Expert Answer:Woman at Point Zero Essay

  

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Quote from “Near Pala” Whites by Norman Rush
“Nan said to Tess, but projecting for the benefit of the front, ‘Truly, are we so superior as we think? I
wonder little. When we first moved in at the mine, we did something at the house so stupid am still in
pain. There were two pawpaw trees growing side by side by the house, one thriving with nice big pawpaws
on it and the other sick-looking and leaf-less – dead looking. Well, we thought it was plain what we should
do: take down the dead tree. So we hauled and pushed on the trunk of the poor tree and strained and pulled
it over – uprooted it, Gareth and myself. It was his idea: we must just straight off do this, get it over. Then,
with the crash, the servants come out. They had funny looks on. Dineo said, so quietly, ‘Oh, Mma, you have
killed the male.’ We didn’t understand. It seems the pawpaw grow in pairs, couples, male and female. The
male tree looks like a phallus – no foliage to it, really. The female needs the male in order to bear. They take
years to reach the heights ours had. Then the female died. The staff had been eating pawpaws from our tree
for years. It was a humiliation” (21).
Norman Rush’s short story “Near Pala” deals with the relationship between white Europeans and
black Africans in Botswana, as well as with the relationship between white males and females. Through the
dialogue of two white English couples driving through Botswana, Rush draws a parallel between these two
complex relationships. In both of these relationships there is an oppressor and an oppressed; while the blacks
are oppressed by the whites, the women are oppressed by the men, and the oppression of both of these
groups of people has led them to depend on their oppressors in one way or another.
The passage that I have chosen to illustrate these aspects of Rush’s story is like an allegory
within the story. In it the complexities of the relationships of blacks and whites and women and men within
the text are revealed. Nan begins the story with a preface that lets the reader know that this story is going to
debase the idea that the whites are superior to blacks. It does this in a very literal way, by explaining how a
couple of white people (herself and Gareth), in their ignorance of Botswana life, land, and society, destroyed
something very important to the Botswana people. They killed a perfectly healthy tree that the Botswana
people ate from. This is a specific instance in which the white people are shown not to be superior to the
blacks.
At the same time we can analyze this passage through the lens of gender studies and see it as a
commentary on the relationships of men and women. Like the male tree, which is depicted as “sick-looking
and leaf-less- dead-looking”(21), Gareth is portrayed in a rather unappealing way. He is rude, abrasive,
degrading and controlling towards Nan. He demeans her by dismissing all of her thoughts and comments. As
Nan puts it, “The smallest thing I propose is always senseless, madness- I must put it from me”(25). In
Gareth’s point of view nothing Nan says has any validity. Likewise, he is very uncompassionate towards the
Botswana people. He criticizes them and even laughs at their misfortune: “They passed a small settlement and
the men began to laugh. An imposing thorn tree overhanging a shed at the roadside was clotted with paper
refuse- streamers of toilet tissue caught in the spines”(20). Gareth fails to understand that this problem is not
solely the fault of the Botswana, but of the white people who brought them inorganic materials and did not
explain to them that these items were not bio-degradable, as Nan explains. However, like the female tree is
dependent on the male tree, Nan is dependent upon Gareth, who has impregnated her. She is obviously
unhappy about her pregnancy as she says she doesn’t want to talk about it and she forgets about it at one
point. Also, there is a scene in which Tess says that she can feel herself ovulating, and Nan responds, “‘Aren’t
you lucky!’ Nan said. Her eyes reddened, and she turned to look out the window on her side”(23). Nan
obviously thinks Tess is lucky, because if she herself had known when she was ovulating, she would not be
pregnant, and therefore, she would not be forever tied to Gareth, illustrating the gender biases inherent in the
text.
Like Nan is dependent on a man who degrades her and controls her, the Botswana people are
dependent on the white people, who control and degrade them. We see in the story how many white people
view the black people. They see them as inferior. Tom and Gareth make generalizations about the Botswana
people being thieves, or being wasteful. They refuse to help the Botswana people, who are in desperate need
of water. However, like Nan, the Botswana people need the help of the very people that are making them
need help in the first place. They need the acrylic blankets that the white people bring, because since the
white people came they can no longer afford wool blankets, and it is because of these acrylic blankets that
their babies are getting pneumonia. And because their babies are getting pneumonia, they depend on the help
of the white doctors. All the while, this dependency is the cause of their destruction.
Thus, the complexities of these two different, yet parallel relationships are beautifully illuminated by
the story of the pawpaw trees. However, while the story itself is told beautifully, the pictures it paints of the
situation between whites and blacks in Africa, as well as the situation between Western men and women, are
overwhelmingly bleak. Although, there is a certain amount of hope in Nan, a white person who does have
compassion for the African people, that hope is all but crushed when we realize that Nan herself is almost
powerless to help as she is in an oppressive situation very similar to that of the Africans.

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