The Continuity of Charles Mungoshi's Coming of the Dry Season

Antwan Jefferson, English 119, Brown University, 1999

In Charles Mungoshi's Coming of the Dry Season, the significance of the title becomes a very intriguing, vital component of the book. When the book is considered a collection of short stories, it appears gapped and unrelated. However, when it is considered a novel, Mungoshi's text takes its reader along a journey with a young boy who is unnamed; or is it Nhamo, or Julius, or Paul? In this context, when considering the book's title, its various components, as chapters or stories, breed either confusion or comfort in its reader.

"Shadows on the Wall," the opening portion of the text, introduces the reader to a young boy, unnamed, who endures the literal silencing pain of combined abuse, neglect, and love. His father loves him with a tough love, that requires the young boy to be ignored, forced to be independent and masculine, but within a familial context:

Mother was still with us then, and father carried me because she had asked him to. I had a sore foot and couldnít walk and mother couldnít carry me because she was carrying a basket of mealies for our supper on her head and pieces of firewood in her arms. At first father grumbled. He didnít like to carry me and he didnít like receiving order from mother: she was there to listen to him always, he said. He carried me all the same although he didnít like to, and worse, I didn't like him to carry me. [p.2]

In a conversation between the son and his mother, the father interrupts and calls the boy lazy. He continues by telling his wife that the boy is a man and she is trying to turn him into a woman. This same father, intending to make the young, nameless son independent from both he and his wife, attempts to force the boy to ignore his mother. After a final quarrel between the boy's parents, the two separate. A new wife is introduced, and the boy refuses to call her mother at the request of his father. Such treatment causes the boy to fade into a world of silence, wherein the only other residents were shadows.

In the following story or chapter, "The Crow," a young, nameless boy and his friend, Chiko, play along a riverbed. In this section, the nameless one is without silence. Silence does not return to his lips for the remainder of the novel. The two hunt a crow together, and throughout the entire affair, the nameless boy is clearly sensitive to thoughts, desires, and motivations that exist between him and Chiko. "We were both afraid but it was a code between us not to show each other that we were afraid" (p.8).

This insight provides sufficient indication of the maturity of the boy. It closely resembles the insight with which he referred to his relationship with his father. "He cannot talk to me because I don't know how to answer him, his language is too difficult for me" (p.6).

As the tale(s) develop, the young boy travels along a mountainside with his friend, Chemai, who accompanies him en route to the bus station. A name is offered for the once (possibly) nameless one -- Nhamo. And though the final destination of the two boys is not made clear, three chapters later we find a young boy, Paul, in a city looking for work. In the two chapters preceding the sixth (in which we encounter Paul) a schoolboy named Julius is forced to return home for disruptive behavior in school. Could this Julius be the same boy who was in Form Two while looking down on Chemai who was only as far as Standard Two when they walked along the mountainside trying to catch the 5am bus, before Nhamo becomes Paul?

Apparently, Mungoshi develops this group of tales within a troubling framework. And, although his intention is not known, his technique is certain. Each of the segments in this linear, although segmented work could have been written separately and combined. The possibility stands, then, that Mungoshi intended an interconnectedness among each of these separated tales, existing within the framework of many of the country's young boys who are misunderstood, neglected, homeless, and searching. In this case, it is not problematic that the text is gapped, because it hangs on a single thread, which may not be as questionable within Zimbabwean culture. If so, Mungoshi definitely challenges the reader who presumes to know the form of the work, rather than allows the novelist to define its form.

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