Why is the woman from America an outcast in Africa?
The “Woman from America” by Head is a story about an American woman who settles in a poor village in Africa, after getting married to a commoner. Her marriage into the village symbolizes that she is there to stay. Head, “the child of an ‘illicit’ union between a Scottish woman and a black man”, (2) faced many racial issues throughout her life, leading her to move from place to place. The mixed ethnicity and the issue of being an outcast is shared by the protagonist of the story and Head herself. The woman from America (in the story) possesses elements of many different cultures in her ancestry: African, German, and Cherokee. Despite the comfortable lifestyle, she is used to in the United States, she succeeds in adapting to the lifestyle and hardships in Africa. The American visitor is intimidating to the African women, particularly to the narrator. One of the reasons for the intimidation is that the American woman is perceived as strong willed and very beautiful. The fact that she is not completely African makes it hard for her to fit into an environment, which is not predominantly multi-cultural. According to the narrator, people in the village are divided into two groups. One group welcomes her to their community, while the other wishes for her to leave. The latter group of Villagers may contemplate that she may take more than what she needs. This could lead to a conflict between the villagers and she would be the reason for this quarrel. For these reasons, woman from America becomes an outcast in Africa as she begins to settle.
The protagonist (Woman from America) shares at least three different ethnicities; while in the United States, she is easily accepted, since it is a multicultural society. However, in Africa, she stands out from the crowd. The story gives the feeling that at least some of the people in the village do not trust non-Africans. As the narrator talks about the different ethnicity that the woman from America belongs to, she also mentions that American woman possesses physical beauty because of the mixed physical features. The American woman’s beauty makes her an outcast; the narrator admires her but refers to her as the most oddly beautiful person. (110) This suggests that she is threatened by her looks to some degree and may feel the need to be competitive in a world where people are judged on their appearance. The narrator later on says, “It takes a great deal of courage to become friends with a woman like that. Like everyone here, I am timid and subdued”, (110) this suggests that both the narrator and other people in the village are intimidated by her, which may lead her to act abnormally around the American African woman and may make her feel like an outcast.
Certain people in the village hope for her to leave, this is partially because she is in land where there is so very little (tangible materials, food etc.), and they will have to share the resources with her. This is stated by the narrator, “Some people keep hoping she will go away one day”. (110) Villagers may believe that she will take more than what she needs, and they will get even less than what they have now. On the other hand, the other half of the villagers are welcoming to the new American woman. This is stated at the beginning of the story by the narrator, “People are divided into two camps: those who feel a fascinated love and those who fear a new thing”. (110) These are the mixed feelings of the neighbours.
Throughout the story, we see that the narrator and the other villagers clearly have mixed feelings for the American woman. We know that this is true, because the villagers wish for her to leave; the narrator is also intimidated by her. Although by the end of the story the narrator accepts the American woman, however, it is not stated if the other villagers, who are against her initially, have also accepted her. In conclusion, the American woman has given up a comfortable life and decided to adapt to a new but hard lifestyle in Africa. According to the narrator, she is unique in the sense, that she can take the best of both cultures (African and American) and live peacefully. “The woman from America loves both Africa and America independently; she can take what she wants from both and say, ‘Dammit’. It is a most strenuous and difficult thing to do”. (112) Hence, she is different from everyone else, making her an outcast. To the narrator, she is a positive outcast, but to some of the villagers, she is an outcast that is not welcomed in their village.
1) Head, Bessie. "Woman from America." The Heinemann Book of African
Women's Writing. Ed. Charlotte H. Bruner. Oxford: Heinemann,
2) Head, Bessie. "Brief Biography of Bessie Head”. Bessie Head home. bessiehead.org. 21 July. 2006 < <http://www.bessiehead.org/biography/brief_biography.htm>.