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The Collector of Treasure Questions and Answers

The Collector of Treasure Questions and Answers

 

1. The Theme

[Q. Discuss the major themes of the short story ‘A Collector of Treasures of Bessie Head.][The Collector of Treasure Questions and Answers]

The Collector of Treasures, a very important work of Bessie Head, is of much admiration and popularity, although, the theme treated is quite sorrowful and touchingly inhuman. The very title is suggestive of something valuable, not understandable from the common concept. Bessie Head here speaks of the value of human worth where man’s humanity to man counts much more than any other thing – health, wealth and attachment. The work is regarded as both intelligent and emotive enough worthy of human thought and cultivation. This is found to involve gender studies as well as human nature in gender relationship, and African identities in the context of European impact as the travelling work in context of a peripheral text to a set of different European centers. The titular short story ‘The Collector of Treasures’ was first published in the collection of 13 stories in 1977 from Heinemann Educational Books.

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The centerpiece of this collection is the title story. It is a scathing indictment of Botswana men and their treatment of the women in their lives. The story revolves around the central character Dikeledi and her relationship with her husband, Garesego, which is a stark contrast to the marriage of their neighbors, Kenalepe and Paul. Garesego impregnates Dikeledi four times in the course of three years, but he does not live with his wife and children, and he offers them no support, financial or otherwise. In talking with Kenalepe, Dikeledi discovers that not all men behave like Garesego, that some men-Paul, for instance-are loving and devoted husbands, who live with and support their wives and children. Inspired by this newfound knowledge, Dikeledi asks Garesego to help her pay for their oldest son’s schooling. Without explicitly saying so, Garesego expects sex from Dikeledi in return for his financial contribution. He goes to her house with the goal of having sex with her, and she fully realizes that only after she gives in will he then even consider giving her the money. No longer able to live with this untenable relationship, she gets a butcher knife and severs his “special parts.” As she’s hauled off to jail, Paul vows to raise her children. Dikeledi now faces a grand paradox: She will go to prison, but she will also be free for the first time in her life.

The story is set in post-colonial Botswana and deals with the life of Dikeledi Mokopi and her estranged husband Garesego Mokopi. He has left her and their three children and she has to take care of them, while he has set off in his pursuit of sexual gratification with other women. Dikeledi gets on very well with her neighbors Paul and Kenalepe Thebolo. Garesego, however, is jealous of the relationship between Paul and Dikeledi. When Dikeledi is in need of money to pay for their eldest child’s school fees, she invites Garesego over to her house to discuss it. He is under the

impression that she wants to have sexual intercourse. Dikeledi, however, takes a kitchen knife and cuts off his genitals. For this deed she is imprisoned for life. In jail she befriends three other women who have committed the same offence.

In her discussion of The Collector of Treasures Susan Gardner alludes that this collection has a discernible feminist content” because it focuses on “the insistence that women have suffered systematic social injustice because of their sex”. Following a discussion of Dikeledi’s deeds Bessie Head mentioned towards Susan Gardner that the story was so shocking to hear: “I’ve never heard of a man being murdered by his genitals being slit off. But it showed the deep psychological trauma the woman had lived with”.

The question of whether Bessie Head is a feminist writer is somehow problematic. She herself refuted the claim that she is a feminist writer. The problem of a definition of feminism is also discomfiting.

2. The Title

[Q. Justify the appropriateness of the title of the story ‘A Collector of Treasure ?

Bessie Head’s story “The Collector of Treasures” is a dramatic indictment of the oppressive attitudes of men in her culture toward the women and children they are supposed to care for and love. Head develops this theme by contrasting the marriage of her protagonist, Dikeledi, and her husband Garesego, with the much more idyllic one of their neighbors, Kenalepe and Paul Thebolo.

Before she actually even introduces the Thebolos, Head observes that there are two types of men: those who have sex with their women like dogs, out of pure carnal lust; and those who really care about women as human beings.

The protagonist’s husband, Garesego, is the first type of man. He got Dikeledi pregnant three times in four years and then left her, continuing to live in the same village but assuming no responsibility for either his wife or his sons. For many years thereafter, she never approaches him for assistance for either herself or her children, apparently regarding it as a matter of pride that she is able to feed and clothe them and pay for their primary school educations out of the small income she is able to earn sewing and knitting for others in the village.

Her neighbor Kenalepe’s husband, Paul, is completely different from Garesego. Kenalepe and Paul have a loving marriage and a wonderful sex life, which Kenalepe describes for her friend in great detail. Discovering that men like Paul exist is an eyeopening experience for Dikeledi. It shows her that there are men who do not act like sex-crazed dogs, and who respect their women. It induces her to try to approach Garesego again-not for sex, but to try to convince him to pay the school fees so their oldest son can go to secondary school, which is more expensive than the primary

school the youngest children attend. She only needs a small amount of money, having saved the rest herself, and knows that this would be no financial burden for him.

Garesego, on the other hand, feels that any favor done for a woman should be done in recompense for sex. He proves this in his allegations about Paul; he assumes that if Paul has given Garesego’s wife a sack of grain (which he has, in payment for clothes Dikeledi made for his daughters) then Paul must be getting sex out of the deal as well. As for that, Garesego doesn’t care-he doesn’t want Dikeledi anymore, and has no problem with Paul having her-but he simply cannot conceive that there could be any kind of relationship or even a transaction between males and females that doesn’t involve some sexual component.

Consequently, when he contacts Dikeledi about the possibility of giving her money for their son’s education, he tells her he is coming back home and she should prepare a hot bath for him. Not being a total fool, Dikeledi knows what this means. After he bathes, he will want to have sex; and after he has sex, he might or might not consider giving her money. But this is not an acceptable tradeoff for Dikeledi, because she knows that Paul Thebolo would demand no such thing. Sex has nothing to do SIGN with school tuition; sex has everything to do with love, and Garesego doesn’t love Dikeledi and she doesn’t love him. But for Garesego, sex also has to do with power, and in this case having sex with Dikeledi when she needs something from him would express his power over her.

Consequently, after Garesego has had his dinner and his bath and gotten comfortably drunk, he toddles off to bed expecting Dikeledi to follow. Once he has fallen asleep, Dikeledi pulls a butcher knife out from under the bed and cuts off what she delicately calls his “special parts.” The fact that she will be convicted of manslaughter does not deter her, for she realizes she cannot live this way any longer. Paul promises to raise her children as he would his own, and Dikeledi goes on to a new stage in her life, this time in prison.

Head’s title, “The Collector of Treasures,” is tremendously ironic on the surface, for it would seem that what Dikeledi has collected in her lifetime has been not treasure but heartbreak. Yet Head’s opening passages, showing how well Dikeledi has adjusted to prison life and the closeness of the women who have been placed in prison for the same crime, shows that Dikeledi really doesn’t feel her life has been that bad. She has learned much more from her hardships than Kenalepe has learned from her good fortune, and in her travels through life she has managed to earn the respect of men like Paul and women like Kebonye. The fact that her marriage was a disaster has actually made her strong, and she is much more centered in her sense of self than Kenalepe who has had a much easier life. As Dikeledi observes, throughout her hard life she has looked beneath the surface and collected small treasures, and these give her the strength to go on.

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SHORT TEXTUAL QUESTIONS-5

1. In “The Collector of Treasures, “how does Dikeledi murder her husband, and why?

In Bessie Amelia Emery’s story “The Collector of Treasures,” Dikeledi kills her husband by cutting off his genitals and leaving him to bleed to death. She does so to provide a better life for her children, who will now be cared for and educated by her friends, Paul and Kenalepe Thebolo.

Dikeledi’s husband, Garesego, is a good-for-nothing sort who abandoned her over eight years ago to chase other women and make his way as a lower bureaucrat who had just enough status to look down his nose at others. Dikeledi has worked hard for years to support herself and her children, doing whatever tasks she could find and then basking in her friendship with Kenalepe and Paul Thebolo, who help her immensely.

But then Dikeledi’s oldest son, Banabothe, receives the chance to go to secondary school. The fees are high, and Dikeledi is short of money. She pushes back her pride and approaches Garesego, who is now living with a concubine, for help. After all, Banabothe is his son, too, and he has done nothing for him all these years.

Garesego repulses Dikeledi, accusing her of being Paul Thebolo’s concubine, which she is not, and he refuses to contribute to their son’s education. In anger, Paul confronts Garesego. This action only makes Garesego jealous (although he does not care for his wife at all), and he insists upon reclaiming his place in Dikeledi’s home and bed, even if only for a night.

Dikeledi panics at first, for Garesego is nasty and apparently can become violent. But then she thinks carefully and begins her preparations. After Garesego becomes drunk and sprawls across the bed in a deep sleep, Dikeledi carefully, meticulously cuts off his genitals and leaves him to bleed to death. She actually does not do the act out of hatred (although she probably does despise Garesego). She certainly wants to be free of her husband, but he likely would have gone back to his concubine after that night. Rather, she kills her husband to provide for her children, for she anticipates what Paul Thebolo will say at the end of the story: “You don’t have to worry about the children… I’ll take them as my own and give them all a secondary school education.”

2. Give a short character sketch of some important characters in the story.

Dikeledi Mokopi is the protagonist of this text; her story shows the reader the immense challenges faced by women in the society, as well as their remarkable determination and resilience. Her murder of Garasego is meant to represent women claiming their autonomy and resisting the ludicrous demands of a patriarchal society.

Dikeledi’s fellow inmate Kebonye represents the power of female friendship in this text. Upon Dikeledi’s arrival, Kebonye listens to her story, shares her own, and then explains how to get by at the prison. After Dikeledi thanks her, Kebonye says something that could serve as the thesis for the entire piece: “We must help each other.”

KenalepeThebolo’s role in this text is to serve as a friend and ally to Dikeledi, as well as to symbolize what Dikeledi’s life might have been like if she had married a different type of man. “You are a lucky someone,” Dikeledi tells her.

GarasegoMokopi serves as the manifestation of the first time of man in Dikeledi’s dichotomy. He represents alpha males who will stop at nothing to assert their dominance and claim their pleasure.

Paul Thebolo completes the dichotomy by representing the second type of man, a man who cares for his family and comports himself like “a poem of tenderness.” In this text, he serves as a foil and a contrast to Garasego. After Garasego’s murder, Paul volunteers to pay Banabothe’s tuition, representing the ultimate triumph of male compassion over male greed.

3. Briefly bring out the way of living in mutuality and fellow feelings of the women prisoners in the prison cell.

In the prison, Dikeledi finds an opportunity to befriend four women inmates who are sentenced for committing the same type of crime. They help her adjust to prison life and ways and not let any bad thing happen to her. It is their common experience in the marital lives that brings them together. They continue to stay together through a strong bonding among themselves. They nurse the psychological and emotional wounds of each other through the potion of love and tenderness. One prison-inmate states, “Our men do not think that we need tenderness and care”.

This is all that Dikeledi wishes in her life as a human being. She likes to be treated kindly and she longs to be loved. In the prison, she not only earns money for her children but also wins love, respect, recognition and appreciation from both the males and females for her talent and various skills. Thus she succeeds in turning her tears into treasures. This is why she is called the “Collector of Treasures.”

The theme, in this story, parallels the struggle of the author herself experienced in her own life. She herself was a woman who had faced many challenges, being raised in foster care, living as a refugee for fifteen years, and raising a child alone. While Head was still a child, her mother committed suicide. In 1964, she moved for

Botswana with her son, saying that she would no longer live in apartheid Africa where she had suffered poverty, racial segregation and gender discrimination. In Botswana, she lived in poverty as a refugee, tending a garden and selling its products and homemade jam to earn money. Gradually, she overcame the formidable obstacles.

Like the author, Dikeledi also emerges as a strong woman and redefines her life by breaking the established social codes of behavior and gender stereotypes. She is not sorry for her crime, but she is sorry that she would never see her children and Kenalepe again.

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SHORT QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS – 2

1. “They had left the village”- Who had left the village? What was the name of the village? When did they leave? Where did they reach and when?

The woman prisoner Dikeledi Mokopy and her police escorts left the village. The name of the village was Puleong.

They left the village at about 9 in the morning.

They reached the Central State Prison in the south of the city, Gaborone. They reached there rather late at night.

2. “You must awaken now, we have arrived’- Who must awaken and why? Who is the speaker?

The female accused Dikeledi Mokopy must awaken then. She should wake up as they have reached the Central State prison for the accused.

3. “What do we have here”

What is intended here?

The police guard referred to the murderer of her husband from Puleong village who had been brought for staying in the Central Prison.

4. “We have four other good women here for the same crime” – Who is the speaker? What is the crime? Who are the persons present for the same crime?

The speaker is an officer of the Central State prison.

The crime is that of the murder of the husband by the wives.

The women mentioned here are Kebonye, Otsetswe, Galeboe and Monwana.

5. How did the four women prisoners react to the new woman Dikeledi?

The four women prisoners already in the cell, welcome the new prisoner with a quiet greeting. One even enquired about her place of coming.

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