Margaret Laurence (1928-1987) is one of the most beloved writers in Canada, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1972 that shows her popularity. Also ‘The range and the quality of her work made her the most recognized and accomplished of the writers of the 1960s’ (New 265). She began to write from age 7, but none of her stories was published until she moved to Africa, where she lived for seven years because of her husband’s job. Her first published fiction, the Uncertain Flowering, was followed by several short stories, published in various journals, that were collected in The Tomorrow-Tamer in 1963. The Rain Child is one of these short stories, which sets in Africa and was influenced by Laurence’s experience as a minority there. Moreover, she recognized the ‘division between their [Africans’] traditional ancestral past and their contemporary partly Westernized present’ (New 265).
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The plot of the story is quite simple; an African girl, Ruth, who has been educated in England moves back to Africa with her father, and becomes a student in Eburaso Girls’ School where the narrator, Miss Violet Nedden is the English teacher. Her integration, her identity problems and behavioral changes are told by Miss Nedden. These themes can be found in the other short stories as well, because they ‘focus repeatedly on outsiders trying to cope with their own identities’ (New 266). In addition, Laurence shows ‘special sympathy for those, both African and European, who no longer fully belong anywhere’ (The Oxford Companion ti Canadian Literature 634) in her short stories.
The main motif in The Rain Child is identity because every main character has identity problems. The narrator, Miss Nedden is an English woman who moved to Africa to teach and she has spent there twenty-two years, but she did not become a real African, however she has adapted herself to the circumstences more easily than her boss, Miss Hilda Povey. Miss Povey is more close-minded than Miss Nedden as she says at the beginning of the story, ‘twenty-seven years here [Africa]. . . and she still felt acutely uncomfortable with African parents’. Miss Nedden is more open-minded, for instance, she gives up to teach Daffodils and turns to Akan’s poetry, and she joins to the girls when they go to the Odwira. On the contrary to her achieved integration, Miss Nedden keeps her English identity, for instance, her garden chair which is like a throne for her, and the reader also can sense the superiority over Africans in her thinking. However, she also cannot be a real English woman after spending so many years in Africa. As she says it at the end of the short story: ‘I think of that island of grey rain where I must go as a stranger, when the time comes’.
The other main character, Ruth, is also struggling with identity problems because she has lived in England before she moved back to Africa with her father. She seems African with her brown skin but she cannot speak the Twi, the language of the area and she does not know a lot about the African culture and traditions. For her, everybody seems strange and somehow barbarian with the traditional African clothes that they wear after classes and their weird beliefs, for instance: Yindo’s talisman. She does not feel as she is at home, she wants to go back to England: ‘I wish I were back at home.’ Ruth becomes happier when she meets David, an English boy, but he makes her shocked when he says: ‘I know you’re not the ordinary kind of African. You’re almost – almost like a – like us.’. It is not enough for Ruth, therefore she runs away to the forest and at the end of the short story she leaves the school and goes to another in the town.
Ruth’s father, Dr. Quansah also has got some kind of identity problem. He has worked in England for many years and there he has had friends but he cannot find any neither European nor African in Africa. As he says: ‘I still find most Europeans here as difficult to deal with as I ever did. And yet – I seem to have lost touch with my own people, too.’. He has got a mixed identity, because he also keeps western habits, but in a way he remains African in his thinking. For instance: he eats western food, wears European clothes and speaks English, but he is not identical to Europeans because he resents the Europeans’ racism.
The theme of identity also brings up the question of race and culture. Ruth is an African girl because of her roots, but she has been brought up in a different culture, therefore she feels herself more English than African. However, in the eyes of other people she will remain African, she cannot be truly English, as David says she is just almost like them. On the contrary, the conclusion of the short story is about the power of culture above race. ‘Race is insignificant and artificial, Laurence is saying; culture is real and inviolable.’ (Craig 115).
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In addition to culture, the traditions have got important roles in the short story, for instance, the senior girls are allowed to wear the traditional, colourful African dress. The main traditional event in the story is the Odwira festival. There happens something shocking to Ruth when she sees Kwaale and a boy doing the ‘Shoot an arrow’ ritual. The boy shoots an imagenary arrow to Kwaale and she shows her naked body to him. It is a ‘reminder that women are the source of life’, however Miss Nedden is not sure that Kwaale and the boy really know about this custom’s meaning or origin or they just care about ‘the beat of their own blood’.
Also the title of the short story is connected to African culture because when Ruth was born her mother called her an African name which means ËŠchild of the rainËŠ. Her English name, Ruth is also interesting because it can be seen as a biblical refernce. Ruth in the Bible was a poor, foreigner woman and her story shows the triumph of ingenuity and courage over tough circumstences. This is a bit sarcastical because in The Rain Child Ruth is neither ingenious nor courageous because she does not want to be a part of her new country.
Laurence used mainly Ruth’s story to tell problems with which a whole nation and generation faced at that time. The themes – identity, migration, alienation, integration, race, sense of belonging – she put in The Rain Child show a great sense of understaning towards these people. ‘Laurence’s [style] embraces conscious symbolism while it strives for the immediacy of ordinary experience’ (New 265).
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