Welcome to Our Hillbrow

by

Phaswane Mpe

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Welcome to Our Hillbrow: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Refentše watches from his “heavenly vantage point,” he sees Lerato swallow the tablets that kill her. “See the World through the Eyes of a Child” plays, just like the day when Refentše jumped out of his window. Refentše wishes he could have talked to her before she did it, so that he could have explained that his death was not her fault. Refentše regrets that he did not tell Sammy that he slept with Bohlale, because then Sammy might not have felt so racked with guilt.
Refentše, from heaven, understands his actions in life in a much more profound way now that he’s had a chance to consider them over time. He regrets his decision not to communicate better with both Sammy and Lerato, which demonstrates his growth and willingness to accept fault. The song “See the World through the Eyes of a Child” again marks a moment of grief for a character, this time Lerato.
Themes
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Refentše also regrets that he was not alive to protect Lerato from a phone call from Terror. Terror, a cruel villager from Tiragalong, called Lerato and threatened to tell her mother that Refentše killed himself because Lerato had an affair. Terror had an old schoolboy grudge against Refentše. He had always wanted to sleep with Lerato, mostly to upset Refentše. Lerato’s mother thought Refentše was an excellent boyfriend, an “ideal” son-in-law, and Terror knew that it would break her heart to hear the story about Lerato and Sammy. Lerato knew this, too, and so she took the pills before her mother could find out and be disappointed.
Terror’s part in Lerato’s suicide highlights the idea of unpredictability in life, since he mostly wanted to call Lerato’s mother because of a longstanding grudge between Refentše and Terror—in other words, his reason for calling ultimately had little to do with Lerato. Thus, Lerato was caught in a situation over which she had no control. It is also significant that something as serious as a suicide can result in not even a rumor but the threat of a rumor, which again shows the intense power that stories, including gossip, have on our lives.
Themes
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Refentše, from heaven, wishes he could have told Lerato that he’d also been unfaithful to their relationship, since this probably would have made her feel less guilty. However, in the afterlife, it is completely clear to Refentše that he does not “own” life—meaning he can’t influence anyone else’s choices. So, all Refentše can do is wait at the gates of heaven for Lerato. When she arrives, Refentše will say, “Welcome to our new Hillbrow…”
Refentše’s realization that he does not “own” life is part of his growth—even though it is painful—because it was a lack of control that drove him to suicide in the first place. When Refentše thinks that he will greet Lerato by saying “Welcome to our new Hillbrow,” the story suggests that the two of them will be able to continue their relationship but with a “new” outlook. It also suggests, though, that heaven will be somewhat similar to Hillbrow, which argues that all places have a mix of good and bad—even heaven.
Themes
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When Lerato does arrive in heaven, she and Refentše spend a long time talking about their days as students at the university. Refentše admits that his mother’s disapproval for their relationship made him depressed. Lerato says “coward!” and tells him he could have told her earlier. But she is relieved, because she understands Refentše’s suicide was much more complicated than she thought.
Lerato saying “coward!” is a callback to the earlier scene where she says the same thing, on earth, after Refentše tells her he’s in love with her. This signifies, again, that Refentše made many mistakes throughout his life. But it is important that Lerato still loves him, and understands him, since this suggests that people do not have to be perfect to be loveable.
Themes
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Welcome to Our Hillbrow PDF
Lerato then tells Refentše about living with the weight of a “vote of no confidence” from a loved one, which is what she thought Refentše gave her. She tells Refentše about the fear and anxiety she felt because she thought it was her moment of weakness that caused his death.  She says she almost envied Sammy, since he was losing his mind—she thought that this protected him from some of the guilt and hurt. Then they both sigh, thinking about Sammy’s deteriorating mind.
Lerato telling Refentše how awful she felt about his suicide shows that both of their lives would have been better if Refentše had admitted his mistake and had been able to communicate with Lerato.
Themes
Regret and Redemption Theme Icon
Quotes
Refentše then takes Lerato to go meet his mother. Refentše’s mother slowly eyes Lerato from head to toe. Then, she gently smiles. She says she sees the resemblance between Lerato and Tshepo, and this pleases her, and she says she believes that they have the same father. Then, Refentše’s mother takes him and Lerato to meet her father (Piet) and Tshepo. Piet was killed when Tshepo was four and Lerato was not yet born.
Considering the intensity of Refentše’s mother’s prejudices on earth, it is meaningful that she accepts Lerato in heaven. This suggests that even the worst biases can be overcome with time and reflection. It is moving, even, that she acknowledges that she sees the resemblance between Lerato and Tshepo, because it means she acknowledges who Lerato’s true father is (Piet, from the village Alexandra).
Themes
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Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
After the introduction, Refentše and Lerato go to watch a “movie” together, just as they used to do on Earth. That evening’s showing is a historical film. It tells the story of a man who was killed in the South African village called Alexandra a little over 20 years ago. The movie begins with Liz, Lerato’s mother, when she is pregnant with Lerato. Piet kisses her goodbye. They live together as a gardener and a housekeeper for a white couple in a suburb. Every Sunday, Piet goes back to Alexandra, where relatives and friends live.
That heaven allows for “movies” of past events shows that even in heaven stories are very important to people. This “movie” is really the story of Lerato’s parents—her mother Liz and her father Piet. This information about her family was previously unavailable to Lerato, since her father died before she was born.
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One such relative is Molori, Piet’s cousin. Their relationship is ordinarily very close, but Piet has no way of knowing that something is very wrong on that day. Molori’s mother recently fell ill. The people of Tiragalong suggest that he go to a bone thrower so that he can figure out what is wrong with her. He goes to a bone thrower that is the “most famous—or notorious” in the area. This man helps “sniff out” the old woman responsible for Tshepo’s lightning strike (though it isn’t until afterwards that the village people realize he’s wrong).
Molori’s desire to find a mystical reason for an unexplained event again shows a certain unwillingness in rural communities to accept the idea that things can happen randomly. The novel’s attitude towards bone throwers is very skeptical, since it points out that the bone thrower’s accusations are never accurate.
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This particular bone thrower is also cunning. Instead of telling people to pay ahead of time, he gives them his information first and then tells them to pay whatever they think the reading is worth. More often than not, through a combination of admiration and fear from the townspeople, he ends up with more money than if he’d set a fixed price. After meeting Molori’s mother, the bone thrower tells them that this is an extremely serious case. He immediately sets to work throwing his bones, chanting, and speaking to the gods. He talks in a language Molori does not know.
Here, the narrative comes down even harder on bone throwers, suggesting that their whole business is no more than a carefully engineered spectacle. This suggests that bone throwers are just storytellers who use the power of story for profit.
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After an impressive, confusing show, the bone thrower tells Molori that his mother was poisoned by someone in the family. The bone thrower says that a relative who lives east of Tiragalong is very jealous of Molori, since Molori works in an office and the relative works as a gardener. The bone thrower then describes Piet with startling accuracy. Molori does not know that the bone thrower makes it his job to know the details of everyone in the community. The bone thrower convinces Molori that Piet tried to conspire to curse Molori himself, but the curse landed on his mother.
Again, the story shows the bone thrower’s deviance. He blames Piet for Molori’s mother’s sickness, but Molori does not know that the bone thrower picked a plausible relative (that he’d already done research on) and randomly blamed him. This furthers the idea that the bone thrower's job is to tell a story that will satisfy the customer, not to actually solve a problem.
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Molori’s uncle reminds Molori that they have no way of knowing who is trustworthy just by looking at them. The night after seeing the bone thrower, Molori keeps dreaming of a snake that tries to poison him. He imagines that the snake is Piet. By the time he wakes up the next morning, he is angry, scared, and “full of purpose.” As Piet, unaware, walks to Alexandra, Molori and two hired hitmen stab him to death.
Here, the fatal consequences of the bone thrower’s story play out. Molori convinced himself that Piet was a killer because of the ideas that the bone thrower gave him. This again underscores the power of stories and how, when used dishonestly, they can destroy and end lives.
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As Refentše watches the story of Piet’s life and death from Heaven, he thinks about the complexities of living. He thinks so much about the “complex paradox of life, death, and everything in between” that he gets dizzy and his head aches. He thinks about how difficult life can be in any place, whether it’s Hillbrow, Alexandra, Tiragalong, or anywhere else.
Refentše is moved by Piet’s story, and this causes him to reflect on his own life even more. He is frustrated that life is so hard, no matter where someone lives. He reflects on the fact that life will always be a “complex paradox” of good and bad, emphasizing the novel’s message that good and bad can be found everywhere and in all people.
Themes
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