Chapter Six

Summary: Chapter Six

Due to the increased price in grain and the dwindling stores of food, William’s family eats only one meal a day. William’s mother gives birth to another girl. When the family is down to their last sack of flour, William’s mother announces that she is going to bake it into cakes to sell in the market, and then use the money to buy another pail of flour. The family will have enough for one meal and still be able to make cakes to sell again. William’s sister, Annie, who is a junior in secondary school, leaves with two boys and does not return. William’s family learns that Annie has married one of the boys, and she does not return. William’s father is outraged that the normal courtship rituals were not followed. 

After seeing a grain truck, William travels fifteen kilometers to Chamama on his bicycle to wait in line at the government distribution center. He waits in line almost all day but is able to purchase grain to feed his family for a week. The people in Matsila village become more desperate, selling all of their belongings, even the metal roofs off of their homes. Geoffrey has become a waganyu, looking for piecework to keep from starving. Gilbert has taken over his father’s duties, talking to the endless stream of people who come to the chief’s home for food. William visits the mphala. He and his cousin, Charity, obtain a goatskin from one of the meat vendors at the trading center. Out of desperation, they boil the skin and eat it.

Analysis: Chapter Six

In desperation, Malawians find ways to endure the threat of imminent starvation in Chapter Six. First, the famine pushes family members to disregard traditions, as evidenced by Annie’s marriage and departure from the family. Though she does so out of urgent need, Trywell is outraged by how she ignores tradition. Starvation is ripping at the threads of a coherent society. People cheat on one another and begin to sell or abandon their children out of desperation. Despite these horrors, prices still rise and grain shares are often stolen. William travels great distances for food and makes a goatskin into food, though it is barely edible. These sequences are about acquiring food and little else. That’s because starvation dominates all. Without food, William cannot make any progress in his life, but he must find a way to survive. When the countryside is starving, progress comes to a grinding halt. The people must survive starvation before they can stitch their society back together.