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Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

versão On-line ISSN 2309-9070
versão impressa ISSN 0041-476X

Tydskr. letterkd. vol.45 no.2 Pretoria Jan. 2008


Not a scintilla of light: Darkness and despondency in Yvonne Vera's Butterfly Burning


Darkness and despondency in Yvonne Vera's Butterfly Burning



Chioma Opara

Chioma Opara is Associate Professor and former Director of the Institute of Foundation Studies, Rivers State University of Science and Technology Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She edits Journal of Gender Studies. Her books include Beyond The Marginal Land (Belpot, 1999), English and Effective Communication (Pearl Publishers, 2000) and Her Mother's Daughter (University of Port Harcourt Press, 2004)




The paper makes an attempt at exploring the concept of the absurd as it applies to Yvonne Vera's Butterfly Burning. The inordinate quest for survival and human dignity is graphically etched on the sordid canvas of angst, grime and abject poverty. The author deftly links this quest with the quest of identity which is manifested in a stream of endless waiting. The world of the novel is patently portrayed as irrational. The absurd is depicted, in the vein of Camus, as the function of the conflict between the irrational world and the human being's passionate desires. The grossly traumatised and colonised humanity in Makokoba, a microcosm of Southern Africa, represents a scathing human condition. The female protagonist Phephelaphi is cast as an emblem of a subjugated and struggling African person seeking an identity as well as self-fulfilment. Phephelaphi, as a matter of course, bears the Sisyphean burden which remains unmitigated for the stone continuously rolls to the foot of the hill. This futile, endless and laborious feat which is symptomatic of the individual's relentless struggles on earth echoes the absurd in an irrational milieu. This is inextricably linked with an indomitable and immortal time against which African men, women and children contend as they are kept waiting in stark futility.

Key words: absurd, identity, quest, waiting



Full text available only in PDF format.




1. The first version of this article was presented at the African Literature Association Conference, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana on 17-22 May 2006.
2. The term "kwela" is derived from the Nguni word "get up"; it also refers to South African township slang for a police van, the "kwela-kwela". An alternative explanation is that the South African musician Allen Kwela (1939- ) is said to have developed the music style that bears his name from the marabi music style in the 1950s. The primary instrument of kwela is the pennywhistle or a cheap flute usually played by street musicians. Kwela also refers to a sexually suggestive dancestyle in which pairs of dancers phata (touch) each other. (South African Music, Pata-pata).


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