You might probably wonder why Stimela’s song See The World Through The Eyes of A Child is so frequently mentioned in Welcometo Our Hillbrow. The book gives us a glimpse that, to Refentse, “it was a song about a neglected, homeless child, exposed to much street violence and blood,and subsequently grown to be scared of darkness.” (84) It speaks to Refentse in volume about his “loneliness” and “fear of rejection”. But there is definitely more to it than that.
First of all, the song often becomes a “musical background” for numerous scenes in the novella: Refentse’s contemplation, Lerato’s suicide, Refilwe’s attempt to seduce Refentse back to her. What these scenes have in common is that they all lead the characters to regret. Refentse’s contemplation of love and the purpose of living leads him to his suicide. Lerato’s guilt also leads her to kill herself. The narrator, through his use of language, portrays how Refentse’s and Lerato’s premature deaths take away what could have happened. Bryan mentioned it in class that the book’s tone is almost that of mourning. The actions of the characters seem to be all imagined, “if only..” this and that.
Refilwe’s failed seduction definitely also leads her to regret. Her rejection by Refentse that night in her apartment plants a seed of revenge in her heart. She later channels this into telling a false story about Refentse’s death, which causes the necklacing of Refentse’s innocent mother. The realization that her action is wrong—her regret—comes way too late.
Now I have tried, folks, to listen to the song closely, for the internet has failed to simply tell me the lyrics, to find out why the song plays in the background of these scenes. And one of the things I could pick up was the question posed in the song: “Won’t you please write a letter to yourself?” It seems to me, that the regret shown in the scenes we looked at, is summarized by this question. We somewhat agreed in class that the narrator cannot be one person. And somehow the question in the song leads me to think that, with too many ifs mentioned, the narrator may perhaps be the collective voice of all the dead characters trying to reconfigure their stories. The possessive pronoun “our” (who could possibly say “our heaven” if not the dead or God?), the fact that the characters are all “the child of..” something—all these somehow suggest that the narrator is trying to take us on a journey to See The World Through The Eyes of A Child, the characters. These dead characters might actually be real people, or a representation of them, that live in Mpe’s “memory and consciousness”. And Mpe’s action to write this book is perhaps a request, by what the song calls “the voice on the other side”, to reconfigure the stories of the characters.
Thanks for this reading of the song and its connection to the novel, which I find really compelling. I think the whole idea of seeing through someone else’s eyes — a child’s, or anyone’s — is fundamental to the narrative structure, which repeatedly helps characters see what they couldn’t see while they were alive. The implication seems to be that seeing outside our own limited experience offers us a more complete picture of things. I know that sounds a little banal, but it’s an important thing to remember & is fundamental to cosmopolitan thinking.