Themes in Bessie Head’s Maru

Some of the themes in Bessie Head's Maru are the theme of success, the theme of loneliness, and the the theme of prejudice.

Maru by Bessie Head
Front Cover of Bessie Head’s Maru

Some of the themes in Bessie Head‘s Maru are the theme of success, the theme of loneliness, and the theme of prejudice.

Upbringing and Success

The theme of success is one of the noticeable themes in Bessie Head’s Maru. In the novel, the white missionary, Margaret Cadmore, believes that an individual’s success is tied directly to their environment regardless of heredity. Cadmore sets out to prove this hypothesis via her adoption of an orphaned Masarwa baby, whom she raises from birth to be an attentive, diligent student.

The younger Margaret’s educational attainment serves as a proof of Cadmore’s theory, but there is a slight difference. Later in the text, Margaret asserts that she learnt in spite of Cadmore’s distant affections, thereby suggesting that knowledge is sought rather than as a natural byproduct of one’s upbringing.


Margaret’s success as a student, teacher, and agent of change can thus be considered a product of Margaret’s own efforts rather than as a foregone conclusion of how, and by whom, she was raised.

Loneliness as a Human Condition

The theme of loneliness is one of the glaring themes in Bessie’s Maru. Because she is shunned by society at large, Margaret grows up without friends and confidantes. Even her mother figure provides little emotional support, forcing Margaret to rely solely on herself. As an adult, Margaret recognizes this as a lonely existence, and she pines for relationships with others.

Likewise, Maru is a desperately lonely man who feels as though every woman he has known has been unworthy of the love he bestowed on each of them. This is what causes him to seek Margaret.

Dikeledi and Moleka are also lonely to an extent. Neither of them gets what they truly want and instead, settle for each other.

By depicting so many characters as lonely, Head seems to suggest that this is part of the human condition and that it can’t really be cured via marriage or friendship.

Dismantling Prejudice

The theme of prejudice is introduced in the circumstances of Margaret’s mother’s death: as a Masarwa, the unnamed woman is deemed untouchable by the Batswana people who see her kind as outcasts. They will not bury her properly. The disgust for Masarwa even prevents them from being treated with dignity in death.

Furthermore, when the people of Dilepe discover Margaret is Masarwa, they gossip about her, mock her openly, and plot to have her run out of the village. The Batswana look down on the Masarwa, or “Bushmen,” saying they cannot think for themselves. This prejudice was used to justify their maltreatment and enslavement.

Head demonstrates how these prejudices are internalised and affect the oppressed through Margaret’s thoughts. Though she is not ashamed to admit her Masarwa identification, Margaret believes she is fated to be alone forever because of this fact. As a result, Margaret often limits herself from pursuing her heart’s desires. This shows that prejudice functions because it mentally oppresses those who suffer outwardly.

By explaining how other Masarwa are inspired by Margaret’s marriage, Head reveals that once this mental enslavement is broken, it is only a matter of time before the societal oppression is dismantled. She writes:

People like the Batswana, who did not know that the wind of freedom had also reached people of the Masarwa tribe, were in for an unpleasant surprise because it would be no longer possible to treat Masarwa people in an inhuman way without getting killed yourself.

Bessie Head’s Maru.

Further Reading:

WHATSAPP: Click HERE to join the new Literature PADI WhatsApp group to receive latest updates on your phone and for further literary discussions!



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.