A Living Life, A Living Death: Bessie Head's Writing as a Survival Strategy [Book Review]

Journal of Medical Humanities 32 (4):269-278 (2011)
Abstract
This paper explores Bessie Head’s writing as a survival strategy through which she transformed her lived experience into imaginative literature, giving meaning and purpose to a life under permanent threat from the dominant group first in South Africa and later in Botswana. This threat included the destructive effect of the many fixed labels imposed upon her including: a ‘Coloured’ woman, the daughter of a woman designated mad, an exile, a psychotic, a tragic black woman, and a Third World woman writer. Her endeavours to avoid and defeat such limited, static definitions produced work characterised by contradiction and paradox, through which she asserted her right to survive and determined, like Makhaya in When Rain Clouds Gather , to establish ‘a living life’ in place of the ‘living death that a man could be born into’ (Head 1989, 136). Through a combination of Head’s personal letters and papers and her published work, it can be seen how her particular preoccupations and experiences including her life in exile, her beliefs about her origins, her relationship to her absent mother, her distress, her madness and her need for love and for work were transformed into writing which expresses not only the destructive circumstances of her life but also its life-affirming aspects. Her writing was also a means by which she could create identities to express the dangers she encountered from the all-pervasive power structures which influenced her life and her sense of self, as well as ways to transcend them, enabling her to say in the last years of her life ‘I am no failure’ (20.2.1986 KMM BHP)
Keywords Madness  Power  Autobiography  Identity  Bessie Head
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 9,360
External links
  • Through your library Configure
    References found in this work BETA
    Citations of this work BETA

    No citations found.

    Similar books and articles
    Analytics

    Monthly downloads

    Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

    Added to index

    2011-08-26

    Total downloads

    1 ( #306,343 of 1,089,153 )

    Recent downloads (6 months)

    0

    How can I increase my downloads?

    My notes
    Sign in to use this feature


    Discussion
    Start a new thread
    Order:
    There  are no threads in this forum
    Nothing in this forum yet.