Jack Barsness and his wife Wylla visit the DeWeeses on the evening of the same day that the narrator, Chris, and the Sutherlands arrive. The narrator seems to recall that Barsness is a writer and English instructor at the University (where Phaedrus taught). An unnamed sculptor arrives at the DeWeeses after the Barsnesses appear.
Wylla Barsness is the wife of English instructor Jack Barsness. The couple visits the DeWeeses the evening of the arrival of the narrator, Chris, and the Sutherlands.
Chris is the eleven-year-old son of the narrator. During the motorcycle trip, Chris is at times enthusiastic and happy, at other times angry; the narrator presumes these moods correspond with Chris’s interpretations of and responses to his own feelings. Chris periodically complains of stomach pains, which the narrator informs the Sutherlands . . . Read More
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance opens with the narrator riding his motorcycle through the Central Plains. His thoughts are interwoven with his conversation with his young son, Chris, who is on the motorcycle with him. The narrator explains his intention to use the westward journey from their home in Minnesota as an opportunity to discuss some of the things on his mind, and he envisions this experience as a series of ‘‘Chautauquas,’’ or a series of lectures intended to entertain and educate. Traveling with the narrator and his son are family friends John and Sylvia Southerland. The narrator explores John’s dislike of motorcycle maintenance as an example of a certain ‘‘disharmony’’ that plagues not just John but many people. He describes it as a split between those who value and embrace technology and those who approach life in a more romantic, intuitive manner. John and the . . . Read More
In When Rain Clouds Gather, Head tells the intertwining stories of several characters and circumstances. Readers follow the successes, failures, and challenges of a South African refugee, a British expatriate, local chiefs, a British inspector, and several Golema Mmidi villagers. Interspersed throughout this storytelling, however, the author (either through her narrator or her characters) often thinks about spiritual, philosophical, and psychological reasons for why life in Africa is the way it is. In the process, the narrator subtly lays out what might be called a history of life in southern Africa, relating what has gone on before to explain what still exists and what might occur tomorrow. Through various characters, she personifies the oppression, customs, trials, failures, successes, and hopes that she herself might have experienced. She also hints at what might lie ahead.
Taking on the discussion of oppression, Head offers the character of Matenge, chief of Golema . . . Read More
Like her protagonist in When Rain Clouds Gather, Head also emigrated from South Africa to Botswana to escape the harsh conditions of apartheid. Although South Africa had been segregated for a long time, apartheid, the system of strict segregation laws that defined South Africa for more than forty years, only officially began in 1948. Black South Africans, who made up almost 75 percent of the population, could receive only a limited amount of education, and they were told where to live and whom they could or could not marry. No marriages between whites and nonwhites were tolerated. All nonwhite people were required by law to carry passes on them at all times. These passes contained a photo identification, fingerprints, and information about where in the country they could or could not travel.
Discrimination against nonwhites grew stronger as time went on. In 1950, the white government passed new laws, restricting where . . . Read More
Throughout When Rain Clouds Gather, Head uses long passages of figurative language to enhance her story. Figurative language is the opposite of literal language, when an author expresses exactly what he or she means by using concrete words in the narrative. An example of Head’s use of figurative language is found in the following passage in which she describes a sunrise in the flatlands of Botswana: ‘‘So sudden and abrupt was the sunrise that the birds had to pretend they had been awake all the time.’’ This description is not to be taken literally. The birds were not really pretending anything. This is merely how Head chooses to describe the sudden appearance of the sun. The image of the startled birds enhances her meaning.
In another passage, Head wants to describe the mannerisms of some of the local tribal women. She refers to the way one woman out-talks another. In the middle of a conversation, one . . . Read More
Tribalism versus Progress
Tribalism in Head’s novel refers to the concept that everyone must follow the dictates of the tribal chiefs, who rule according to long traditional practices. These principles include the power of men over women; the division of labor, in which men tend to the cattle and women grow the crops; as well rules about the clothes people wear, the mannerisms people use, and the way they cook their food and what they eat.
Makhaya, the protagonist, makes it very clear in the beginning of the story that he does not believe in the tribal ways. He does not even like his name because it is a tribal name. Makhaya represents a more progressive view. He is interested in what Gilbert is doing because Gilbert is always trying to push the people ahead and to make the village progress into the future. Gilbert represents the sciences and education, which have made him aware of better ways for the village people to live. For . . . Read More
George is the British inspector who keeps the law in Golema Mmidi. He is a remnant of British colonial rule. He is kindhearted like Chief Sekoto. The two of them are close friends. George says he does not like people because they are always playing psychological games or not being honest about what they want. However, when he meets people who are sincere, he recognizes them for their straightforwardness and rewards them in any way he can. Thus, though he is reading a story about Makhaya in the newspapers as Makhaya makes his first appearance in the area, George does not believe the newspaper article that describes him as a criminal. He sees Makhaya’s character traits and decides to trust him. George also likes the spirit of Gilbert and his progressive ideas to help the people.
Gilbert is a British citizen who is described as being very tall and having blues eyes. As a . . . Read More
Head’s novel When Rain Clouds Gather begins in the small village of Barolong, at the border between South Africa and Botswana. The protagonist, Makhaya Maseko, is attempting to cross the border without being detected. Makhaya has been in trouble with the law in South Africa, having spent time in prison under suspicion for planning to sabotage the South African government. He belongs to a Zulu tribe, but he has grown frustrated by tribal thinking and exasperated by the harsh South African segregation policies known as apartheid. Makhaya hopes to find freedom in Botswana.
Once night falls, Makhaya makes a successful run into Botswana. He is not sure where he is going. He is only happy to be out of South Africa. He comes across an old woman, who offers Makhaya a hut for the night. Just before Makhaya falls asleep, a child appears in his hut and suggests that her grandmother wants her to sleep with Makhaya. Instead, . . . Read More
The American dream was an important motivating factor in the immigrant experience. Immigrants left their homes, families, friends— indeed all that was familiar and comfortable about their old lives—to move to the United States in search of a better life. Both Johnny and Katie Nolan are the children of immigrants, and like most first-generation Americans, they hope they will be more successful than their parents. They also hope that their children will be able to achieve even more of the American dream. The desire for each generation to achieve more than the previous is an essential feature of the quest to possess a share of the American dream. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie is able to fulfill the family’s goal of achieving the American dream, a goal that eluded her father. Unlike Johnny, who was a dreamer, Francie possesses the determination, the strength, and especially the imagination necessary to escape the poverty of her childhood.
In chapter 25, when . . . Read More
The Irish and German Immigration Experiences
Francie Nolan is of Irish and Austrian origin. Her parents were first-generation Americans, and as new immigrants they faced many problems in their effort to be successful. The Nolans were Irish, a group that was a huge force in immigration. Between 1820 and 1860, it is estimated that anywhere from a third to half of all new immigrants were Irish. Many were fleeing the potato famine that enveloped Ireland in the 1840s. Even in the years after 1860, when Irish immigration slowed, their numbers hovered at about 15 percent of new immigrants. By 1900, there were 10 million foreign-born people living in the United States; of those, 15.7 percent were Irish. Since most Irish immigrants were Catholic, a group that had been both religiously and economically oppressed in Ireland, their influx also changed the religious dynamics in the United States. Much of the anti-Irish fervor that greeted the new immigrants . . . Read More