I am convinced that they have other reasons for disapproving of me.
They do not like my language, my English, because it is authentic and my
Shona, because it is not! They think that I am a snob, that I think I am
superior to them because I do not feel that I am inferior to men . . . I
very much would like to belong, Tambu, but I find I do not.
Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of
students, with the ideological intent . . . of indoctrinating them to
adapt to the world of oppression . . . The unfinished character of men
and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education
be an ongoing activity. (Freire)
British colonial aggression consolidated itself with the chalk and
the blackboard. Issues of cultural domination, the role
that"English Literature" played in a liberal colonial
enterprise are recent areas of study that provide significant clues to
current neo-colonial realities.(1) A study of the ideological
underpinnings of colonial(ist) educational systems in former colonies in
Africa, the Caribbean, and India reveals their lasting effects.
Colonized peoples' mental colonizations through English language
education, British values, and culture result in states of exclusion and
alienation. Such alienations are experienced in conditions of mental
exile within one's own culture to which, given one's
education, one un-belongs, or in physical displacements evident in large
expatriate populations of previously colonized peoples in the
Although writers like Ngugi wa Thiong'o and others have
discussed the den-igration of indigenous cultures by an English
educational system, they deal mainly with issues of racial superiority
and inferiority: "The colonial system" remarks Ngugi,
"produced the kind of education which nurtured subservience,
self-hatred, and mutual suspicion . . . Society was a racial pyramid:
the European minority at the top, the Asian in the middle, and the
African forming the base. The educational system reflected this
inequality" (Homecoming 14). To such discussions, postcolonial(2)
women writers add the crucial component of gender, and how a gendered
educational system placed women in complex, sometimes worse positions
than in pre-colonial times in relationship to their own communities.
Education was devised to create a civil servant class, predominantly
male, that would aid a colonial administration. This same class would
continue to work for the colonizers' benefit even after their
physical departure (Fanon's "black skin white mask"
For this study, I use critical practices that theorize from within
postcolonial women's texts, that allow the texts themselves to lead
a literary, critical enterprise into an interdisciplinary approach that
includes colonial history, education theory, political analysis, and
"critiques of imperialism in its cultural forms" as Edward
Said puts it (11). Such a method recognizes the distinctions of fields
and avoids totalizations. It attempts to recognize the multiple and
intertwined systems of power that buttressed a colonial and a
postcolonial machinery. A recognition that in this context power is
overdetermined would also open up possibilities of resistance. This
method is an interplay between actual power relations - racial, sexual,
class - and their theorizing and interpretation. Such a critical
endeavor aims to be allied with progressive struggles for social change.
As Merle Hodge remarks in her essay, "Challenges of the Struggle
for Sovereignty: Changing the World versus Writing Stories," for
there is no fundamental contradiction between art and activism. In
particular, the power of the creative word to change the world is not to
be underestimated. . . . We are occupied by foreign fiction. Fiction
which affirms and validates our world is therefore an important weapon
of resistance. (202, 206)
In this essay, I undertake a cross-cultural study of the impacts of
Engish education on the female protagonists, Tee in Trinidadian Merle
Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey, and Margaret in Botswanan/South
African Bessie Head's Maru. I analyze the role of English education
in female socialization, namely how the study of English language and
culture as imposed by colonial education alienates women from their
indigenous cultural and linguistic frameworks. My comparative study
avoids reductionism by acknowledging specificities of cultures, and of
different historical, material, and ideological factors in these
societies. In probing the differences between writers such as Hodge and
Head from distinct geographical locations, I also discover the uses of a
shared British colonial history. I analyze how both Trinidadian and
Botswanan societies as depicted in these two novels deal with racial
superiority inculcated through English education.
I argue how in both texts female socialization takes place at the
intersection of English education and indigenous prejudices, be they
racist, sexist, or classist. I discuss how English education
simultaneously and paradoxically privileges the female protagonists even
as it renders them into outsiders in their own communities. Hodge and
Head, like other postcolonial women writers, demonstrate that the
privilege of English education is not an unalloyed advantage. They
regard education as a double-edged sword, not always or unilaterally
liberating especially for female protagonists. Education comes with
costs for women. It creates new types of boundaries within which female
protagonists must act, especially because English education does not
challenge the patriarchal status quo. And educated women have to work
harder than their un-English educated sisters to belong within the
patriarchal codes of their cultures. Educated women are rendered into
outsiders in their communities, and they often find themselves in states
of mental and physical exile. As outsiders, their psychic health is
often in danger. The pain of the outsider status is experienced at times
physically, as if the women are exiled from their female bodies.
English education played an important role in female socialization
since it was gendered according to colonial patriarchal principles.
Although it is important to historicize and contextualize patriarchy and
not to use it as a universal system of male domination, I find useful
correspondences between indigenous and colonial patriarchies. They often
colluded, which resulted in doubly controlling colonized women.(4) At
times, educated women like Margaret, in their need to belong, to have a
home, become complicitous with patriarchal authority even as they are
caught between conflicting identifies. Similarly, Maiguru in Nervous
Conditions, even with an M.Phil. degree, decides to "efface
herself" so that her husband's identity remains secure.
Maiguru subscribes even more rigidly to norms of wifehood and
subservience than do the uneducated women in the text.
Neither Hodge nor Head romanticizes an indigenous, pre-colonial past.
Rather, they probe with seating honesty the paradoxes of racist, sexist,
classist prejudices that exist within their own cultures. Further, they
reveal how such prejudices are exacerbated by colonial practices, and
how indigenous patriarchies were reinforced by the colonial Victorian
beliefs of female education - to train women as good wives and mothers.
Tee and Margaret are initially underprivileged in their societies
because of race, class, and gender. Both suffer internalized prejudices
from their own people. Tee is dark and grows up in working-class
Tantie's household; Margaret belongs to the Masarwa group,
considered outcasts by the dominant Batswana people. Both are then
granted the privilege of an English education, which raises their class
status. Tee is brought into middle-class Beatrice's bourgeois world
so that she can attend the privileged St. Ann's School; Margaret is
adopted at birth by an English woman, and unlike other Masarwa people to
whom she belongs, she is given an education. The process of education
leads both protagonists, already set apart (before their formal
education begins) thanks to local prejudice about class and color, into
a further "outsiderness" from their communities. Both texts
provide open-ended resolutions that evoke a problematic kind of feminist
politics: Tee is summoned by her father to England, and Maru decides to
make a political statement by marrying the Masarwa woman, Margaret.
Although Hodge and Head acknowledge the constructive aspects of
knowledge and learning, they take a searing look at the ways in which
colonial education can also disempower their female protagonists. Paulo
Freire's call for "pedagogical action," namely, the need
to change educational methods that perpetuate dominant ideologies, is
necessary in postcolonial societies. Unfortunately, in the realm of
education policy, the postcolonial world remains by and large colonial.
We have not yet arrived at forging a pedagogy, to use Freire's
phrase, "with and not for the oppressed."
Neither protagonist is raised by her own parents - indeed both their
mothers die in child-birth. At the beginning of Crick Crack, Monkey,
Tee's mother dies, and since her father leaves for England, Tee is
raised by two aunts, working-class Tantie and middle-class Beatrice,
both of whom struggle for Tee's soul. Margaret of Maru is adopted
at birth by an English woman, a missionary's wife, described as
"a scientist . . . with a lot of fond, pet theories, one of her
favourite, sweeping theories being: environment everything; heredity
nothing" (15). She is excited at the prospect of having "a
real, living object for her experiment. Who knew what wonder would be
created?" (15). She calls the child Margaret after herself. One
never knows if Margaret had a Masarwa name, a significant marker of her
identity, like Tee, who never knows her "true-true name."
Margaret is brought up as an "experiment" without much love
from a scientist-mother. Margaret has a kind of anaesthetized childhood.
There seemed to be "a big hole" in her mind about who she was,
or how she perceived herself as a child. Her adoptive mother sets out to
create "something new and universal, a type of personality that
would be unable to fit into a definition of something as narrow as tribe
or race or nation" (16). The "experiment" had to do
something "to help her people" when she grew up. Margaret Sr.
is a do-gooder whose "false generosity," to use Freire's
words, does not challenge the unequal racial and class hierarchies in
that society. As Freire notes aptly: "An unjust social order is the
permanent fount of this 'generosity' . . . Any attempt to
'soften' the power of the oppressor in deference to the
weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of
false generosity" (29).
Head, racially marginalized in her personal life, remarks in an
interview, "I longed to write an enduring novel on the hideousness
of racial prejudice. But I also wanted the book to be so beautiful and
so magical that I, as the writer, would long to read and re-read
it." In Maru, she explores the origins of irrational racisms that
haunt nearly every culture, what nurtures them and why they persist.
Early in Maru, the narrator's somewhat preachy voice sets up this
hierarchy with whites at the top, who regard Asians as "a low,
filthy nation," and the Asians in between who "could still
smile - at least, they were not Bushmen. They all have their
monsters" (11). The prejudice is located in "looking different
. . . then seemingly anything can be said and done to you as your outer
appearance reduces you to the status of a non-human being" (11).
Both protagonists are raised into a higher class than the one in
which they are born. Their benefactors can afford to give them an
education. These do-gooders belong either to the local community, like
Aunt Beatrice and Maru, or they come from outside, like Margaret
Cadmore. Margaret's education equips her to be a school teacher,
unusual for a Masarwa, and her very role becomes a challenge to the
local community and the school officials' racial prejudices. The
"experiment," in that sense, has succeeded. Even as the very
combination of Masarwa and teacher in one female body, Margaret's,
makes a political statement, the emotional costs of the prejudices she
endures on a personal level are enormous.
In both texts, the protagonists are already set apart and criticized
by their own people even before their education - Tee is "too
dark" in that color-conscious world, so she "must try
harder." Margaret belongs to the outcast group, the Masarwa, upon
whom the Batswana look down. Next, their schooling paradoxically both
transforms and deepens the prejudices against them. Education gives
Margaret a chance to be part of the dominant community. Its cost is that
she is cut off from her own people, the Masarwa. At her middle-class
Aunt Beatrice's house, Tee is required to deny her former
"ornery and niggery" self. Even as she is anguished and
conflicted internally about her new middle-class habits, her status
externally rises when she is called by her father to England.
Hodge evokes race and class prejudices within the community embodied
in Auntie Beatrice, "The Bitch" who looks down on
working-class Tantie. Beatrice cultivates bourgeois values that despise
blackness in every form - skin-color, speech patterns, food. Such
attitudes are rooted within a colonial education system that inculcated
the denigration of black culture. In post-independence Trinidad, as
Hodge states, a struggle for "cultural sovereignty" continues:
Caribbean people suffer great ambivalence regarding their culture. We
do not acknowledge or give value to our most deeply rooted behavior
patterns, our most intimate psychology. In the first place, we are not
fully aware of what constitutes our specificity. We recognize our
culture only in a negative, rejecting way: we see in our people
tendencies and characteristics which we regard as aberrations to be
stamped out. (203-04)
Hodge notes especially the "disrespect and active suppression in
the home and in the education system" of Creole English that is, in
fact, used by the majority of the people. "Think of the
implications for our mental health we speak Creole, we need Creole, we
cannot function without Creole, for our deepest thought processes are
bound up in the structure of Creole, but we hold Creole in utter
contempt" (204).(5) Hodge would agree with Freire's remarks:
"The testimony that must be given to students as we teach the
standard form is that they need to command it not exclusively in order
to survive, but above all for fighting better against the dominant
Tee's childhood years are set in different locales that test the
boundaries of indigenous color and class prejudices as well as racist
superiority in English schools. The irrelevancy of the curriculum is
criticized humorously: "we recited nursery rhymes," remarks
the narrator, "about Little Boy Blue (what, in all creation, was a
'haystack'?) and about Little Miss Muffet who for some
unaccountable reason sat eating her curls away." The more insidious
effects of imbibing English values, of "speak(ing) properly,"
are explored when Tee moves into Aunt Beatrice's bourgeois
household. The superficiality of middle-class values, slavishly
imitative of the worst in English behavior, is soundly satirized.
In Crick Crack, Monkey, the notion of being "brought up
properly" includes a knowledge of standard English. The girls
memorize nursery rhymes with cultural references as remote as snow is
from Trinidad. Getting an education went hand in hand with respecting
"The Mother Country" and reciting "Children of the Empire
Ye are Brothers All," or singing "God Save the King and Land
of Hope and Glory." The education of the mind was reinforced by a
saving of the soul, particularly since colonial education was often
conducted by missionaries and this often continued after independence.
Some of the confusion that Tee feels is related humourously: "Now
at school I had come to learn that Glory and The Mother Country and
Up-There and Over-There [London] had all one and the same geographical
location . . . And then there was 'Land of Hope and Glory/Mother of
the Free'" (30). Mrs. Hinds "naturally" takes it
upon herself to do whatever she could "towards our
redemption." Tee faithfully reports that each "day began and
ended with the intoning of the sounds which we could perform without a
fault while our thoughts drifted elsewhere behind our tightly-shut
Our father (which was plain enough) witchartin heavn HALLE
owedbethyname THY kingdumkum THY willbedunnunnert azitizinevn . . .
At Sunday school when Tee is given "a picture and a Bible verse
- pictures of children with yellow hair standing around Jesus in fields
of sickly flowers" she recites what amounts to a denial of her very
Till I cross the wide water, Lord My black sin washed from me Till I
come to Glory Glory, Lord And cleansed stand beside Thee, White and
shining stand beside Thee, Lord, Among Thy blessed children . . . (30)
Colonial documents justifying "negro education" state
clearly, as in Rev. J. Sterling's report to the British Government
in 1835, that the production of "a civilized community will depend
entirely on the power over their minds." This quotation is part of
a historical study of colonial female education, Rhoda Reddock's
"Women, Labour, and Struggle in 20th century Trinidad and Tobago:
1898-1960," which is useful for an analysis of sexual, color, and
class divisions that made or denied educational opportunities to women.
Reddock's study of Trinidad can be extended to the Caribbean region
as a whole and to other British colonies.
Since "brute force could no longer be the main form of labour
control," remarks Reddock,
new ideological forms had to be found and popular education was one
of them . . . Colonial education was not meant to liberate the
colonized. Rather, it was the means through which the values and
interests of the colonizers and masters would be internalized by the
colonized and perceived as their own. (217-18)
Reddock cites an article in The Schoolmaster, no. 1, 1903 that
pleaded for women's education since wives could be more effective
"helpmates" to their husbands, and could "come up to the
ideal of what a cultured woman ought to be" (223). She argues
further that the colonizers' gendered educational policies colluded
with indigenous patriarchal traditions, as evident in this 1836 comment
on women's education: "We did not wish to see our young ladies
and daughters become 'blue stockings,' we did not ask for
Creole de Staels and Mary Somervilles" (222).
The actual content of girls' education was a matter of debate.
Reddock notes that a gendered emphasis in colonial education was
introduced with the controversial Education Code of 1935. In the early
part of the century the content of female education embodies what
Reddock terms "the actual process of Western European
'housewifization"' (226). Sarah Morton, Canadian
missionary, writes about the subjects that the mission's Girls
Training Homes covered: worship with the family, gardening, sewing,
writing, scripture, washing, ironing. "In the daily sewing class
the girls learned to cut and sew garments of many descriptions including
English dresses and jackets." The girls were also "initiated
into the mysteries of English dishes . . . imposing cakes were made for
our brides" (226). The purpose of such "housewifization"
was to prepare women to marry suitably and avoid "the danger of
being given to non-Christian or otherwise unsuitable men," as
Morton put it. Reddock's carefully historicized study is useful for
a contemporary assessment of continuing gender inequities in higher
Although Tee's education does not focus on sewing and cooking,
it inculcates colonial values that denigrate, even deny her own culture
and physical environment. Chimneys, apple trees, snow become more
"real" to Tee than the tangible tropical vegetation in her own
backyard. The young, impressionable Tee ponders this situation and
arrives at a child-like answer at the end of the following passage:
Books transported you always into the familiar solidity of chimneys
and apple trees, the enviable normality of real Girls and Boys who went
a-sleighing and built snowmen, ate potatoes, not rice, went about in
socks and shoes from morning until night and called things by their
proper names . . . Books transported you always into Reality and
Rightness, which were to be found Abroad. (61)
As she indulges in this kind of fantasizing, which has nothing to do
with her own landscape or culture, Tee creates "Helen, my double .
. . the Proper Me," through whom she can live the many white ways
of life that she reads about in books - tea at four, wearing socks all
day, pretending that rainy mornings were like winter. Fortunately, this
role-playing does not last long - "Helen was outgrown and discarded
somewhere" (62). Instead a much more serious and self-destructive
kind of alienation confronts Tee when, in order to utilize her
scholarship to St. Ann's, a much-coveted middle-class school, she
must move to Aunt Beatrice's home.
Tee's contemporary experience echoes a historical reality,
namely that education and class advancement go hand in hand. However,
during the early 19th century, secondary education "was the
prerogative," notes Reddock, "only of the white and colored
bourgeoisie and a few of the upper middle strata" (222). Not only
color prejudice, but moral norms, excluded blacks and largely
working-class populations from these opportunities, primarily in the
stigma of "illegitimacy" that automatically excluded them from
schools. By the 1850s only a few black or colored boys had the
opportunity "to win 'exhibitions' or scholarships to
secondary school" (222). No scholarships were available for girls.
Even when girls took part in "exhibition scholarships," and
even if they won, their options were severely circumscribed. Reddock
recounts the case of Elsie Padmore, who won a handicraft exhibition
scholarship in 1926, but "was refused entrance to every branch of
handicraft she chose to pursue" (227), such as photography or
book-binding. The master-craftsmen "were not keen on having
girls." Reddock remarks:
It was truly amazing that no attempt was made to challenge the status
quo. The existing sexual division within education and career
preparation was accepted as an unchangeable given . . . That
women's education . . . was a force for maintaining rather than
changing the system was clear from the case of Elsie Padmore whose
scholarship was not honoured. Rather than force the craftsmen to accept
women apprentices, girls were withdrawn from the scholarship
examinations. This raises fundamental questions as to the illusory
character of education as a mechanism for changing the position of women
in the society. (228-29)
In contemporary times, Tee's scholarship to St. Ann's is
honored. Whereas earlier, in primary school, Hodge had criticized the
content of Tee's education at school, now Hodge satirizes the
dangerous informal education at home, namely, bourgeois values
epitomized in Aunt Beatrice. Ironically, bourgeois values such as eating
with forks and knives assume more importance in that household than the
far more serious situations of Beatrice's two daughters treating
her with disrespect. They look down on Tee as the poor relative who has
been rescued into their middle-class household. Unfortunately,
Beatrice's is a dysfunctional family caught up in appearances, and
in superficial values of proper speech and dress.
Although Tee was happier at working-class Tantie's home, now
with her education, she is confused. She feels ashamed when Tantie
brings Tee's favorite foods to Beatrice's since they smell too
aromatic in that prim living-room. Tee is embarrassed at Tantie's
boisterousness. She is unhappy, though relieved when Tantie leaves. At
the end of the novel, Tee is at an impasse. Her confusions could hardly
be sorted out if she were to remain at Beatrice's; nor can she
return to Tantie's. So, an opportunity to leave the environment
altogether and go to her father in England might give her a new
perspective. At this stage she is unable to represent herself. Her
identity is overdetermined by the factors of race, class, and gender
within her own culture that have nearly overpowered her. With distance,
age, reflection, Tee might be able at a later stage to reconceptualize
what home, identity, and belonging mean.
In Maru, the prejudices against Margaret first hit her when she goes
to school and encounters screaming, shouting, and spitting. Her
"social isolation and lack of communication with others, except
through books" (19) is painful. Margaret is silent: "she had
no weapons of words or personality" (17). The reader is not told,
as with Tee, the actual content of Margaret's education. The goal
is to get her qualified as a school teacher. The older Margaret retires,
leaves for England, and the "experiment" is left hearing
"the tin cans rattling."
Margaret is accustomed to living "like the mad dog of the
village, with tin cans tied to her tail" (9). She finds work in
Dilepe, a village where the Masarwa exist only as slaves. Margaret has a
way of disarming the prejudiced by saying simply and openly, "I am
a Masarwa." She is hardly bold or aggressive. This kind of openness
she derives from her education. Pete, the principal, wants to get rid of
her: "It's easy. She's a woman," he says, but the
community, prejudiced though it is, has to recognize that she is the
educator of their children. Despite Margaret's education, the males
in charge have power to retain or dismiss her.
The pettiness and prejudice of the so-called "educated"
males in charge of the school cast a negative light on what knowledge
and education can accomplish, particularly against deeply ingrained and
socially legitimized sexism. Ironically, education reinforces
patriarchal male power (as discussed earlier with regard to Babamukuru
in Nervous Condmtions), and disempowers women in terms of conforming to
traditional codes. Educated males gain further social legitimacy for
their prejudices through their newly acquired language skills. However
educated a woman might be, she is after all "only a woman" -
such prejudice is explored by other female writers.(6)
Knowledge and femaleness combined in Margaret raise significant
questions of power. Does the education that she is equipped with enable
her to struggle against prejudice? Does that education empower her, or
is her position as an educated Masarwa such an anomaly, such an oddity,
that the very advantages of book-knowledge paradoxically render her very
alone and powerless? Can the prejudices against her as outcast (read,
Masarwa), and supposed inferior (read, female) be transformed with
education? In short, is education liberating or does it create new types
of prisons and boundaries within which Margaret must act?
Tee and Margaret paradoxically find themselves both centered, given
the power of English education and economic benefits, and marginal,
given that they are set apart from their own un-English educated
communities. Marginalization is not a given. It is the end result of a
complex process. In this context, the entire process of schooling from
girlhood into adolescence, the inculcation of British values, leads to
the experience of multiple marginalities - from the colonizer's
culture, from one's own people, even from one's own voice as
it articulates English and other "forgotten" and consciously
The Englishness in which the mother steeps her adopted daughter
Margaret renders the child out of touch with the Masarwa, and her own
culture. She is simultaneously uprooted and advantaged. The tools of her
knowledge do equip her to work, though under extremely difficult and
lonely conditions in a prejudiced society. Margaret as a teacher has a
vital role to play in the village school, but she connects to that
reality in the barest way. Freire's remarks on the importance of
both teachers and students being "subjects," being active
participants who are "co-intent on reality . . . not only in the
task of unveiling that reality . . . but in the task of re-creating that
knowledge" (56), would enable Margaret to find a real space within
the community through her work. As she and her students jointly
undertake the very production of knowledge, they would "discover
themselves," in Freire's words, "as its [reality's]
But Margaret remains isolated and has no community. She lives within
herself, and on the margins of the community literally and figuratively.
Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty's remark in "What's Home
Got to Do with It?" about "a constant recontextualizing of the
relationship between personal/group history and political
priorities" is useful to grasp Margaret's outsider status.
"Community is related to experience, to history," remark
Martin and Mohanty. "For if identity and community are not the
product of essential connections, neither are they merely the product of
political urgency or necessity" (210).
Margaret's outsiderness echoes some painful aspects of
Head's personal history. Head, colored, born out of a union between
a white woman and a black man, was not fully accepted by either family.
Head's mother was judged "insane" and confined in a
mental asylum where Bessie Head was born. As a child, Head was shunted
from one foster home to another, never fully accepted because she was
colored. The pain of this personal trauma was intensified within the
inhumane apartheid system in South Africa. Head left "the stench of
apartheid" on an exit-permit (which meant that she could never
return: sadly, Head did not live to witness the demise of apartheid) and
spent most of her life in exile in Botswana. Her traumatic life and
untimely death poignantly embody what I describe as some of the actual
conditions of marginality faced by writers today - in terms of race,
language, and geography. Each marginal position from her personal
history (colored, English speaker, exile) finds a creative counterpart
in her novels, and each position is empowered by the end of the
narrative, almost through the act of writing itself. Different aspects
of marginality are represented in Head's work - geographical
marginalization is figured in the exile Makhaya in When Rain Clouds
Gather, and racial/ethnic marginalization in Maru. The search is always
for ways of belonging, for being accepted as an individual who is also
part of a community. The struggle is within the human soul battling the
forces of good and evil, power and greed, and the discovery of those
inner "suns of kindness."
The very physical exclusions by virtue of which Head's racial
and ethnic status is defined and the conditions under which her work was
produced give us new ways of thinking about marginality. Her work
demonstrates the human spirit's tenacity in creating, to use her
phrase, "new worlds out of nothing," out of the conditions of
linguistic and geographic marginalities. The image "new
worlds" has a concrete, earthy connotation that figures centrally
in Head's work. What she refers to on one level is the very
struggle to produce food in "a vast, semi-desert, drought-stricken
land" such as Botswana. On another level, Botswana, as a location,
holds the possibility for Head to "create new worlds out of
nothing," since as she states in an autobiographical piece,
All through its history, it attracted few white settlers. A bit of
ancient Africa was left almost intact to dream along in its way . . . My
work was always tentative because it was always so completely new: it
created new worlds out of nothing; it battled with problems of food
production in a tough semidesert land; it brought all kinds of people,
both literate and semiliterate together . . . I forcefully created for
myself, under extremely hostile conditions, my ideal life.
Margaret's and Maru's very names evoke tradition and
change, which can be paralleled to their being insiders and outsiders in
the community. Maru is a hereditary chief, who on the surface is the
embodiment of tradition. But in his ideals he seems more an outsider, a
radical who wants to bring about change: "If I have a place"
he remarks, "it is to pull down the old structures and create the
new." However, in order to fulfill his desire for "the freedom
to dream the true dreams, untainted by the clamour of the world"
(68-70), he must give up his traditional role. Margaret's name is
clearly Western, on the surface, a sign of change. However, such
Westernisms as names, or her English schooling, do not in themselves
Both Margaret and Maru are trapped in the paradoxical duality of the
individualizing and representative nature of their identities,
encapsulated in their very bodies - Margaret, visibly a Masarwa, Maru,
visibly a hereditary chief. The novel explores how both paradoxically
embrace and reject their identities as representative of their narrow
ethnicities. Maru has more power, will and choice; Margaret is more
passive though her very presence as an educator is a challenge to the
community's prejudices. Her creativity through her art is
non-verbal, and although externally manifested in paintings is
inherently inward. Margaret does not have the power to express
resistance in words or action - both paths are dangerous for her as an
outcast. So, she turns to the non-verbal form of painting, perhaps
endorsing a situation shared by other oppressed groups who find covert
ways to convey their thoughts when overt ways are risky.(7)
Margaret, as outsider, like Head (as exile) creates an inner space
for herself through her art. Margaret paints, Head uses orality and
language. Head contests the marginal, unrecorded, or misrepresented
histories of colonized peoples by becoming a modern-day griot herself, a
scribe, a historian. In her text Serowe, Head, as a sympathetic
listener/recorder, faithfully preserves what she beautifully terms
"a precarious orality." It is ironic that Maru claims the one
space that Margaret has for self-expression, namely, in her paintings.
He appropriates Margaret's imaginative world when he asserts that
he had dreamt the same dreams and that Margaret is merely a faithful
recorder. Head rather troublingly takes away Margaret's fragile
sense of agency in her artistic expression.
The pain of the outsider status that both Tee and Margaret endure is
felt physically at times, as if they are exiled from their own female
bodies. The search for belonging, for "an imagined community,"
also includes a search to belong within their female bodies from which,
given the process of education and socialization, they feel alienated.
Such mental anguish is internalized often self-destructively by female
protagonists, for instance, Tee's desire "to shrink, to
disappear." As Tee gets more and more confused about who she is and
where she belongs, she reaches a crisis point in her sense of
alienation. She wishes "that [her] body would shrivel up and fall
away, that [she] could step out new and acceptable" (97).
Similarly, Nyasha in Nervous Conditions hardly belongs within her female
body, which becomes, in her anorexia and bulimia, the sad victim of her
Margaret's un-belonging is heightened by her secret love for
Moleka. Since she lives on the margins of the community, she is shocked
when she finds out that Moleka is going to marry Dikeledi. Her emotional
collapse is described by Head in physical terms: "No sound reached
her. A few vital threads of her life snapped behind her neck and it felt
as though she were shrivelling to death, from head to toe" (118;
cf. Tee's desire "to shrivel up"). She somehow finds her
way home: "She pushed the door shut. The remaining threads went
snap, snap, snap behind her neck and she half-stumbled, half-reeled to
the bed and fell on it in a dead faint" (120). Since Maru
communicates with Margaret telepathically, he knows about her anguish
and loss, but in his characteristically objective and clinical language,
he declares: "She's not dead . . . It's only her neck
that's broken." As Maru coaxes her out of her collapse, her
revival is also described in physical terms: "She moved her limbs
and they tingled painfully from idleness but the blood in them began to
flow . . . She struggled to an upright posture . . . what filled her now
was this slow inpouring of life again" (121).
RESOLUTIONS/ENDINGS OF BOTH NOVELS
The resolutions of both novels are open-ended and problematic - both
protagonists, in their society's eyes, have transcended class
barriers and racial prejudices. Tee is on the brink of making that
familiar journey to the M/Other Country, a relocation that will further
complicate her own identity, her relationship to "home" and
where she belongs. Margaret passively acquiesces to marry Maru. She says
nothing, and as the narrator puts it: "What could she say, except
that at that moment [of her physical collapse] she would have chosen
anything as an alternative to the living death into which she had so
unexpectedly fallen?" (124).
Both resolutions reinscribe the female protagonists within
patriarchal boundaries, new in terms of their relocations and familiarly
old in terms of gender hierarchies: Tee goes to her father, Margaret, to
a husband. Tee goes to London, and Margaret leaves in a fairy tale kind
of ending with Maru: "They were heading straight for a home, a
thousand miles away where the sun rose, new and new and new each
day" (125). Both resolutions are troubling in terms of a feminist
politics where a personal self-transformation experienced through the
agency of a particular woman leads to personal change, and later, to the
possibility of social change. Though both Tee and Margaret arrive at new
self-revelations, they have no say in their destinies at the end of the
novels. Margaret, especially seems to be sacrificed as an individual for
the greater good of the Masarwa people. Head's idealistic ending is
problematic and particularly uncharacteristic in its sacrificing of a
personal for a supposed "political" end.
The older Margaret's intentions to save Margaret from ignorance
and poverty raise crucial questions, such as the lack of control that
the Masarwa have over the means of improving their own condition. Can
they, the oppressed, be the authors of designing a better life for
themselves and their children, or do they have to rely on
well-intentioned do-gooders like Margaret Cadmore to intervene on their
behalf? By the end of the novel one wonders which solution was better -
education and environment as conceived by the English woman, or
intermarriage as Maru's indigenous solution to racial prejudice?
Both solutions are problematic, especially since Margaret has no agency
in either decision: her schooling as a child, or her marriage as an
Maru might be seen as parallel to Margaret Cadmore, local and foreign
do-gooders. Both wield authority among their people, and both use
Margaret not because they care for her as an individual but for what she
represents - an educated Masarwa. Sadly enough, despite her education,
her talents as an artist, the space that Margaret occupies finally is as
Maru's wife. Education does not liberate her, especially not from
sexist patriarchal structures. She is reminiscent of the educated
Maiguru in Nervous Conditions, who assumes the role of subservient wife
so that her husband can taste his full power as head of the household.
The sexism in Maru's decision to marry Margaret is bothersome.
It is mystified by the romantic imagery and the idealized tone of the
narrative. He marries Margaret in order to "set the tone for a new
world." Head depicts him as a visionary and one who wants to effect
social change. As a charismatic male leader, he takes a radical step by
using a woman. He makes a political point by marrying a Masarwa; it is
incidental that this Masarwa is Margaret. The problematic sexual
politics in the novel present the marriage as a "solution," as
a way of belonging for the outsider Margaret. Ironically, as an
individual, she is still outside any community, silent and voiceless.
She remains an anomaly for both groups of people - for the Masarwa, and
for the dominant group who hate the Masarwa.
One needs to distinguish Maru's sexual politics from his social
vision. Within a mystified circle of power that Maru creates around him,
Margaret becomes his wife. In Head's world-view, powerful males can
be transformed often through the healing, communal-spirited influence of
a female character, for instance, Paulina's influence on Makahya in
When Rain Clouds Gather. Will Margaret be such an influence on Maru?
Head has a proclivity to create idealized male heros whom she represents
as enlightened dictators. This is a contradiction in terms, though
Head's purpose in playing with this paradigm is her exploration of
how human beings abuse power. Head's interest in enlightened
leadership in Africa even took her into exploring the factual history of
Botswana in A Bewitched Crossroad, where she celebrates Khama, who
"represents the literate heart."(8)
In marrying Margaret, Maru is exercizing a male version of the
personal-as-political. He forces her into marriage, a personal decision,
in order to make a political statement - a marriage of political
expediency, one that becomes a powerful symbol of liberation for the
Masarwa. He exerts power sexually over Margaret as female, and racially
over the Masarwa as an oppressed group. The novel's ending is
When people of the Masarwa tribe heard about Maru's marriage to
one of their own, a door silently opened on the small, airless room in
which their souls had been shut for a long time. The wind of freedom
which was blowing throughout the world for all people, turned and flowed
into the room. As they breathed in the fresh, clean air, their humanity
awakened. They examined their condition. . . . They started to run out
into the sunlight, then they turned and looked at the dark, small room.
They said: "We are not going back."
This imagined Masarwa liberation is won at the cost of Margaret being
sacrificed. The Masarwa community is awe-struck at Maru's marriage
"to one of their own"; it hardly matters who that individual
The open-ended ending of Crick Crack, Monkey can be interpreted
positively or negatively. There is perhaps more hope for Tee since the
novel ends when she is an adolescent and she will have more
opportunities to grow, to evaluate her English education, and to be
reintegrated into her own culture than Margaret who is more grown up,
and who is "saved" (read imprisoned) by her marriage to the
authoritarian Maru. Tee also has a solid cultural heritage that forms
the fabric of the first half of the text when she lives in Tantie's
warm, caring home, and amidst a close-knit community. Although
Tee's exposure to middle-class life has shaken some of these early
cultural resonances from her mind, one hopes that as she gets older, she
will be able to negotiate among different cultures without losing sight
of her own heritage and identity.
Another reason for a hopeful reading of the resolution lies in a
significant childhood experience, described in wistful, almost mythical
terms, that Tee shares with her grandmother, Ma. "Ma's land
was to us an enchanted country, dipping into valley after valley . . .
cool green darknesses, sudden little streams . . . We went out with Ma
to pick fruit . . . All the holidays at Pointe d'Espoir were one
August month, especially in the middle part of the day . . . the
agreeableness of sitting clamped between Ma's knees having
one's hair plaited" (14-18). Every summer, away from her
English school environment, Tee is reintegrated into this natural world
to which she belongs. Further, Ma makes her an integral part of their
family heritage: "Ma said that I was her grandmother come back
again." Ma's lyrical words evoke a striking portrait of that
"tall straight proud woman who
lived to an old age and [whose] eyes were still bright like water and
her back straight like bamboo, for all the heavy load she had carried on
her head all her life. The People gave her the name Euphemia or
Euph-something, but when they called her that she used to toss her head
like a horse and refuse to answer so that they'd had to give up in
the end and call her by her true-true name . . . They'd never bent
down her spirit and she would come back and come back and come back.
Ma longs to live long enough "to see Tee grow into her tall
proud straight grandmother" (19). But, by the end of the novel, Ma
dies. Only "in her last days Ma had suddenly remembered her
grandmother's name and wanted it to be added to [Tee's]
names." Tee herself, at the height of her alienation and confusion
at Beatrice's, does not visit Ma and never finds out the name. Ma
does tell Tantie, but sadly, "Tantie hadn't even bothered to
remember it" (110). The construction of that sentence is important
- perhaps Tantie has forgotten the name temporarily. And perhaps the
inner "spirit" of her ancestor that Tee carries is stronger
than an external name that can be changed, desecrated, or forgotten. Tee
will, one hopes, grow into "her tall proud straight
As an adult, and ironically after she leaves Trinidad, Tee will have
a chance to son out the prejudices of her own society and to get
reeducated as pan of an ongoing process of decolonization and
reterritorialization. The persona in Olive Senior's "Ancestral
Poem" evokes a similar negotiation of identities, homes, and
Now against the rhythms of subway trains my heartbeats still drum
worksongs. Some wheels sing freedom, the others Home.
Still, if I could balance water on my head I can juggle worlds(9) on
In conclusion, this study of Margaret's and Tee's
socialization illuminates the multiple fallouts of English education and
indigenous prejudices. Education is not always a tool for liberation.
These texts raise questions about education that are significant for any
dominated group of people: what kind of education? Is it relevant or
irrelevant? The content of a colonial education that made England the
center of the universe denigrated indigenous cultures. As Olive
Senior's poem "Colonial Girls School" puts it, this
harnessed our voices to madrigals and genteel airs yoked our minds to
declensions mn Latin and the language of Shakespeare Told us nothing
about ourselves There was nothing about us at all.
These two novels demystify the racist, gendered, and classist agendas
within indigenous cultures, and their reinforcement by colonial
schooling. Tee and Margaret are left at a crossroads of belonging.
Racial prejudice may be confronted on one level through education.
However, the personal costs are nearly fatal - as in Tee's suicidal
thoughts, and her self-denying desires, "washing away her black
skin"; or as in Margaret's unvoiced love for Moleka and her
silencing by Maru, who claims, by marrying her, both to save her life
and to "liberate" the Masarwa.
The politics of mental colonizations, of internal exiles, are some of
the harsh realities facing these protagonists and several postcolonial
writers in contemporary times. Wole Soyinka, in a recent essay entitled
"Twice-bitten: The Fate of Africa's Culture Producers,"
searingly forces us to recognize the "internal brain-drain" of
African writers hounded by their own governments. In Head's case,
racist apartheid lies at the very root of her tormented life and her
premature death. In our work as educators, we must make such racist
states accountable for the loss of creative talents, for the silencings,
censorships, and self-censorships that so many contemporary African and
Caribbean writers face.
1 See Viswanathan and Rajan.
2 I use the term "postcolonial" to refer to geographical
areas once colonized by Britain - India, parts of Africa and the
Caribbean. I recognize that "postcolonial" is not the best or
the most adequate word to describe these vast and diverse areas.
"Postcolonial" caries the baggage of "colonial", as
"third world" raises the spectre of the "first"
world. The issue of naming this field is still a matter of debate. I
also recognize the need, at this historical moment, to have a word that
brings these diverse peoples and cultures together in a continuing
process of decolonization, and to forge political alliances.
3 Sangari and Vaid present a useful feminist historiography that
deals with how "each aspect of reality was gendered" by a
colonial administrative machinery in India.
4 In Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Babamukuru's
colonial, patriarchal education reinforces his male privilege in the
family. The fact that he has "chewed many books" doubles his
already high male authority.
5 The language issue concerns several Caribbean writers, notable
among them Edward Kamau Brathwaite (History of the Voice) and Marlene
Nourbese Philip (She Tries Her Tongue: Her Silence Softly Breaks). For
Caribbean writers the situation is particularized by the fact that there
is no language to return to. Philip argues for a subversive English
transformed from "Queenglish and Kinglish." Although writers
speak in favor of patois forms, the mainstream society still endorses
standard English. For instance, a recent newspaper editorial in The
Daily Gleaner argues that intellectuals are being irresponsible in
"romanticizing" patois, and that standard English is the only
way for Jamaicans to advance and compete in this world. There is no
argument made for a coexistence of both languages.
6 For instance, in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, Ojebeta as a
child is sold in slavery by her brother. By the end of the text, as an
adult, even as an educated 35-year old woman, Ojebeta is "changing
masters," i.e., from slave-owner to husband. Another example can be
cited from Nervous Conditions. Tambu remarks, "The victimization
was universal. It didn't depend on poverty, on lack of education,
or on tradition . . . Men took it everywhere with them . . . Femaleness
as opposed and inferior to maleness" (115-16).
7 I am reminded here of Rex Nettleford's influential work on how
dance preserves cultural memory in the very physical body of the slave
even as that body belongs to a slave-owner.
8 Khama, a Christian convert, implemented his literacy to institute
schooling for his people. He introduced social reforms beneficial to
women. He worked against customs like polygamy. Africa's history in
the twentieth century has several dictators, all male, "a parade of
monsters," as Wole Soyinka terms them in his satiric drama A Play
of Giants. Dictators like Idi Amin are a far cry from the enlightened
leadership of powerful leaders such as Khama.
9 The image of "juggling worlds" also evokes "juggling
words," especially varieties of English in standard and Creole
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. London: Women's, 1988;
Seattle: Seal, 1989.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. New York: Continuum,
Head Bessie. A Bewitched Crossroad: An African Saga. New York:
-----. Maru. London: Heinemann, 1971.
-----. Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind. London: Heinemann, 1981.
-----. When Rain Clouds Gather. 1968. London: Heinemann, 1987.
Hodge, Merle. "Challenges to Sovereignty: Changing the World
Versus Writing Stories." Caribbean Women Writers. Ed. Selwyn
Cudjoe. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1990. 202-06.
-----. Crick Crack, Monkey. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Martin, Biddy, and Mohanty, Chandra T. "Feminist Politics:
What's Home Got to Do with It?" Feminist Studies/Critical
Studies. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986. 191-212.
Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. The Lie of the Land: English Literary
Studies in India. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Reddock, Rhoda. "Women, Labour and Struggle in 20th Century
Trinidad and Tobago: 1898-1960." Unpublished Ms.
Sangari Kumkum, and Vaid Sudesh, eds. Recasting Women: Essays in
Colonial History. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989.
Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British
Rule in India New York: Columbia UP, 1989.
Katrak is professor of English at the University of Massachusetts,
Amherst. She has published widely in African and third-world literature,
and is author of Wole Soyinka and Modern Tragedy (Greenwood 1986).