The Emotional Impact of Oppression

John Yang, Class of 2000, English 119, Brown University

In the Coming of the Dry Season, Charles Mungoshi paints little vignettes of life in Rhodesia through his short stories. Some stories contain pictures of the more obvious signs of oppression. For example, two native boys cannot ride the elevator in the Pearl Assurance Building in "The Lift." In "The Ten Shillings," the main character Paul Masaga thinks that a Junior Certificate will increase his chances of acquiring a decent job. Masaga recognizes how the Europeans perceive the Africans: "An African would do or was bloody lazy. That was that. If they knew anything about the emotional life of an African it was that he was unstable, a potential rapist and murderer." (38)

Mungoshi's other stories focus on the psychological impact of colonization. In stories such as "Shadows on the Wall" and "The Setting Sun and the Rolling World," Mungoshi brings the reader inside the mind of his characters so that the reader more clearly sees the emotional strains of an oppressed life. "The Crow" paints a vivid picture of one of the more interesting displays of emotional strain and frustration. In this story the narrator and his friend Chiko decide to shoot a crow for fun, but are soon frustrated because the crow refuses to die. Their little game transforms into a grueling fight between themselves and the helpless yet persevering crow:

Now, all of a sudden, something got into us and we donít know whether there had been a single moment in the whole business when we had thought it was fun. We were grim and sweaty. We wanted it to shit off its death-voice. We were angry and a newer fear had just come into us. It seemed as if we had started something that was beyond us. In a frenzy we picked up the pebbles that we had used and hit it again and again.

But the crow would not die. (11)

After many more frustrating attempts to kill the crow, the narrator and Chiko throw the bird into the river not knowing whether the bird is still alive. Chiko, through his anger and disappointment, breaks down in tears. The narrator no longer wishes to prove to Chiko that he is tougher and instead has an ominous feeling: "It is the way I feel when everything goes wrong and I am afraid." (12)

If the narrator and Chiko are young children, what does their violence at such an early age against the bird represent? Does Mungoshi intend any special significance to the fact that the children tried to kill a crow instead of another type of bird? What special meaning can the crow have to readers of Mungoshi's stories? What can be said of the fact that the character cannot kill the bird and ultimately do not know if they have killed it?

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