When Rain Clouds Gather

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How does Bessie Head use symbolism in her novel When rain clouds gather and what effect does it have on the way we read and respond to the story?

In the novel When rain clouds gather, Bessie Head uses symbolism to express the transition from the harsh life of tribalism, to the development of modern day co-operatives and the effect it has on the community.

One of the main symbolic images in the text is the recurring theme of When rain clouds gather. This incomplete and open statement refers to the progression and change Golema Mmidi is facing now that Makhaya and Gilbert have joined up with the community. Rain clouds gathering at first suggests a negative atmosphere to the novel, as clouds lead to the blockage of the sun and so provide a cold and dark mood.

However, rain clouds make a transition from being negative to positive through the book, as it is later discovered that rain clouds gathering are desired and looked forward to, with the Botswana people going so far as to call “all good things and all good people rain”. Those rain clouds come to symbolize hope, recovery, the rewards of faith, new growth” (P, I). The reader is asked to change his earlier preconception on rain clouds and realize that rain provides water which is a necessity in the Botswana desert. It is required to grow the crops, vegetation, and quench the cattle’s thirst, who provide the only source of income in the village.

Moreover, the rain clouds symbolize the villagers of Golema Mmidi getting together once they realize through Makhaya and Gilbert that by co-operating they can achieve much more then they could individually. They join forces against Matenge because they have more influence in bigger numbers. The reader is told that “the rain clouds always gathered in September”, except for now. This signifies the breaking of tribalism and the tradition that has kept the villagers underdeveloped and poor for so long. Those metaphorical rain clouds stop following the...
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