Born from a white mother and a black father, Bessie Head grew up in the early stages of Apartheid South Africa. In Maru she reflects upon her own experiences of love, loneliness and prejudice. Prejudice spreads as one discriminates against another and creates false images. Love contradicts loneliness, which diminishes as the plot progresses. Prejudice affects love and promotes loneliness. Initially one may assume that prejudice is only between different races. However, Bessie Head displays tribal prejudice through, “the expressions of disgust on the faces of the Batswana nurses as they wash the dead woman’s body for burial” (page 9-10).
The nurses are reluctant to wash the dead woman’s body because she was Masarwa. Masarwas are considered as, “a low and filthy nation” (page 8), because they have decided to sustain their ancestral ways of life and customs. They have thus been pushed to the margin of society, “owned as slaves” (page 19), by the authoritative and affluent chiefs of the community. Being associated with Masarwa would infer that one stoops down to their level. For this reason, Moleka’s love for Margaret is suppressed. He loves her but is not keen to sacrifice his status for her.
By, “[sharing] his plate of food and fork with one” (page 51), he wishes to show the community that Masarwa are equal to Batswana and eradicate the belief that they are non-human. Moleka attempts to terminate prejudice immediately. He does not understand that, “prejudice is like the skin of a snake. It has to be removed bit by bit” (age 48). This metaphor illustrates to the reader that change occurs over a long period of time. According to Moleka, this plate sharing becomes a symbol for the emancipation of the Masarwas and qualifies Margaret to be his equal.
Moleka is a hypocrite because he wants to change other people’s attitudes towards Masarwa but he is not willing to walk down the aisle with Margaret. His prejudicial demeanours compel him to quash his feelings towards her. This shows that love does not always have the power to overcome prejudice. In addition, Margaret is lonely. Similar to Bessie Head, Margaret feels lost because she is unaware of where she belongs. Born a Masarwa but raised by an English woman,she is, “unable to fit into a definition of something as narrow as a tribe or race or nation” (page 11).
Knowing which culture or group one belongs to defines a person. People discriminate against her because they do not know what she is. Margaret has no one to relate to. Nobody understands her. She lives in a village with magnitudes of people but in her heart she is alone. This is only until she encounters Moleka and experiences a, “bang! ” (page 26), in her heart. This onomatopoeia is significant in Margaret’s life because it symbolises the beginning of her journey. She has always lived as a recluse but from this point onwards she instigates a presence that cannot be ignored.
For the first time, she feels important because, “She [is] really no longer lonely” (page 26). Her relationship with Dikeledi is the closest Margaret comes to friendship. During her school career, Margaret is a brilliant, yet lonely student. The other students mock her by saying phrases such as, “you are just a bushman” (page 13). Prejudice, in this case causes loneliness. Bessie Head displays this throughout the novel. In Dilepe, Masarwa are slaves. When the news about Margaret being Masarwa spreads, she is ostracised by society because she is supposed to be a slave.
Moreover, Maru’s marriage to Margaret appears to overcome her solitude. However, she still feels lonely due to the fact that she is not married to her first love, Moleka. She agrees to marry Maru because it is the only, “alternative to the living death into which she [has] so unexpectedly fallen” (page 120). Maru waits for the perfect moment, when Margaret loses her only companion and her first and only ‘love’, to propose marriage to her so that he appears to be her best option. He becomes her redeemer. Bessie Head uses the oxymoron, “living death” (page 120), to emphasize the severity of the situation Margaret finds herself in.
It is so dreadful that it may be considered as fatal. She thinks that it is her decision to agree to marry Maru. Maru makes, “people do everything he [says] they [will]” (page 67). This brings into question whether he really loves Margaret or if he weds her in his attempt to conquer prejudice towards Masarwa. Maru realises that overcoming prejudice is a process that requires cautious planning. Furthermore, after the marriage between Maru and Margaret takes place, “a door silently [opens] on the small dark airless room in which their souls had been shut for a long time” (page 122).
This metaphor describes the change that occurs as Maru had expected. The Masarwas are slowly being freed from the oppression that they have been subjected to. Bessie Head uses imagery, “small dark airless” (page 122), to give the reader an understanding of how the Masarwa suffer because of the Batswana. Love, loneliness and prejudice carry out a significant role in Margaret’s life. Bessie Head uses these three themes to demonstrate to the reader that in order to triumph one has to work hard and be strong.
Margaret’s, “single abrupt tear from one eye” (page 18), shows that she, too, is human. Even though she is trained not to exhibit emotions her body unexpectedly displays her at moments when she is overwhelmed sensations that she does not understand nor come across before. In conclusion, where there is real love there is loneliness because and prejudice is one of the major entities that bring about loneliness in the novel. If there was no prejudice, there would have been fewer problems for everybody in the town. Love is the source of happiness.