Summary and Analysis of The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andrea
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a novel by Neshani Andreas, set in the rural village of Oshaantu in northern Namibia. The novel tells the story of Kauna, a young housewife and mother who is physically abused by her husband, Shange. Kauna’s story is narrated by her best friend, Mee Ali, who is happily married. The novel explores the patriarchal violence and injustices that are faced by women in traditional Namibian society.
Kauna’s choices are limited, and she is trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. She is afraid to leave her husband, fearing that she will be ostracized by the community and that she will not be able to support herself and her children. When Shange is found dead at home, Kauna is immediately suspected of murder. The villagers believe that she poisoned him, and she is subjected to public humiliation and threats of violence. Despite her innocence, Kauna is unable to clear her name.
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a powerful and moving novel that gives voice to the experiences of women in traditional African societies. It is a story of resilience and hope in the face of adversity. The novel also explores other themes such as the importance of female friendship, the effects of colonialism on traditional cultures, and the challenges of modernity. Andreas writes with compassion and insight, and she creates a vivid and believable portrait of life in rural Namibia.
The story of Kauna known as The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, whose story was narrated through the voice of her best friend Mee Ali. We called her the purple violet of Oshaantu. She was so delicate and she came when these flowers were in bloom. Kauna’s husband, Shange, is hot tempered and an abuser, he punches his wife like a punchbag and once punched their unborn child out of her womb. More than once he almost sent her to her grave. Upon that he has a mistress down town that the whole villagers were aware of.
The novel portrays the voice given to women living in a remote village in Namibia. Also, the universal problem according to statistics, around the average of three women per month die in the hands of their partner. Sometimes, it is just pressure to stay married and shame of what people might say (as if your life was their business), shame to be branded a failure, shame to be stigmatised.
Lack of support, which could be from family, community, to economic support. Furthermore, it also annoyed how some women blamed and slammed Kauna for her husband’s behaviour. She was harshly criticised by her fellow women. Even her own mother did not want her to leave her marital home, alleging that she will tarnish the family’s reputation. Her father once told her:
Child, don’t wait until it is too late, I know your mother wants your marriage to work. But I have seen women who have died in this thing called marriage, or have done things you don’t want to hear about. I don’t want it to get to this. Don’t think of me, or my work. You must do what you think is best for you. (41)
Also, instead of leaving her husband, she started wishing her best friend Mee Ali (the narrator) harm, because she simply thinks that she too supposed to be punched by her husband (isn’t that silly?) I love what Mee Ali told her:
Michael (Mee Ali’s husband) is a good man, but this has nothing to do with me…. Shange was the man he was and again it had nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally. He would have treated any woman he married in the same way. … he would have treated me like that too, but not just for so long…. (I would have left him) I want to be a wife, not a punching bag.(54)
One morning, Shange returns home after a rendezvous with his mistress and unexpectedly dies. Mee Ali is one of the first in the village to respond to Kauna’s shocked outcry. From this point, the novel is temporally organized around Kauna’s burial of her husband, a days-long process. Kauna’s transition into widowhood is used as the catalyst for stories which highlight the subordinate role of women in the novel’s rural setting.
The author’s decision to tell these stories against the backdrops of Mee Ali and Kauna’s friendship and Kauna’s story of widowhood unfortunately results in narrative underdevelopment of the characters Mee Ali and Kauna, and also of their relationship. Several of the stories, told by Mee Ali, are recounted by way of flashbacks that ultimately disrupt the flow of the primary, chronological narrative of Shange’s burial and Kauna’s widowhood.
Additionally, the fact that many of the reflections are either about Kauna or are triggered by Kauna’s situation, but not directly related to Kauna herself, is confusing and undermines the purported strength of Mee Ali and Kauna’s friendship. In other words, the novel’s peripheral stories contextualize Kauna’s story by introducing the larger social dynamics at play, but they also de-center the primary characters and the primary plot. Neither woman is fully present in a text “inspired” by one woman (Kauna) and narrated by the other (Mee Ali). The Purple Violet of Oshaantu never fully develops either as a novel about friendship or as a sustained polemic against traditional patriarchy.
Themes in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andrea
The Theme of Marital Abuse (Spousal Abuse)
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Neshani Andreas’ first novel, is an ambitious effort. This novel seeks to expose the patriarchal violence and injustices of traditional Namibian beliefs and practices as well as counter the devastating effects of misogyny through critiques of the social institution of marriage. Bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations and internal bleeding are some of the fall out of Intimate Partner Abuse. In very many cases medical attention and hospitalization are called for.
Victims who are pregnant run the risk of miscarriage, preterm labour and injury to or death of the foetus. Many of these victims become psychological or emotional wrecks as they battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSA) which they experience for a long time. In addition to depression, victims also commonly experience long term anxiety and panic.
In The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, almost every woman carries bruises and or scars which they try unsuccessfully to cover with shoe polish. Some of them even tell lies to the doctors when they go for treatment to hide their shame and embarrassment. They have become so desensitized to the extent that they now think that being beaten by their husbands is a part of marriage. Anybody, however, who is not subjected to beatings like Mee Ali is only “lucky” in their own estimation. For these women, marriage has become a loveless entrapment that must be endured.
In spite of the above, it is noteworthy that some of the bold and fearless women in Oshaantu, having been beaten, mistreated and pushed to the wall of frustration, insults and demoralization defy tradition by divorcing their husbands. When Mee Fernie, for instance, divorces her husband, the village people, including her own relatives unused to such open defiance of supposed community convention, predict her downfall and starvation.
But to their utter consternation, Mee Fernie becomes the sole financier of her children’s education and their up keep without going to her former husband for assistance. Similarly, Mee Nangala, Jacopo’s wife, will brook no insults and economic abuse from her husband and his relatives as she decides to divorce her husband to do well for herself. Ironically, it is her husband that goes economically asunder.
As the daughter of a pastor as well as the fact that she is wholly dependent on her husband, Kauna realizes that she cannot divorce Shange. She, therefore, defies tradition by making no secret of her suffering, like many of the village women, at the hands of her abusive husband. Although the villagers are quick to suspect her of poisoning or witchcraft when her husband dies, she does not care. In fact, her husband’s physical, financial and emotional abuse seems to have hardened her into an emotionless wife who, contrary to convention, will not shed a tear for her dead husband nor speak a tribute to him at his funeral. Instead of all this, she is defiant and vocal about her sufferings in the marriage:
Well, I’m sorry you all feel uncomfortable about my behaviour, but I cannot pretend … I cannot lie to myself and to everybody else in this village. They all know how I was treated in my marriage. Why should I cry? What? For my broken ribs? For my baby, the one he killed inside while beating me? For what? For what Ali? (56)
If indeed, there is no fury like a woman scorned, then certainly a woman scorned, beaten to the point of losing a pregnancy like Kauna must be the very embodiment of a thousand furies. Apart from a few conversations with her bosom friend, Mee Ali, Kauna is a woman who has been abused into silence by her husband. In fact, this silence becomes a very powerful form of speaking against oppressive social customs after Shange’s death.
At the meeting with Shange’s relatives, she embraces silence after bravely responding to their questions with counter questions despite her in-law’s accusation of greed. At the funeral, Kauna’s silence is made visible by the blank space on the programme where her name would have been. Her refusal to weep or pretend to be affected by her husband’s death is a function of the fact that she had considered him dead even while still alive on account of the abuse-induced strained relationship.
This is why after the real death she begins to see herself not only as a woman in relation to a man but as an individual. When, therefore, her husband’s family disown her and kick her out of her marital home, she goes almost too willingly. She is all too ready to start a new life for herself as a free woman.
The Theme of Losses and the Evolution of Selfhood
Kauna makes a case for herself as her hopes for a peaceful and loving marriage were dashed by the acute turn in Shange’s attitude to an unkind and brutal husband:
I have been angry my whole life. I have been angry about this marriage and with this man [Shange], so at this stage [of his death] I really don’t think I care what happens to me if I don’t cry for him. I really don’t care. I have nothing to lose. … those who want to see me crying will be the first to accuse me of being a hypocrite (50).
There is a dominant irony in Kauna’s claim that she has nothing to lose. Essentially, for her to gain selfhood, she has to suffer enormous loss, and unlike Ali’s expectation and desire, someone has had to die as a prerequisite for Kauna’s attainment of selfhood. Kauna’s attitude challenges the veracity of the cultural norm that dehumanizes women in favour of men. Thus, she serves as a sample of Ngozi Anadi’s opinion that cultural norms “can be questioned and challenged when … [they] reinforce gender inequality and other fundamental rights” (351).
For Kauna, selfhood and loss constitute a site of struggle, and she also bears the burden of evolving the modalities of that struggle. To free herself from the general perception that “it was her fault that her husband looked at other women, It was her fault that her husband beat her” (51), she has to experience varieties of loss, which include:
Auna loses self-esteem as she “cannot walk among other women with her head uplifted and straight” (63). She loses the wholeness of her upper lip after the severe beating by Shange, which also gets her hospitalized: “the cut on the left corner of the upper lip left a scar that made it look bigger than the rest of her mouth.
A scar that will remind us all, and particularly Kauna, of all the horror of physical abuse (64). He loses the right to leave the horrendous marriage because of her obligation to protect her father’s reputation as a preacher: “… a divorce will have a really bad effect on Daddy’s preaching” (67) He loses all of Shange’s wealth – his cattle, along with her goats and pigs, his landed properties, and eventually, the homestead.
At a meeting to which Kauna is invited by the Shange family members, she is required to explain the cause of Shange’s death, and to declare his wealth to them so that those may be shared among his brothers, sisters and mother. But Kauna is neither able to explain the cause of Shange’s death nor declare his wealth.
She also refuses to have to personally or by proxy say anything – a tribute – during Shange’s funeral service, as expected of every widow. She asserts that “there is nothing to be said” (37), and Shange’s family members regard this as an affront: they accuse her of trying to disgrace the Shange clan, and to demonstrate to the whole world what a horrible man Shange was, especially as he did not sleep at home the night before he died (138).
Kauna is resolute in her decision not to tell lies as widows often do at their husbands’ funerals. In this connection, Simone de Beauvior avers that, “woman can be defined by her consciousness of her own femininity no more than by saying that she is a female, for she acquires this consciousness under circumstances dependent on the society of which she is a member” (44). By implication, Kauna has to define herself by making her own choices through the realities around her.
Generally, the symbol of loss and the symbol of selfhood in Andreas’ The Purple Violet of Oshaantu are mutually inclusive in the evolution of Kauna’s personality, implying that to experience loss engenders a gain of selfhood. Kauna’s doggedness and successful transcendence over the tempting inheritance matter, her insistence on neither telling lies about her husband nor glorifying him by presenting a tribute in his honour at his funeral are all indicative of her attainment of selfhood.
As she refuses to relinquish her selfhood to please people, it is, therefore, consistent that she is equipped with the correct attitude and disposition to absorb the outcome of the losses that she must experience. As Shange’s family members sequester her from the family and the homestead, she leaves Oshaantu with hope, which she expresses to friend, Ali, using the regenerative nature of the millet.
The imagery of the millet engenders the attribute of resilience, tenacious striving to live and a refusal to be obliterated, which are reflected in Kauna’s personality. She defies traditional norms and roles as stipulated for widows in Oshaantu, and she pays dearly for that. She is a misfit in the atmosphere of disapproval, which naturally generates diverse forms of loss for her. Despite the many challenges she faces, Kauna remains resilient and determined to find a better life for herself and her children.
Characterisation in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andrea
The characters in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu are complex and well-developed. They represent a range of different experiences and perspectives, and they help to illuminate the challenges faced by women in traditional Namibian society. The main characters in Neshani Andreas’s novel The Purple Violet of Oshaantu are:
Mee Ali: The narrator of the novel, a married woman with several children. She lives in the village of Oshaantu with her husband, Michael, who works as a migrant miner. Mee Ali is a kind and compassionate woman, and she is a good friend to Kauna.
Kauna: A young housewife and mother who is married to the abusive Shange. Kauna is a victim of domestic violence, but she is also a strong and resilient woman. She eventually finds the courage to leave Shange and start a new life for herself.
Shange: Kauna’s husband, who is a cruel and abusive man. He beats Kauna regularly and treats her with contempt. Shange eventually dies under mysterious circumstances, and the villagers suspect that Kauna may have poisoned him.
Mekwankala: An elderly woman who is one of the few people in the village who stands up to Shange for his abuse of Kauna. Mukwankala is a wise and respected member of the community, and her voice is a powerful force for change.
Mee Feenie: Kauna’s aunt, who is one of the few people who encourages Kauna to leave Shange. Mee Feenie is a strong and independent woman, and she is a role model for Kauna.
Michael: Mee Ali’s husband, who is a kind and loving man. Michael is away from home much of the year working as a miner, but he is always supportive of Mee Ali and their children.
Sustera: A nurse who helps Kauna after she is beaten by Shange. Sustera also helps Kauna obtain contraception when she wishes to stop having children.
Mee Maria: A traditional woman who believes that marriage is binding and that wives should always submit to their husbands. Mee Maria disapproves of Kauna’s decision to leave Shange.
Language and Style Used in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andrea
The language and style used in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andreas is lyrical and evocative, often drawing on traditional Namibian imagery and symbolism. Andreas uses a variety of literary devices, such as repetition, metaphor, and simile, to create a vivid and immersive reading experience. One of the most striking features of Andreas’s language is her use of imagery.
For example, she describes the Namibian landscape as “a tapestry of colors, from the lush green of the Ovambo region to the red sands of the Kalahari Desert.” She also uses imagery to evoke the emotions of her characters. For example, she describes the grief of the protagonist, Kauna, as a “heavy blanket” that weighs her down. Andreas also uses a variety of literary devices to create meaning and emphasis in her writing.
For example, she uses repetition to emphasize the cyclical nature of poverty and oppression. She also uses metaphor and simile to compare her characters to natural objects and animals. For example, she compares Kauna to a “purple violet,” a delicate flower that is often hidden from view.
Andreas’s writing is also characterized by its strong sense of place. She vividly describes the villages and landscapes of Namibia, and she uses local language and customs to create a sense of authenticity. For example, she includes a glossary of Oshiwambo words at the beginning of the novel.
Overall, Andreas’s language and style in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is lyrical, evocative, and culturally specific. She uses a variety of literary devices to create a vivid and immersive reading experience that explores the themes of gender, oppression, and resilience.