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Forceful Creation in Harsh Terrain

Place and Identity in Three Novels by Bessie Head


Maria Olaussen

Bessie Head (1937-1986) was born in South Africa, but wrote her novels when living as a refugee in Botswana. In her 'trilogy': When Rain Clouds Gather (1969), Maru (1971) and A Question of Power (1973), she explores the stranger's desire for inclusion. Current feminist and postcolonial theory makes metaphorical use of the lack of belonging in searching for new expressions of subjectivity. This study looks to Head's novels for their contribution to that debate, but places them firmly within the historical context of Southern Africa in the late twentieth century. Both the politics of location and the desire for universality are seen as informing Head's texts. The analysis shows that Head's most distinctive contribution lies in her use of 'place' as a means of encompassing change as well as the nourishing soil necessary for the creation of a stable identity.
Contents: This study of the South African/Botswanan writer Bessie Head (1937-1986) focuses on the relation between place and identity in the context of racial and sexual oppression. The analysis draws on feminist and postcolonial theory but places the texts in their Southern African context.