the themes of colonialism, apartheid, exile, racial difference, gender inequality, women empowerment and other social issues. All these are centred on the structure of the plot. The political circumstances as presented in the novel are quite significant. The characters in the novel are either exiled from another country or they simply came from other village or community. Their most difficult tasks are their own adaptation and their acceptance inside the community. Head practically experiences the social evils going on in the society and she practically examines the facts with realistic fervour. She writes the plot of the novel taking an account of her past experiences. The protagonist Makhaya, is presented as a South African refugee. Head uses her husband’s struggle against the system, his determination to escape it, his exciting flight across the border into Bechuanaland to introduce the character of Makhaya. (Makhaya’s escape from South Africa to Botswana is the beginning of a quest for psychic wholeness. He does not find happiness and peace in a country which forces him every day to fill his heart with hate in order to survive. He leaves South Africa because he refuses to marry and have children in a country where black men are called ‘boy’, ‘dog’ and ‘kaffir’ (16). Makhaya also “simply feels like moving out of a part of Africa that lies mentally and spiritually dead through the constant perpetuation of false beliefs”. (16). He leaves his country in the hope of finding a better place in which he would be free and where he would find at last “the road of peace of mind” (20). However, he is deluded by the illusion that everything is going to solve itself out from complexities, because he is living in a free country. But additional disintegration and more shattering of his soul occur before he attains psychic wholeness.

1.2 Statement of Problem

“Apartheid is a crime against humanity”. This is a problem that bedeviled the South African nations in which the people were forced to flee their homes and become refugees in another land. The research is premised on the fact that the introduction of apartheid as a system of government has done no little harm to the people of South Africa and Botswana in particular.

1.3 Aim and Objectives of Study

The aim of this study is to analyze Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather. The objectives of the study are to:

  1. Examine the themes in the selected text
  2. Examine the author’s ideological stance
  • Discuss the experiences of the South African nations in the text

1.4. Research Questions

To understand the objectives, the following research questions were generated.

  1. What are the themes in the selected text?
  2. What is the ideological stance of the author?
  • What are the experiences of the South African nations?

1.5 Significance of Study

The relevance of the study is that; it opens a new window into the field of postcolonial studies. Institutions of academic learning will find the contents of this work to be of utmost importance of research in the field of literary criticism. Other ministries like the foreign affairs ministry will be able to dig from the analysis of this work to help curb the menace of any such occurrences again.

1.6 Justification of Study

This research work is one of the many works that have been done on the thematic pre-occupation of the South African literature which focuses on the subject of apartheid, racial segregation, displacement, and so on. Through the reading of the text under study, one feels a sense of sympathy for the people of Botsawana and South Africa as a whole.

1.7. Research Methodology

The textual method is adopted for the analysis of the selected text When Rain Clouds Gather. Other literary materials include journals, articles, magazines and other library materials which helps in enhancing the studies.

1.8 Chapter Breakdown

This project is divided into four chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction; it consists of the background of study, statement of problem, aim and objectives of study, research question, significance of study, justification of study, research methodology and chapter breakdown. Chapter two is the review of related literature and theoretical framework. Chapter three is the thematic analysis of the text under study; it consists of the author’s background, synopsis of the text and the themes. Chapter four is the summary and conclusion.


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Full Project – Thematic analysis of Besie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather