Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"She Had Agony Written All over Her Face": Representations of Rape in the Work of Rozena Maart

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"She Had Agony Written All over Her Face": Representations of Rape in the Work of Rozena Maart

Article excerpt


The threat and reality of sexual violence structure the daily lives of South African women, and gendered assumptions about women continue to inform our experience of rape as well as public discourses surrounding sexual violence. This article uses both seminal and contemporary feminist research on rape as a theoretical lens for reading Rozena Maart's The Writing Circle (2008). Although the salience of race in the South African context shapes our reading of rape, the article demonstrates that the primary category of analysis in such readings must be gender as women's vulnerability to rape flows from gendered imbalances of power. The article explores the extent to which women are victimised in their own homes and in their family relationships, and thus aims to challenge the popular conception that the greatest threat of sexual violence emanates from strangers. A number of rape myths inform the attitudes of both women and rapists. The article identifies these myths and illustrates how they operate in the lives of Maart's characters. It emerges that the myths, and the misogynist assumptions about women that underlie them, are deeply embedded in the contemporary South African society that is depicted in Maart's novel.


Die bedreiging en realiteit van seksuele geweld beinvloed die daaglikse aktiwiteite van Suid-Afrikaanse vroue, en genderaannames oor vroue bepaal steeds ons ervaring van verkragting sowel as openbare diskoerse oor seksuele geweld. Hierdie artikel gebruik seminale en eietydse feministiese navorsing oor verkragting as 'n teoretiese lens om Rozena Maart se The Writing Circle (2008) te lees. Alhoewel die belangrikheid van ras in die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks ons verstaan van verkragting bepaal, wys die artikel dat gender die primere analitiese kategorie moet wees wanneer ons representasies van verkragting lees aangesien vroue se seksuele kwesbaarheid teruggevoer kan word na gendermagswanbalanse. Die artikel ondersoek die mate waartoe vroue kwesbaar is in hul eie huise en binne hul families en bevraagteken sodoende die algemene opvatting dat vreemdelinge die grootste bedreiging inhou in terme van seksuele geweld. 'n Aantal verkragtingsmites bepaal die houdings van sowel vroue as verkragters. Die artikel identifiseer hierdie mites en hul uitwerking op die lewens van Maart se karakters. Dit blyk dat die mites, en die negatiewe aannames oor vroue waarop die mites berus, steeds wye aanvaarding geniet in die hedendaage Suid-Afrikaanse sameleweing wat Maart in haar teks skets.


It is now widely recognised that sexual violence is a ubiquitous part of the lived reality of women in South Africa. Helen Moffett notes the "grim findings" of "survey after survey suggesting that South Africa has higher levels of rape of women and children than anywhere else in the world not at war or embroiled in civil conflict" (2006: 129). A number of South African authors have addressed the issue of rape in their fiction. Examples of such fictional representations of rape include Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire (2000), Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001), Zakes Mda's The Madonna of Excelsior (2004), Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit (2001), Zoe Wicomb's David's Story (2001), Yvette Christianse's Unconfessed (2006), Farida Karodia's Other Secrets (2000) and Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf (1999). In addition, South African literary scholars have made important contributions to academic discourses that grapple with the challenges that emerge when authors use fiction to represent rape. A great deal of this scholarly engagement has focused on J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999). Some of the most important analyses of Coetzee's text deal with the extent to which race features in South African narratives of rape. In her analysis of literary representations of rape in the period of South Africa's political transition, Meg Samuelson explains that this body of fiction "relentlessly inserts race into the scene of rape by focusing almost exclusively on interracial rape" (2002: 88). …

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