The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses

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”The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” by Bessie Head is a short narrative with a powerful message. At first I was uninterested in and untouched by the story, but after understanding the moral context, I became engaged with the piece and it’s characters.

The main purpose of the piece is to present a conflict where mental strength is tested against physical, showing that mental strength is superior and also to show that the world is a better place when we work together. Brille, the protagonist, not only shows courage and leadership, but also wisdom that makes him inevitably unique from the static characters in the story. The other prisoners in Camp One look to Brille for guidance and follow in his footsteps, even though his physical appearance is frail; he is even referred to as a “thin little fellow” with a “hollowed out chest” and “comic knobbly knees”. What Brille lacks in stature, he makes up for with his strong will; when Hannetjie, the new warder in Span One asks the prisoners who dropped a cabbage while working, I did not expect Brille to be the prisoner to claim the misdeed. After Hannetjie punishes the whole Span, Brille states “But I told you I did it”, making it evident that he wanted to have independent punishment, instead of letting his mates suffer with him. After Warder Hannetjie confronts Brille, telling him that he doesn’t take orders from a “kaffir” and tells Brille to call him “Baas”; Brille tells Hannetjie that he’s twenty years old then him and proceeds to take blows to the head by the warder. Even after Brille is hit, he does not back down and still wants to help the other prisoners, his dedication, compassion and bravery makes him suitable as their leader and they continue to put their faith in him.

Brille, experiencing the first act of violence ever perpetrated against him, thought very philosophically about his wounds. He thought back to his poor life at home, where his 12 children brutality fought and were only controlled when he was home since his wife had ultimately given up. With the disorder in his life, Brille chose to study the rights of mankind and pursue a career in politics. With his new pain, Brille felt guilty for his sub ordinance towards the violence his children were experiencing everyday at home.

After the day of attacking Brille, Warder Hannetjie is very observant and giving the span a difficult time. For two weeks the prisoners live in “acute misery”, until Brille decided to tell them some good news. He revealed tobacco and surprisingly stated that Hannetjie was the person that he had received it from. Then Brille reveals that he had caught Hannetjie stealing fertilizer in the shed and Hannetjie bribed Brille to keep his mouth shut. The men of Span One, silent in awe, let Brille continue to explain, Brille states that “ Prison is an evil life” and “It will make a man contemplate all kinds of evil deeds”. After this situation, it is evident that even though Hannetjie had defeated Brille in a physical aspect, Brille had the upper hand. Brille then claims that he will betray Hannetjie the following day, and the prisoners are afraid, telling him to reconsider, Brille simply laughs and says that Hannetjie is “just a child and stupidly truthful” and he is going to punish him with blackmail. Brille uses his brain to find a way to defeat Hannetjie instead of trying to attack him physically, which results in internal affliction instead of the temporary pain Hannetjie inflicted. Hannetjie then confesses to stealing the fertilizer and is fined a large sum of money. Hannetjie became subordinate as the prisoners from Span One began to do whatever they pleased. One day, Brille took advantage of Hannetjie's correspondence when he is asked to do a trivial task. Brille tells Hannetjie that he is not his servant and Hannetjie begins again with the racial slurs, telling Brille to call him “baas”. In response, Brille says that one day his people will “run the country” and Hannetjie will clean his...
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