Welcome to Our Hillbrow

by

Phaswane Mpe

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Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) Character Analysis

Before he dies, Refentše publishes a short story. The story’s protagonist—an unnamed young woman—is HIV-positive and faces the wrath and the insults of people from Tiragalong. She chooses not to die by suicide, even though she is full of grief and is dying of AIDS. Instead, she writes a book about Hillbrow, Tiragalong, and the prejudices at play in all different corners of South African society. Though it is a good story, she writes it in Sepedi, a South African language (the same one that Refentše reads, speaks, and studies), and this, unfortunately, means that the story never gets picked up by any publishers in Johannesburg, since there’s a strong prejudice against non-English literature in South Africa. She falls into a depression and loses a lot of weight. Later in Welcome to Our Hillbrow, the protagonist’s story and Refilwe’s life align in many ways.

Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) Quotes in Welcome to Our Hillbrow

The Welcome to Our Hillbrow quotes below are all either spoken by Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) or refer to Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Regret and Redemption Theme Icon
).
Chapter 2  Quotes

The diseased woman of your story did not resolve to tumble down from the twentieth floor of her building, to escape her misery. She chose a different route to dealing with her life. Her first resolution was to stop going home, to Tiragalong, where the wagging tongues did their best to hasten her death. But then she discovered, like you did, Refentše, that a conscious decision to desert home is a difficult one to sustain. Because home always travels with you, with your consciousness as its vehicle. So her second resolution was to pour all her grief and alienation into the world of storytelling. You had her write a novel about Hillbrow, xenophobia and AIDS and the prejudices of rural lives.

Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

She did not know that writing in an African language in South Africa could be such a curse. She had not anticipated that the publishers’ reviewers would brand her novel vulgar. Calling shit and genitalia by their correct names in Sepedi was apparently regarded as vulgar by these reviewers, who had for a long time been reviewing works of fiction for educational publishers, and who were determined to ensure that such works did not offend the systems they served. These systems were very inconsistent with their attitudes to education. They considered it fine, for instance, to call genitalia by their correct names in English and Afrikaans biology books—[…] yet in all other languages, they criminalized such linguistic honesty.

Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

She was excited by the challenge of the new position and looked forward to earning a better salary. But she soon discovered the frustrations that went with her new and prestigious position. Although she knew what good books looked like, the company kept on reminding her that good books were only those that could get a school prescription. What frustrated her so much was the extent to which publishing was in many ways out of touch with the language and events of everyday life.

Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] his story that looked at AIDS and Makwerekwere and the many-sidedness of life and love in our Hillbrow and Tiragalong and everywhere. His scarecrow heroine was a big influence on Refilwe’s thinking. She had read the story many times, and each time it made her weep anew. Partly because of the memories it brought up of Refentše. And partly because it made her see herself and her own prejudices in a different light.

Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
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Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) Character Timeline in Welcome to Our Hillbrow

The timeline below shows where the character Refentše’s Protagonist (The Young Woman) appears in Welcome to Our Hillbrow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2 
Regret and Redemption Theme Icon
Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...Hillbrow. This is the story that ended up getting published. It is about an HIV-positive woman from Tiragalong who is shunned by the village because of her illness. The people of... (full context)
Regret and Redemption Theme Icon
Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Some people who read Refentše’s story felt for the protagonist, which surprised him (they were the “exceptions”). These people seemed to sympathize with her, saying... (full context)
Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The protagonist of Refentše’s story does not die by suicide. She thinks she will not go back... (full context)
Apartheid and Colonialism  Theme Icon
Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Refentše works into his story, though, that it’s a “big mistake” for this woman to write her book in Sepedi. When publishers review it, they call her “vulgar.” This... (full context)
Regret and Redemption Theme Icon
Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The story that the woman in Refentše’s story writes is “buried,” and she is devastated. She begins to physically deteriorate,... (full context)