In 1990, Adeola James, a Nigerian born scholar of literature, and then based at the University of Guyana, published a book carrying interviews with various women writers who had become prominent in African literature by that time.
Adeola held a no holds barred discussion with Ama Ata Aidoo, Zaynab Alkali, Buchi Emecheta, Pamela Kola, Ellen Kuzwayo, Muthoni Likimani, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Penina Muhando, Micere Mugo, Rebecca Njau, Flora Nwapa, Joyce Ochieng, Asenath Odaga, Ifeoma Okoye and Zulu Sofala. Adeola James captures these women’s views in their very own voices; on almost all the major issues in African literature.
The book, first published by Heinemann in Nairobi, is a must read for those who have a keen interest in women’s literature in Africa. Asked on the African writer’s dilemma of trying to reach a wider audience, versus the need to write in African languages, Ama Ata Aidoo says that she worries a lot about writing in English, a language “that is not accessible to our people.”
Aidoo says she is acutely aware that “writing in English makes it possible for me or any African writer to communicate with other people throughout the continent who share their colonial language….I have not pretended to myself that I have an answer.
I have also thought that, whilst one is aware of the language issue as big, it is better for a writer to write in English, than not to write at all.” Then on the question of whether the African woman writer is muted or not, Ama Ata Aidoo says the question of the African woman writer being muted has to do with the position of women in society in general.
She feels that African women writers are just receiving the general neglect and disregard that women in the larger society receives. Aidoo says she understands the concern that in African Literature maybe there is no woman writer who has risen to the stature of Achebe or Ngugi or Soyinka.
She indicates that this could be because the assessment of a writer’s work is in the hands of critics and it is they who put writers on pedestals or sweep them under the carpet.
Then Adeola James puts to Aidoo: “Do you see any distinction in the way male and female African writers choose their themes and thrusts? Aidoo responds: “I think, as a woman writer, you approach issues from your position in life, in society, in history as a woman.
Now, as to whether the result of that position is saying things that are different from how a man would say or select them, that is a question that the critics ought to answer.”
Then Aidoo is drawn to the observation that her central characters in all her literature tend to be very strong women. “Does she create them that way consciously because she is also a woman writer herself?” To that, she says, “I think that is natural.
When a man wakes up in the morning, he sees a man when he looks in the mirror. So if it is natural for male writers to create male central characters, then it should be natural for me, a woman writer, to create female central characters. In that respect there has been a conscious decision.
I am aware of the whole debate about wanting to write about women, but I would have written about women anyway.” Ama Ata Aidoo, author, poet, playwright and short story writer, was born in Ghana in 1942.
She began her literary career by winning a prize in a short story competition organised by Ibadan’s Mbari Club, a famous cultural workshop of the early 1960’s in Nigeria. Her published works include two plays, The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa, a collection of short stories, No Sweetness Here; a novel, Our Sister Killjoy and a collection of poetry, Someone Talking to Sometime. Ama Ata Aidoo is one of the best known African women writers, a recognition that she deserves.
Adeola James also speaks to Buchi Emecheta. Along with other stalwarts like Ama ata Aidoo, Bessie Head and Flora Nwapa, Emecheta has helped redress the somewhat one sided pictured of African women that has been created by male writers. Some of her works include household titles like In the Ditch, Second Class Citizen, The Bride Prize, The Slave Girl, The Joys of Motherhood, Destination Biafra, Naira Power and others.
On being asked exactly what in her personal life and background is responsible for her becoming a writer, Emecheta says, rather controversially, that she decided to become a writer after visiting her village of origin rather late in life where she discovers and becomes influenced by the story telling acumen of the African women in that village as they peeled egusi or plaiting one another’s hair.
“I liked the power these women commanded as story tellers,” Emecheta says. She continues, “Since then I thought I would like to be a story teller myself. But, unfortunately I cannot write stories in my own language…so I have to write in English. On top of that we marry very early in my own area, so by the time I was twenty two I already had five children and the marriage had broken up…”
When asked if coming to England has made a difference in her life as a writer, Buchi Emecheta says that being in England helped a great deal because England has taught her not to pretend as a human being and writer!
And Emecheta adds, controversially too, “In Nigeria women are riddled with hypocrisy, you learn to say what you don’t feel. You learn not to laugh or not to laugh too loudly… I think this (English) society gives you that freedom of outlook. Don’t forget, also, that my vehicle is the English language and staying in this society, working in it, you master the nuances.”
Buchi Emecheta is hard hitting on Africa and Nigeria in her praise of English society as she goes on to say, “Writing coming from Nigeria, from Africa (I know this because my son does the criticism) sounds quite stilted. After reading the first page, you tell yourself that you are plodding.
But when you are reading the same thing written by an English person or somebody who lives here (England) you find you are enjoying yourself because the language is so academic, so perfect. Even if you remove the cover, you can always say who is an African writer…”
On being asked who exactly she writes for, Buchi Emecheta says she writes for anybody who can read. She also complains that most literature that comes out of Africa is sadly about colonialism and its effects yet many African countries have been independent for decades.
She thinks that alone is a negative thing and that the African writers must start to “write about ourselves.” When asked about the difference between the ways in which male and female African writers handle themes, character and situation, Emecheta says, the difference is not only in language “but also in the fact that female writers handle female characters more sympathetically than men.”
Then Emecheta attacks Achebe: “The good woman in Achebe’s portrayal is the one who kneels down and drinks the dregs after her husband. In the Arrow of God (by Achebe), when the husband is beating his wife, the other women just stand around saying, ‘It’s enough, it’s enough.”
Born in 1944 in Lagos to parents from eastern Nigeria, Buchi Emecheta received her education in Lagos up to secondary level and later studied Sociology at the University of London. She died in January 2017.
Adeola James also speaks to South African writer, Ellen Kuzwayo who was born in South Africa and received her education in South Africa. Kuzwayo came into writing with the publication of Call me a Woman, her autobiography.
The book pays tribute to many unacknowledged heroic women and is about the suffering of black people under apartheid in South Africa. Kuzwayo has also helped make two films: Awake from Mourning and Tsiamelo.
Kuzwayo says she thinks that South African artists have preferred drama to writing “because their feelings come out much more on stage. I think they feel the tension so much that they cannot discipline themselves to sit down and write. So they come in a group and they are full of tension and they want to say it now.
A book takes too long. And they want to sing it, they want to dramatise it and they want to be very angry on the stage.” Ellen Kuzwayo also says at a personal level, she finds writing very fulfilling. She admits to having led a life with lots of emotional pain because her first marriage broke, her son was taken away from her, her aunt sent her away from home and suddenly when she writes, all these things she wrote about and “the tension floated into the pen and it has released me.” She died in 2006.
Adeola James’ interview with Kenyan writer, Penina Muhando reveals a unique case in African literature. Having written a lot in Kiswahili and being a household name in her country, Muhando is, strangely, not invited to international conferences.
Recognition has come more to people in her country who have written fewer books in English. It is a common dilemma with big names in African writing who have, however, not written in European languages.
About this kind of exclusion, Muhando says, “I really wish I could write in a language which everybody would understand. But I think it is a question of your immediate audience…I feel I am writing for a Tanzanian audience first and foremost, because I am dealing with problems which are relevant to the Tanzanian audience.
So it is only after the writing that I could think of the audience beyond Tanzania.” Muhando says although her plays are well known across Tanzania, she has sometimes considered translating them so that they are read outside Tanzania but the problem is that she “would rather work on a new play than translate those that are already published.”
Muhando also thinks that the reason why many writers in Africa generally don’t get well known has many angles: “We know who has the power to distribute the materials, and they have the choice as to what material they want to distribute…but you only see few names such as Soyinka, Ngugi, Achebe and so on…in a way those who have the power to distribute continue to use their own criteria for promoting the people they want for their own purposes.”
Asked if she agrees with the opinion that African women writers should be responsible first and foremost to women, Muhando says, “I wouldn’t say first and foremost… I do argue very strongly that the woman issue cannot be separated from the overall problems, since women cannot be separated from the rest of society.
I believe that the liberation of the woman has to be part of the liberation of society itself. Every problem that affects the woman also affects the society at large. In my plays I like to present something which is relevant to both men and women, even if it is specifically a woman’s issue.”
Asked if there is a difference in which male and female African writers handle female characters, Muhando says, “I have a general feeling that men writers are much more careless when it comes to portraying women. I feel that they do reflect their behaviour towards the women in their own lives.
I am not saying, however, that all women writers are conscious or that they write about women more positively. But I think that the negative orientation of the male writer comes out much more clearly.”
Penina Muhando was born in Tanzania in 1948. She is committed to writing plays that are directly concerned with social and developmental problems as the titles of her plays indicate: Hatia (Guilt); Tambuene Haki Zetu (Recognise our Rights); Heshima Yangu (My Respect); Pambo (Decoration); Talaka si mke wangu (Woman I Divorce you); Nguzo mama (Mother Pillar) and many others. By the time of the interview in Dar-es-Salaam in 1986, she was the Head of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.
Adeola James asks penetrating questions. Her book allows the often muffled African women writers to talk to us directly about the key issues in African literature written by women.
Harnessing imagery in writing
All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.
Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.
In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?
But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.
There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.
At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.
Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.
“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.
“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”
Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”
The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”
What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?
And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.
To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.
“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.
I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.
I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.
She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.
As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.
I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”
So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.
Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.
Send your comments and questions to: email@example.com
Politicians’ propensity to score own goals
Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.
This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.
Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.
For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.
I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.
I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.
I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.
A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.
However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.
Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.
The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.
First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.
Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.
The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.
It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.
The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.
The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.
The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.
Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.
The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.
A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.
Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.
The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?
Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?
The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.
According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).
The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.
After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.
Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.
The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.
I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.
Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.
Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.
The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.
Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.
Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?
This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.
The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.
The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.
The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.
Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.
Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.
The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.
These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.
Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.
Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.
Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.
The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.
Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.
This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.
You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.
Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.
Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.
Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.
To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.
I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.
I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.
The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.
MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.
The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.
Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.
In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.
Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.
Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.
Dr Tholang Maqutu
Painting mood effectively
Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.
There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.
“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”
This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.
There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.
Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.
Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.
The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.
So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.
Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawyer in trouble
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
Opposition fights back
Harnessing imagery in writing
All set for Lesotho Tourism Festival
Joang locked in rentals row with tenants
Drugs crisis fuels gangsterism
Lesotho shines on MCA scorecard
Politicians’ propensity to score own goals
Co-option tactics for self-preservation
M13.6 million for police cars
Matekane’s new Cabinet
Weekly Police Report
Reforms: time to change hearts and minds
The middle class have failed us
No peace plan, no economic recovery
Coalition politics are bad for development
Academic leadership, curriculum and pedagogy
We have lost our moral indignation
Mokeki’s road to stardom
DCEO raids PS’
Literature and reality
The ABC blew its chance
Bringing the spark back to schools
I made Matekane rich: Moleleki
Musician dumps ABC
Bofuma, boimana li nts’a bana likolong
Mahao o seboko ka ho phahama hoa litheko
Contract Farming Launch
7,5 Million Dollars For Needy Children
Ba ahileng lipuleng ba falle ha nakoana
Ba ahileng lipuleng ba falle ha nakoana
Weekly Police Report
Mahao o re masholu a e ts’oareloe
‘Our Members Voted RFP’ Says Metsing
Matekane’s 100 Days Plan
High Profile Cases in Limbo
130 Law Students Graduate From NUL
Metsing and Mochoboroane Case Postponed
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Young Mpeka’s big dreams
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I’m here to help, says Mashudu
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RFP member fights election disqualification
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A fitness festival in Butha-Buthe
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‘Fake’ prophet swindles duo of M13 600
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Man claims M5 million damages for lost eyes