The Creative Vision of Bessie Head

The Creative Vision of Bessie Head

The Creative Vision of Bessie Head

The Creative Vision of Bessie Head

Synopsis

"The Creative Vision of Bessie Head examines Head's literary works in chronological order and reveals how each reflects Head's claim that "Every story or book starts with what I need." Drawing upon the revelations gleaned from Head's personal letters, this critical appraisal attempts to account for the way in which Bessie Head, born in South Africa in 1937, insists on a romantic resolution in order to compensate for the poverty, feelings of loneliness, and isolation she experiences as she struggles to survive in a racist and sexist society. Head's origins were less than fortunate, for as the child of a white woman committed to a mental institution and of a black father whose identity was never foreclosed, Head was fostered and then placed in an orphanage. As a single mother she sought exile in Botswana and it was here that she died prematurely in 1986." "The Bessie Head Papers, as yet unpublished, are housed in the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe, Botswana, and contain almost two thousand items, many of them personal letters to friends. These letters, a selection of which are included in the appendix herein, are a revealing commentary on the compulsion that provided for Head's creativity, especially with regards to the most complex of her novels. Speaking at her funeral a friend remarked that it was when she was writing that Head could push her fears and anxieties to one side and it was here that the 'realist and dreamer achieved a brief communion" (Eilerson 1995, 294). Thus, Head's creative vision, invoked at times of crises, shows clearly the nature of the artist's power and its value as a means to restore the equilibrium of society." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Bessie head was a colored (that is, mixed-race) South African whose books, with the exception of The Cardinals, were written during her self-imposed exile in Botswana. It was there that she died in 1986. She lived, for most of her adult life, the solitary existence of a single mother, struggling for financial survival in a country whose language she never mastered. the fact that for many years she was refused citizenship of Botswana also caused her considerable anxiety. Her sense of identity was surely marked by the knowledge that her white mother, from whom she was separated at birth, had died in the mental institution to which she had been committed, because, as Head wrote in a letter, “the ultimate horror had been committed, … a white woman had had sex with a black man” (Appendix 22).

Thus, as a victim of racial discrimination in South Africa, Head was ideally placed to present a postcolonial critique of that society. Her personal letters often reflect on the extreme deprivation confronting the black man or woman in white South Africa, the sense “that even the birds and trees belong to the white man” (Appendix 14). Her novels present a powerful exposé of this racism. Also, as a woman struggling to survive alone in a tribal culture, she experienced the hardships of a patriarchal hierarchy. She wrote in a letter: “This particular society is very dangerous. It is male dominated. a man has no faults. They move straight towards a woman and would kill her” (Appendix 20). A Question of Power and The Collector of Treasures examine this issue. However, the overwhelming impetus of Head’s writing is to transcend these problems. the protagonists in her novels, both male and female, struggle to survive the vicissitudes of their lives, and in so doing create their own individualistic, egalitarian utopias.

Early critics of Head’s work saw this artistic realization as evidence of Head’s experience of exile in Botswana, arguing that she “exults at having been given the opportunity to dig her roots into the sands of the semi-arid land” (Ogungbesan 1979, 103).

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