Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head

 Note : This note is only for little help and for better understanding you should read main Book

        Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head

Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head
Credit goes to (http://www.theconmag.co.za)

Originally published in her short fiction anthology The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales,"Heaven is not Closed" by Bessie Head is a classic story that deals with the conflict between tradition and modernity. At the heart of the story lies the question of faith, the faith epitomized by Galethebege, a woman who subscribed to Christianity in a village in Botswana. A devout Christian, Galethebege wad a firm believer in the norms laid down by the Church. As in the case with many other African countries, the arrival of the missionaries in Botswana too resulted in a strong social divide among the native population. There were some who were won refused to submit to this new order which challenged there own, long-held tradition and belief system they had had for generations. Galethwbege's constancy of faith is one of the governing pillars of the story. What emerges in the course of the narrative is the triumph of the human spirit, of essential human goodness that cannot be restricted by any socially induced frame. We also get to seen Galethebege's strength of character as an individual, her firm conviction as a woman of faith and the respect she commands from the community for the way she conducts herself.  In a true sense then it is Galethebege who is the most modern ready to accommodate, adapt to the demands of the changing circumstances keeping intact her own personality even as she responded to the world around her. The Church, on the other hand, functions dogmatically, close itself to those who do not submit to its strictures and restrains its members from developing themselves in accordance with the social circumstances in which they live. The pressure exerted upon  Galethebege, thus, is immense: the promise of salvation is denied to her and her husband for their refusal to solemnize their marriage according to the dictates of the Church. This contrast between the opposing positions-one represented by Ralokae and other by the Church-opens up another dimension that runs as an undercurrent throughout the story. For a major part of the imperialist enterprise the Christian missionaries were perceived to have functioned as the aide of the colonial masters in Africa, and even though the Church and the colonial administration were not always in agreement it is undeniable that Christianity served to a considerable extent, as one of the most potent instruments of imperialism. The image of the Christian missionary as a domineering authoritative force was enhanced by figures such as one that appears here, in the story Heaven is not Closed. There are two threads that emerge from this encounter of the Botswanan village folk with the European mind: the first is the position that the missionary takes, the position which projects Christianity as the only true religion; and second is the association with the Church is related to the process of civilization. How far the encounter with Europe impacted the African consciousness is the matter of a large debate but as this story demonstrates within its ambit, the narrative of cultural superiority forwarded by the West in the countries of Africa was not only flawed but also fraught with contradictions.

When Galethebege goes to the church to share her position on the subject of marriage she is refused on the ground that Christianity does not have space for those who do not subscribe to its regimen. In fact, the Church excommunicated her for her decision to marry Ralokae as Setswana custom.In a society with so many multicultural constituents---- African social formations are unique in that different ethnic groups operate in their own distinctive ways without impinging upon the culture space of others---- the strict demand placed upon Gathebege shows that the Church was unable to respond to the reality of the world in which it functioned. This kind of demand can also be read as a form of high-handed snobbery from an institution that took pride in its accommodative characters. Gatethebege stands her own, all through the conflict between the contesting faiths, she retains her firmness of spirit and deep conviction. Both as a woman of faith and as a wife she performs her duty with complete devotion and honesty. She is the one who is respectful to both religious faiths, imbibing through her humane response the essential goodness that her community comes to identify her by. Even though the situation presented in the story concerns Galethebege as an individual, the contest in which her predicament is placed is of considerable importance. The community stands by the newly married couple and makes strong and decisive moral statement by dissociating from the Church. In effect, the world of the church loses its impact upon the people to a great extent. Instead of Galethebege feeling out of place so socially, it is the support of the society that sends out a strong message to the missionaries. One of the important issues in the story relates to the close connection that exists between society and the individual. Both Galethbege and Ralokae represent different position as individuals, yet both, in their own ways, also responded to the world in which they live. Ralokae's insistence that Setswana custom be observed is not merely a 'personal' decision, it represents the weight of a cultural heritage that connects him to his forefather and what they believe in. What is being criticised in the story is the restrictive orthodoxy of the Church that is sought to be imposed on the local population. When the missionary impose his writ on Galethebege that 'heaven is closed' to her and Ralokae, search an authoritative diktat shows arrogance and not humility, which is the hallmark of all religions. In a way then the story questions the parochialism that ends up reducing faith to a hollow play of rituals. When Galethege is excommunicated by the church, she feels let down by the institutions adhered to with complete devotion because there were many aspects of Christian practice that she valued, cherished and considered relevant to the conduct of life. The representation of Galethebege as a woman of genuine humility also service to bring to focus the patriarchal streak that runs through the social fabric in which she has to operate. she is caught between the insistence of Ralokae who demands that she must submit to his of marrying under Setswana custom and that of the Church which imposes itself upon her.

If you have any Question Comment-----

Study Question:

1. Comment on Bessie Head's narrative methods in Heaven is not Closed.
2. Write a note on the title of the story, Heaven is not closed.
3. How would you assess the character of Galethebege in Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head.
Next Post »