Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Cape Gooseberries and Giant Cauliflowers: Transplantation, Hybridity, and Growth in Bessie Head's A Question of Power

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Cape Gooseberries and Giant Cauliflowers: Transplantation, Hybridity, and Growth in Bessie Head's A Question of Power

Article excerpt

As a counterpoint to social reality, the garden opens a range of possibilities for reinterpreting and reworking some of the myths on which patriarchal and colonial discourses have traditionally relied. This essay examines ways in which Bessie Head's image of the communal agricultural garden achieves these aims.

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One of the functions of the garden image in the Western literary tradition has been to reinterpret the relationship between nature and culture in the context of social change. Bessie Head's A Question of Power draws on this tradition while at the same time creating a new image of the garden. Set in the context of Africa and decolonization, the garden represents a powerful image that attempts to redefine the relationship between the social world and the individual self. The changing dynamics of power and identity in the postcolonial context, particularly the need for the colonized "other" to recreate a self, form the background of Head's novels and short fiction. Between 1969 and 1974, Head published three novels, When Rain Clouds Gather, Maru, and A Question of Power; a collection of short stories, The Collector of Treasures; a portrait of the village where she settled in Botswana, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind; as well as a fictionalized history of Southern Africa, A Bewitched Crossroad. She died in Botswana in 1986 at the age of 49, leaving behind works of fiction that were to become influential in and outside African literature. One particular and constant feature of her writing, which is of particular relevance to contemporary debates in cultural and gender studies, is Head's questioning of the intersection of race and gender. In this respect, her fictional work offers a prime example of what Gayatri Spivak has described as the ontological difficulties facing the subaltern (colonized or female) who has no language to "know and speak itself" (285). What seems at stake in Head's novels and short stories--and more strikingly in A Question of Power--is above all the quest for a language of difference based on symbolic forms that could allow the cultural/gender "other" to emerge from textual and representational invisibility. One of the ways in which A Question of Power achieves this aim is through the use of a complex symbolic system of representation revolving around images and metaphors of transplantation and hybrid growth, all of which are embodied in the symbolism of the garden that punctuates the novel. In this respect, Head's garden is close to what the postcolonial critic Homi Bhabha has theorized as the hybrid and "interstitial," or "in-between," space, which offers a counterpoint to hegemonic discourses and systems of representation (2). In the novel, these hegemonic discourses are informed by the colonial and patriarchal ideologies that are shown as an antitheses to the protagonist's own sense of a plural and hybrid self. It is around the critique of the colonial and masculine order that Head articulates her own voice, using the garden and its symbolic ramifications as a way of exploring certain discursive practices behind our understanding of identity and belonging. The garden acts as a tool for re-examining the colonial myth of the land in the South African literary tradition, while at the same time rewriting the Christian myths of creation and creativity that have traditionally been shaped around patriarchal images of the land and female fertility, female temptation, or unbound female desire and sexuality. One of the ways in which the novel constructs a series of counterpoints to these notions is by representing the garden as the site of bonding and desire between women. This paper examines the role of the garden as a central image that challenges the traditional Western notion of the "garden ideal" as a counterpoint to social reality by inscribing within it the new political "sub-texts" of multicultural society and female agency.

The garden in A Question of Power is closely connected to themes of the land and exile in both Bessie Head's life and work. …

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