A traumatic incident
Without her knowledge, Louie Farmer, the authoritarian Warden of the school, applied for a government grant for Bessie. At the age of fourteen, Bessie was taken to the Durban Margistrate's Court inn order for the grant to be approved. There she was informed that her mother was an "insane" white woman and her father was "an unknown Native stable hand". Six months passed after this traumatic incident before Bessie was allowed to return to the Heathcote home and Nellie finally admitted that the story Bessie had heard in court was true. The news devastated Bessie. She later commented:
"I have always just been me with no frame of reference to anything beyond myself...I just don't fit in or belong anywhere and I tend to pride myself on not fitting in or belonging."
This brave proclamation masked her feelings of loneliness and rejection. Indeed, this struggle with her identity hounded her throughout her whole life and greatly inlfuenced her writing.
In 1954, Bessie Head's life changed yet again, this time for the better. The dynamic ex-nurse, Margaret Cadmore took over the leadership of St. Monica's. According to Bessie, Cadmore broought great changes: "When Miss Cadmore came, we got sheets, forks and knives...We could listen to the radio and dance on Sundays. When Miss Cadmore came, it meant a right-about turn for us." As Bessie was one of the older girls at St. Monica, Cadmore gave her full attention and became her much-needed friend and mentor. Bessie was writing her teacher-training certificate at the time, and was encouraged by Cadmore to develop herself in her various creative pursuits, including sketching and writing. Cadmore also introduced a sense of fun and excitement to Bessie's life. Bessie recalls how Cadmore gave her a pair os stockings "so sheer and lovely I'm afraid to wear them". Bessie kept up constant correspondence with Cadmore during her time away. Reflecting the importance of this relationship, 'Margaret Cadmore' was the name given to the protagonist of Bessie's second book, Maru.
"I'm an individual. Nobody shall make me ashamed of who I am!"
IN THE CLASSROOM
In this lesson plan, learners will get a small taste of the power of Bessie Head's writing. They will also be exposed to the great personal suffering she endured, partly as a result of the hurtful ideas about coloured people that were encouraged during apartheid. Head's letters tell us a great deal about the loneliness caused by prejudice.
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|Artwork photo gallery|
|More images of Bessie's memorial artwork erected at Werda Hoerskool in Hillary, Durban.|
|Archive photo gallery|
|'Life in pictures' - these images range from when she was a young journalist to when she was at Serowe, Botswana.|