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 of the women manages a laugh, though the topic of conversation is very serious. This has an effect, which Head describes as an ‘‘unusual’’ sound, that creates the impression that ‘‘all the glass in the world were being hurled into a deep pit and shrieking in agony.’’ Here, Head offers more than words to describe the unique laughter: she gives her readers a sound that they can almost hear. It is a startling sound, she states, one that gathers the attention of all who hear it, which, apparently, is exactly what the person who laughs wants to do.
When describing a young girl in the novel, rather than simply stating that the girl is thin and playful, Head writes that the girl ‘‘walked like a wind-blown leaf.’’ In this simple phrase, the author suggests an image that many people have seen. There is a leaf that is picked up off the ground by a breeze. The leaf twirls in the wind, floating up, then down, and near, and then away. The leaf is light and free in its movements, with no care as to where it will land. From this picture that Head creates, readers can easily imagine a young girl skipping and hopping, free as a breeze, with few troubles to bog down her body or mind.
Setting as a Minor Character
The country of Botswana plays a minor character in this novel, through descriptions of how Gilbert is attempting to change the practices of the villagers in order to save the land and to improve their lives. There are also long discussions about the culture of the people of Botswana. Their tribal affiliations, the structure of their society, and the different roles that men and women play are all discussed.
The layout of the land, the crops that grow naturally in the ground, and the challenges of living in an arid place are also described in detail. The land is an integral part of the story because it represents the challenges that the main characters must face. The land is dying at the beginning of the story, but as Gilbert employs his knowledge and understanding about what the land is capable of producing, the land begins to change from wasteland to cropland. Without the land and the country in the background, this story would be far less complex.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Bessie Head, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.