The narrative. The Prophetess by Njabulo S. Ndebele explores the township through the experiences, viewpoints and thoughts of a young boy sent by his mother to fetch holy water from the prophetess. The boys recollections and encounters while at the prophetess home and on his journey back serves to explore the societys convictions, beliefs and perceptions and exposes a number of conflicting issues.
The central conflicting issue is the societys divided perceptions of modernity and traditionalism. This is evidenced in two ways. Firstly, it is evidenced in the treatment methods. The township is divided between modern medication and the use of healers like the prophetess. This is illustrated by fact that the boys mother, a nurse, sends the boy to obtain holy water to heal her from joint pains. In doing this, the boys mother demonstrates lack of faith in modern medication to which she should be the custodian as a nurse. Similarly, the prophetess seems to know the boys mother so well, the prophetess refers to the boys mother as having a heart of gold. This signifies an acquaintance with the boys mother which could mean that the prophetess has at some point considered modern medication. It is also conflicting that whereas the prophetess dispenses holy water that is supposed to cure ailments, the boy is able to smell camphor in her house. Camphor is the same medication that the boys mother uses to treat joint pains. Moreover, the prophetess heavy breaths and incessant coughs and spits of sputum make the boy imagine that her lungs would fall out. These are clear indication that the prophetess is ill despite being the one to provide the cure.
Secondly, the perceptions of the prophetess by the community demonstrate the clash between modernism and traditionalism. Majority of the residents believe that the prophetess is superstitious. Horrible tales are told about the prophetess that to spread unnecessary fear and despondency. For instance the tale of the vines that is on everyones lips. A tale was told that the prophetess vine was coated in invisible glue that trapped offenders who sneaked to steal at night. Interestingly the conversation in the bus reveals that no one knew a single person trapped by the vine. This demonstrates that the belief in superstition is deeply rooted in the township. Ironically, the boy encounters a different reality at the prophetess house; she is a Christian as evidenced by the crocheted mats that are used in churches, the picture of Jesus on the wall, the bamboo cross, the proclamation of the name Jesus in her prayer and the Christian hymns she sings.
The crisis stage of the narrative is when the boy gets to interact with the prophetess. The boys encounter with the prophetess cast doubts to the rumors that had been spread about the prophetess. It emerges that the prophetess also feels pain and suffers illness. The prophetess also has a sense of humor and is an educator, when the boy responds that he has been sent to ask for water, she exclaims and asks the boy if he came all the way to ask for water. She then tells the boy to use words well since it is a gift from God and to always listen to his mother. The revelations to the boy in the prophetess house such as the crocheted mats on the table, the picture of Jesus on the wall and the huge bamboo cross and the prayer cast aside the boys initial beliefs that the prophetess is superstitious. Moreover, the prophetess invokes the name of God in her prayers which is an indication of spirituality.
In conclusion, the narrative has several conflicts such as in the bravery of the boy to face the prophetess who is revered in the whole township. However, the central conflict in the township between modernism and traditionalism as illustrated above dominates the narrative. The author uses the boys honest opinions and observations to resolves the conflicting perceptions of modernism and traditionalism.
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