Maru Summary and Study Guide

Bessie Head


  • 37-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features an extended summary and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by an experienced high school teacher with a PhD in English Literature
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Maru Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Maru” by Bessie Head includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Racial Prejudice and Love and Hate.

Plot Summary

Maru is a love story that takes place in the African village of Dilepe. The narrative tells the story of Margaret, who belongs to the Bushman, or Masarwa, tribe. Her tribe is looked down upon by others, and yet she overcomes adversity and begins teaching at a school in the village. Though she is looked down upon as a Bushman, her arrival in the village nonetheless causes a rift in the friendship between Maru, one of the village’s chiefs, and his friend Moleka, who seems to genuinely love Margaret. This love affair between Margaret and her two suitors comes to redefine the lives of everyone involved, thus pitting love against racial and tribal prejudices.

On the day Margaret is born, her mother dies. The corpse is left untouched and the child abandoned until a white missionary, Margaret Cadmore, takes in the child and has her mother’s body buried. Not only does Margaret take in the “untouchable” child, she gives the girl her own name and also provides the young Margaret with an education. Though accepted in this way, the village itself is rife with prejudice. As a Bushman, Margaret is considered an outcast by society. Some even liken her to the stray dogs that run around the village and are cruelly tormented by the children. At school, Margaret is taunted by her classmates. The tormenting and isolation eventually cause Margaret to immerse herself in her studies, and she becomes a bright and promising student in no time. Given her status in the village, Margaret comes to realize that life will be difficult for her as a Bushman, and so determines to ensure her safety and survival as both a Bushman and a woman of color

Margaret’s luck soon changes again when, due to her stellar academic record, she is offered a teaching job in Dilepe. For Margaret, this is a fresh start. No one in Dilepe knows her tribal background. If she chooses to, she can pretend she is not a Bushman by passing for “coloured,” which is a person mixed with white and African blood. Though she would still be looked down upon, she would fare better in the village and society as a “coloured” person than a Bushman. Though Margaret wants to be accepted, she ultimately chooses to reveal her tribal background upon arriving in Dilepe. Stating that she is indeed a Bushman, or Masarwa, Margaret not only garners the respect of one of her students, Dikeledi, but finds herself the object of affection for two of the village’s most powerful men, Maru and Moleka.

Maru is Dikeledi’s brother, and in line to be the village’s top chieftain. Maru is also best friends with Moleka. He is known to be extremely insightful, and intuits that the two friends’ relationship, which none thought breakable, would be ended by a woman. Indeed, Maru told this to Moleka before Margaret ever arrived in the village. When Margaret arrives, it is Moleka who gives his all to win the love of Margaret. Even though she is a Bushman, Moleka feels that being with Margaret can bring about a different, better life path for him. He thinks that they are meant for each other. Even when others in the village are shocked to find that a Bushman has been hired to teach their children, Moleka breaks tradition by having his Masarwa servants dine with him. Though Moleka is willing to show the village his break with tradition and prejudice, he must ultimately face a greater challenge: Maru.

Maru intends to make Margaret his wife, even though doing so will mean giving up his chieftaincy. He also knows it will destroy his friendship with Moleka. Because Maru is the most powerful man in the village, Moleka must ultimately step aside. He then turns his attention toward Dikeledi. When Dikeledi becomes pregnant, Moleka marries her even though he still loves Margaret. On the night of Dikeledi’s marriage to Moleka, Maru makes his intentions known to Margaret, who has been enamored with Moleka up until this point. Maru takes Margaret as his bride, thus giving up his chieftaincy. Like Moleka, however, Maru wants to abandon tradition somewhat and find a different path in life, and so embraces his new life with Margaret.

Maru deals with the themes of love, forbidden love and prejudice. Margaret’s identity as a Bushman, or Masarwa, means that she is considered by many to be not only lower class, but untouchable. As such, she should in no way have won the love of Maru and Moleka. Indeed, the village of Dilepe cannot even fathom that the feud between the two friends is on account of Margaret. Instead, the village thinks the two men are fighting over Dikeledi’s marriage. This shows to what extent a Bushman’s place in society is deemed nonexistent. Tribal prejudices show the reader that, though Margaret has made something of herself and risen above her status in life, society still deems her unworthy and will continue to do so.

For Margaret, it is not until Moleka and Maru show a romantic interest in her that the rules and guidelines of tribal society are questioned and, eventually, abandoned. Maru himself comments that a woman will break his friendship with Moleka. Ironically enough, it is a Masarwa woman who not only breaks the two men’s friendship, but breaks the rules that want to keep her as an untouchable in society. Maru even goes as far as giving up his chieftaincy for Margaret. His sacrifice, as well as Moleka’s love for Margaret, highlight how society and prejudice can indeed change, and how love is a driving force for change. Both men are willing to show their love for Margaret publicly, thus defying the long-held prejudices concerning tribes like the Masarwa. Though Maru takes Margaret as his bride, even though she seems to pine for Moleka, the story shows that, at the end of the day, love is stronger than prejudice. As such, the lives of Margaret, Maru, Moleka, and Dikeledi are changed forever by the acts of love each character finds him- or herself willing to endure and learn from.

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