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
Fiction refers to any story that is created out of the author’s imagination, rather than factual events. Sometimes the characters in a fictional piece are based on real people, but their ultimate form and the way they respond to events are solely the creation of the author. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the characters are fictional, but they are based on people or character types from Smith’s life. This inclusion of facts from the author’s own life is the defining element of autobiography, the biography of oneself. For instance, many of the details and locations in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn mirror Smith’s own life. Examples include Smith’s own love of reading and writing, which Francie also loves, and the jobs that Smith held after finishing elementary school, which are the same kinds of work that Francie does. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a work of autobiographical fiction because it is a fictional story that . . . Read More
At Francie’s birth in chapter 9, Mary Rommely tells her daughter, Katie, that it is important that she read to her children every night, because education is a way to escape poverty. Katie reads a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare, and this bedtime reading is the start of the children’s education. Learning to play the piano and learning to love music are also a part of an education, so the piano lessons in chapter 17 also emphasize Katie’s commitment to her children. When Francie starts school in chapter 19, it is an important event for the family. Although Francie is thrilled to finally learn how to read, her first school is a terrible place, where the children are beaten and mistreated. It is Francie who finds a school where she thinks she can get a better education. In chapter 27, as Katie watches her children struggle to drag a large Christmas tree up the steps to their apartment, she suddenly realizes that . . . Read More
Ben is the young man Francie meets on her first day at her summer college classes. He is practical and a careful planner, who also helps care for his mother. He helps Francie study for her classes. Ben plans to attend college and law school. He loves Francie and is willing to give her the time she needs to learn to love him.
Doctor and Nurse
The doctor and nurse have only a brief role; they administer the vaccinations that Francie and Neeley need to begin school. The doctor shows no compassion or understanding about what it means to live in poverty. Although the nurse grew up in the neighborhood, she has managed to escape the poverty of her childhood and seems to have forgotten its lessons.
Evy Rommely Flittman
Aunt Evy is Katie’s older sister. Like all of the sisters, Evy is a practical woman, willing to work hard for her family. She is married to Willie . . . Read More