A Huge View of Life: Human Commitment in Bessie Head’s Maru

Authors : Asma Adjout.

Volume/Issue : Volume 3 - 2018, Issue 9 - September

Google Scholar : https://goo.gl/DF9R4u

Scribd : https://goo.gl/2bBVBU

Thomson Reuters ResearcherID : https://goo.gl/3bkzwv

To be committed, or not to be; here is a question that writers consider at one time or another during their career; when modernity cries out for art for art’s sake, and pushes the artist towards more and more subjectivity, moral and social concerns impose themselves because the artist cannot severe the ties that link him/her to his/her social environment. In the Western context, this aesthetic tendency is generally favoured over moral and social engagement, especially after the industrial revolution and the rise of individualism it engendered. In the African context, derided by colonialism, the writer feels the need for engagement, and is generally involved in the postcolonial movement that strives to re-build his/her society’s culture and history. The Southern African context, especially with the oppressive apartheid system, exercises a particular pressure on writers who revolt and protest against this injustice in their writing, to the extent that commitment has become a fundamental literary convention. However, Bessie Head, with the particularity of her life, and hence of her writing, expresses a different kind of commitment, which led her work to be rejected by contemporary critics and writers. Head’s mixed origins alienated her from her society; her life as an outcast allowed her to explore life from a different angle from other writers, and opened up broader horizons. The result was that her work did not specifically address an African audience; indeed, she herself declared that she did not like to be limited within socio-political boundaries, and preferred rather to work on broader, human platforms. Maru is a perfect example of this as it presents African characters that can be understood and identified with by people from different socio-historical circumstances; in fact, the novel operates harmoniously on two different spheres, the practical, as it tackles the daily issues faced by African individuals in postcolonial societies, and the universal, as it explores the human potential of these individuals. The novel clearly expresses Head’s aim, which is to restore the lost sense of humanity of black people, lost through centuries of racism and exploitation.


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